The Shadow Strikes
The Shadow Strikes 1937
Even though a lot of people point to Superman and the Mole Men as the first theatrical superhero movie, there’s a few others that came before it that aren’t quite what we think of now as superhero movies, but share enough similarities and/or the main character in other materials would be considered more of a superhero. This movie is definitely not a superhero movie in its own right, but the Shadow is definitely a superhero in other incarnations. This movie and a few other Shadow movies have been sitting at the top of my list for many years now and I only just now decided to check them off. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. It’s not really that great, but it was a nice change of pace for me.
As far as the Shadow as a superhero goes, he really only makes a couple appearances in this film. Once at the very beginning where he stops a robbery at a law office, and once towards the end where he doesn’t really do much. His entire disguise is just a black cloak with a high collar and the hat. There’s no scarf that the character is generally well known for neither is his ability to cloud men’s minds. Here he’s presented as a simple vigilante. But where this film takes it into another direction is that he’s actually caught by the police early on and instead of admitting that he’s the Shadow, he pretends to be the lawyer whose office had been broken into. It’s a great premise as it starts simply enough as him trying to find a way out of his current situation and it balloons into basically the entire rest of the movie where he keeps up this charade and even takes it a step further when he investigates the gangsters who likely would have recognized the lawyer he was impersonating.
Rod La Rocque plays Lamont Cranston (or Granston as it’s written in a few places in the film) and he does a pretty decent job at it. When he gets trapped further and further into his charade at playing the lawyer and keeps having to come up with lies and schemes to keep the heat off of him. In one instance, the police detective calls the lawyer’s assistant who says the lawyer is on vacation, Cranston takes over the phone call and motions for his servant to cut the phone line so that he can fake a conversation with her explaining that he’s basically taking a staycation. He’s in town, but not working. There are a few other bits of detective work that’s reminiscent of what you might see out of Batman only without any gadgets or computers to do the heavy lifting.
Unfortunately the mystery itself is a little on the dull side of things with a resolution that more or less comes out of nowhere. There are several suspects as the wealthy man left a niece and a couple nephews as potential heirs to the fortune, including a very quirky guy who has some of the best scenes in the movie though they were brief. He has a moment where he had been walking around without a hat and absentmindedly lights matches and blows them out even though he doesn’t appear to be a smoker. The other is a notorious gambler who likes to hang out at the mob-run casino, and the third is the good girl who seems to fall for Cranston. It all ends up a little too tidy and there’s also another odd side plot that ties into the murder of Cranston’s father. The problem is that it comes out of nowhere and way too neatly wraps up the main mystery as a seemingly random man comes to kill Cranston while the mob boss responsible for the murder also comes to kill Cranston, he ducks and they kill each other. It was still a fascinating look at one of the earliest examples of superhero cinema despite how little it resembles anything that has come afterwards. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.