The Whispering Shadow

06/12/2023 12:34

Film: The Whispering Shadow

Year: 1933

Directors: Colbert Clark and Albert Herman

Writers: Barney A. Sarecky, George Morgan, Norman S. Hall, Colbert Clark and Wyndham Gittens

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Viva Tattersall and Malcolm McGregor



This was a movie that I found from 1933 on the Internet Movie Database when setting up my Traverse through the Threes for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. I found this was streaming on YouTube. I also figured out that this was a serial that was released in parts, which the length gave it away. The last bit was that this featured Bela Lugosi and marks another of his movies I'd tick off my list. Other than that, I thought the title was good and I was interested to see what we'd get.

Synopsis: a mysterious criminal known as The Whispering Shadow commits crimes by a gang he controls by television and radio waves. Jack Norton (Malcolm McGregor), whose brother is murdered by the criminal, helps a private detective figure out who is behind this moniker.

Since this is a serial, it is told in 12 chapters. The first is the Master Magician. We see a message that goes from Germany to Los Angeles about something being stored at Empire Storage. A statue is loaded on a truck. We learn that every time one of these statues is on a truck, it crashes. The driver refuses to take it. Jack Foster works in the warehouse and he tries to change his mind. When he can't, Jack’s younger brother Bud (George J. Lewis) steps up to drive. The driver makes a comment that it makes Jack feel different knowing that his brother is at risk.

The truck leaves and the radio to it goes out. Sparks (Karl Dane) is the dispatcher for the company and he points out this happens every time before something bad happens. Prof. Alexis Steinbeck (Roy D'Arcy) is alerted. Jack tries to get them to fix it and decides to take his motorcycle to check on it instead. He tries to be their escort, but the Whispering Shadow's men attack. Bud is killed in the process.

Jack then goes about making it his lot to discover and punish the Whispering Shadow. He believes that it is Prof. Adam Anton Strang (Lugosi) since his wax statues are on the trucks when they're attacked. Jack becomes interested in his daughter, Vera (Viva Tattersall). This complicates things.

Detective Robert Raymond (Robert Warwick) is also called in to solve the problem. He collaborates with Jack since they seem to trust each other. The two prime suspects become Prof. Strang and Prof. Steinbeck. The latter because he's an expert on radio waves. The Whispering Shadow can kill with a ray of sorts that uses these devices that his henchmen carry. There are other suspects like J.D. Bradley (Henry B. Walthall) who is the president of the company. His vice-president, D.W. Jerome (Lafe McKee) is another. There are other players here, including Jasper Slade (Bob Kortman) who is a convict that escapes from prison and joins this hunt for missing jewels that were stored at this warehouse.

Now that is where I'm going to leave my recap and introduction. Where I want to start is that this runs almost four hours long. There is a problem here though that it gets repetitive. The same things happen and it feels like filler. I will acknowledge though that watching this over three nights isn't necessary the intended way. People would get these over weeks where I'm running straight through. They would have introductions for viewers to get up to speed where for me, I'm watching these events happen and then seeing it again for the next chapter. Just wanted to set that up to start.

To stick with this, I do think that this could be condensed to less than two hours and it would run better. With these serials, they want to do whatever they can to extend the story out. My problem there is that it feels like we get too much filler. I'm not entirely sure if there are chapters here that progress the overarching story forward. One of our leads will get into peril and leave the viewer with a cliffhanger. I just don't know if it at times it is warranted. That's not to say that I hated the story. I did want to say that. I'll go into what works now that I've said my piece here.

What I did like was the mystery. This falls into that subgenre where these would be considered horror. It starts there with Bud and then we get more as it goes on. As a seasoned cinephile, I try to guess who the killer is. When it is too easy, it can affect my enjoyment. This pushes hard that Prof. Strang or Prof. Steinbeck are this criminal. I figured it couldn't be them as that is what they want you to think. I'll be honest though; I didn't guess correctly. I went back and forth between the two as well as other characters we see. Looking back, it makes sense for the reveal. That part helped me enjoy this.

The other aspect of the story is the villain himself. He projects his shadow on the wall and whispers. What is good here is that he will kill when needed. He can't do it for the most part, being that he's a shadow. There is a moment where he holds a gun on someone that made me laugh, since it wouldn't do anything. That's not to say he doesn't have a weapon to kill from afar. There is an aspect here of him being a mad scientist with this radio wave gun. Once it is figured out how to protect yourself, that falls apart. It still was a solid idea in the beginning.

I'll shift from the story and go over to the acting. I thought it was fine. Lugosi is probably the best out of default. There is a presence about him that I see him as a villain, even if he might not be. This performance wasn't his best. It was still good. Tattersall and McGregor are good as our leads. I love that the former hides things from Jack. That makes her seem potentially guilty. The latter is a bit of a hot head that adds an element. He also looks to do his own stunts which was impressive. Other than that, Warwick, D'Arcy, Dane and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

All that is left is filmmaking. I've already said this had too much filler. Another issue is the editing and the length. I lost interest near the end as it repeats similar situations and then there are even clips to remind us of early chapters. That is something I'll acknowledge is my fault for watching this straight through. I'd say though that the cinematography was good. There were shots that impressed me with framing and using the whole screen. Credit there. We don't get a lot in the way of effects. There was miniature work that made me smile. It has charm. We also got stunts that were impressive. None of this is great, but it works. Other than that, I'd say the soundtrack fit for what was needed. I will once again credit that our villain lives up to his name by whispering.

In conclusion, this is one that has good aspects and ones that don’t work for me. I like the idea of this villain. Also, our lead being on a personal vendetta to discover his identity. Having there be an angle of a mad scientist also works. I'd even say that the cinematography, the practical effects and how the villain talks were good. This is just too long and there's a bit too much filler here. This doesn't ruin it, but it did bog it down for me. I'll one final time say that this was meant to watch spread out though, not like how I did. I'd only recommend to fans of this era or these types of serials.


My Rating: 5.5 out of 10