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Failure to Launch: The Shadow (1954)

April 11, 2014
Lamont and Margot at the Cobalt Club after having their evening plans ruined by Commissioner Weston.

Lamont and Margot at the Cobalt Club after having their evening plans ruined by Commissioner Weston.

In the early days of television there were two attempts to bring the very popular pulp hero The Shadow to the then new medium. The Shadow radio program was extremely popular and given Dragnet’s successful transition to tv, moving the Shadow there probably looked like a safe bet. This first pilot, sometimes subtitled The Case of the Cotton Kimono, stars Tom Helmore as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow and Paula Raymond as Margot Lane.

Our story begins with a young woman, whose name we later learn is Cissy Chadwick, hurriedly throwing on a kimono (hence the subtitle) to answer the door for who she assumes to be her boyfriend. Instead, she is gunned down by an unseen assailant. After this we meet Lamont and Margot who are just heading out to take in a show when their evening is interrupted by Commissioner Weston. We quickly learn that Lamont is a criminal psychologist on retainer from the New York City police department. The Commissioner wants Lamont’s opinion on the case. As it turns out, there is another detective named Harris working the case and his prime suspect is Cissy’s boyfriend Alex Bromm. Lamont talks to Harris first who claims to be making no progress showing a bruise on his head that he claims Bromm gave him after his second attempt to speak to the guy. Visiting Bromm next turns out to be considerably more productive as Bromm claims that Harris has visited him way more than two times. In fact, he says that Harris has been relentlessly harassing him when he knows nothing about his girlfriend’s murder. The conversation reminds Bromm that the night before the murder Cissy had visited a singing teacher whose service she was going to no longer be needing. Lamont visits the teacher who turns out to be an extremely arrogant man and he all but throws Cranston out of his home. This triggers a visit from the Shadow. This Shadow is the same as the one we hear on the radio program who uses hypnosis to make himself invisible to his victims. This was back in the good old days when hypnosis could basically do anything. The visual effect for this is a flashing light shown on the screen beside the victim. If that sounds lame that would be because it pretty much is. Just as the Shadow has terrified the teacher into making a confession on his balcony, a gun shot from an unseen sniper permanent silences the man. After this Margot makes an observation about the case that everyone else previously had missed which leads Lamont and Margot to chase down the remaining clues they need to solve Cissy’s murder.

Clocking in at half an hour, this pilot very much comes across as a radio episode translated to the small screen. Overall, the story itself is fine and the acting is good enough but, the poor visual effect is enough to take it down a notch in my book. One thing that I did find myself wondering about was the ethical dilemma of someone with a professional psychology degree, assuming Cranston had actually had one, using that knowledge of psychology to terrorize confessions out of people as the Shadow. I guess we’re just not supposed to examine this particular point that closely. To be honest, I really can’t say why this pilot didn’t make series. The visual effect could have easily been changed if that was an issue but, even with as much as I disliked them, I can’t imagine it being a deal breaker. Perhaps the reasons are something that only the Shadow knows.

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