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Failure to Launch: The Invisible Avenger

April 13, 2014
Richard Derr as Lamont Cranston, I guess.

Richard Derr as Lamont Cranston, I guess.

The Invisible Avenger was the second attempt to bring The Shadow to television. This pilot was filmed in 1958 and stars Richard Derr as Lamont Cranston and Mark Daniels as his mentor in the mystic arts Jogendra. Before I say anything else I just wanted to note that I had a really hard time with Derr as Cranston as he doesn’t look the part at all to me.

This time around our story is set in New Orleans and immediately begins with an international flavor as a jazz musician named Tony meets with a gentleman named Pablo and his daughter. Pablo is the president in exile of the South or Central American country of Santa Cruz. Tony is from Santa Cruz and is loyal to Pablo and, more importantly has contact with Lamont Cranston who is the one person that can contact the Shadow. The former president needs the Shadow’s help as agents of the Generalissimo who took over Santa Cruz are trying to kidnap Pablo for fomenting a counter revolution. Tony makes the call to New York but, is killed literally mid-sentence with Lamont. This, of course, causes Lamont to make a trip, with his mentor Jogendra in tow, to the big easy. Unfortunately for our heroes the Gemeralissimo’s agents are extremely well organized and surreptitiously intercept the two at the airport. Cranston goes straight to the club that Tony made his call from, which is pretty much the only lead he has, to get stonewalled by the staff. He does learn a little bit from a severely over-acted member of the club’s jazz band. Upon leaving, the cabby that intercepted Cranston at the airport tries to take him on a one way trip to nowhere but Cranston uses his hypnotic powers on the cabby through the rear view mirror. While not exactly the safest of plans, it works and Cranston escapes. I want to interrupt at this point to say that the visual effects for this version of the Shadow are pretty awesome. The hypnosis has suitably eerie music attached to it and, while invisible, Cranston still casts this disembodied shadow that is pretty cool looking and surprisingly well executed. At this point Cranston as the Shadow visits Pablo and his daughter and advises them to go into hiding. There is another neat scene where we see Cranston’s shadow form turn off the tv set that Pablo is watching before addressing him. The attempts against Cranston’s life continue but fail to stop him from finding Tony’s body as well as a clue he left in his trumpet at the club. At this point we flash to a news story that reports on the capture of Tony’s killers thanks to a tip from an anonymous source (Cranston) and we see the live execution of Pablo’s twin brother in Santa Cruz for treason. In his final words, the brother encourages Pablo to come out of hiding to support the impending counter revolution. Against Cranston’s wishes, Pablo does so and is promptly abducted by forces loyal to the Generalissimo. This leads to a car chase that I will generously describe as unconvincing. I would have ascribed it to the time period but, being a fan of the 1940s Green Hornet serials which have some pretty amazing car chases, I know this is not the issue. This ultimately leads to a final showdown between Cranston and the Generalissimo’s agents. There was even a surprising twist at the end that I hadn’t seen coming.

In comparison to the earlier pilot, I found the acting in this one to be a bit uneven. Jogendra and Pablo are fine but all the rest have some very wooden moments and then there’s that embarrassing stereotype of a jazz musician. I was more engaged by the story in this one due mostly to the larger scope of the events and the visual effects that are light years better than the first pilot. The Invisible Avenger is made up of what would apparently have been two half hour television episodes had the pilot made series. They are put together for this presentation which was ultimately released as a theatrical movie. A version re-titled Bourbon Street Shadows was released at one point and according to the Internet Movie Database apparently contains fifteen more minutes of footage than the version I watched. Unfortunately, it looks like copies of this longer version are not readily available as I would be interested in checking it out. I can see why the Invisible Avenger most likely didn’t make series as the acting and production are quite rough around the edges in a number of places. Regardless of this, of the two pilots I definitely prefer this one over the earlier because, although it unsuccessfully reached beyond its capabilities in a number of places, it did so attempting to really bring the Shadow to life and to tell an interesting story that was more than just your standard murder mystery at the same time.

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