Dir. Colbert Clark & Albert Herman
1933 / 226 minutes / B&W / 1.37:1 / 12 chapters
Bela Lugosi appeared in five serials in the 1930s, and they run the gamut from pretty good (S.O.S. Coast Guard) to pretty painful (Return of Chandu). The Whispering Shadow falls somewhere in the middle, unless you’re a Lugosi fanatic, in which case you should either skip it altogether or run out and buy it today, because it is the single worst performance I’ve ever seen from your Hungarian hero.
A gang led by a mysterious villain known as the Whispering Shadow is killing truckers from the Empire Moving & Storage Company. W.S. controls his gang by manipulating radio and television waves and can cause death electronically through the airwaves. He also can project a big shadow of himself on the wall, and whispers orders via electronic ventriloquism (hence his name, y'see).
It seems that somewhere in the bowels of the Empire warehouse is a crate containing the stolen Crown Jewels of the Czar. Everybody in the cast is seeking them, but which of them is the W.S.? The likeliest suspect seems to be Professor Strang (Lugosi), who operates a local wax museum populated by human beings who dress in odd costumes and try to stand very, very still, but who perpetually appear to be on the verge of falling over. Strang’s daughter (a willowy blonde who speaks perfect English) assists her father in trying to obtain the jewels, and also assists handsome hero Jack Foster (Malcolm McGregor, who played Zogg in Undersea Kingdom, which I only mention because I wanted to type the word “Zogg” and see what it felt like), who is trying to stop her father from getting the jewels. Women! Other suspects include a variety of storage company executives and a creepy radio operator. Actually, they’re all pretty creepy and they all act guilty, so it’s kind of hard to guess which one might be W.S., especially because they all seem to have a hidden closet with a radio/television device, so we’re never really sure which one is actually our whispering, shadowy perp.
Which brings us back to Mr. Lugosi; less than two years after his screen triumph as Dracula, he’s working over at Mascot on a chapterplay?!? He is so bad in this serial, it’s astonishing. Watch him raise his arms in fury and spit out his dialog like it was a bit of bad borscht. This was his first serial, and I don’t think he had a clue what was going on; the breakneck pace of filming serials, the length (this thing clocks in at nearly four hours) and the endless pages of dialog were simply beyond his ability. He isn’t very good in any of his handful of serials and by the 1940s, cliffhanger roles that might’ve gone to him were instead given to Eduardo Ciannelli, Lionel Atwill, or James Craven.
It should also be mentioned that rather than one “economy chapter” that utilizes footage from earlier in the chapterplay to make sure all the young serial fans were on the same page (and to save a few bucks), this serial sprinkles economy chapters throughout, beginning early on in chapter five and running right up to the final chapter. It’s the perfect serial for those of us with ADD.
Grapevine Video's Blu-ray presentation of this chapterplay has been scrubbed up and looks very good, with a nice, clear image that you'll enjoy. The sound is problematical; mostly, it's good, with a few drop-offs here and there. Chapters 6-8, for some reason, suffer from volume problems, and you're going to have to crank those up.
Definitely worth an upgrade from the old Alpha release and definitely worth a look from Lugosi fans.