Behind the Mask (MGM MOD)
Directed by Phil Karlson
Aspect Ratio: 1.30:1 Running Time: 67 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
Release Date: available now
Review Date: November 18, 2011
Popular gossip columnist Jeff Mann (James Cardwell) knows all the dirt there is to know, and for those who are making a killing in illegal activities like mobster Marty Greene (Lou Crosby) or gambling racketeer Mae Bishop (Marjorie Hoshelle), he extorts money from them to keep his silence. When he decides he wants a bigger piece of the money pie, he’s killed by a shadowy figure in his newspaper office. Editor Brad Thomas (Robert Shayne) suspects The Shadow, and Commissioner Weston (Pierre Watkin) and Inspector Cardonna (Joseph Crehan) also think he may be behind the murder. But Lamont Cranston (alias The Shadow) (Kane Richmond) is at his engagement party on the eve of his marriage to longtime girl friend Margo Lane (Barbara Reed) so he knows he’s being set up. With his manservant Shrevvie (George Chandler), he sets out to find the real murderer.
The story by Arthur Hoerl adapted for the screen by George Callahan has a decent murder mystery at its core, and with all of the looming shadows, rain, and neon, the makings for a noir mystery-thriller are temptingly present, but the writers botch that notion by having Cranston’s girl friend and her maid Jennie (Dorothea Kent) know Lamont’s secret and join in with helping him clear his name. There is an outrageous amount of noisy squabbling and distrustful behavior on the part of the two ladies who spy on their respective boy friends while they’re working to find the murderer, so any tension that might have been established with the murderer on the prowl claiming two additional victims is totally lost with their amateurish detective work and needless jealous pouting. With the film running just a bit over an hour, the investigative parts of the movie total barely a quarter of the running time with the rest spent on silly mistaken identities and foolishness involving the “snoop sisters” (because the women don’t tell the men what they’re up to, they not only get in the way and allow the murderer to escape but require their own rescue more than once). Due to the extremely limited budget, the lack of cast members means that the murderer’s identity is fairly obvious if one has watched a few murder mysteries in his day, and only the bumbling police detectives failing to do routine police work allow the killer to get away with it for so long.
Kane Richmond, a mainstay in serials in the 1930s and 1940s, was not Lamont Cranston in the 1940 Columbia serial (Victor Jory, of all people, played the part), but he’s wonderfully cast as Cranston/The Shadow in this. Square-jawed and powerfully built, he might have made a really interesting crime fighting hero with better production values and a serious script to work with. One can almost sense his irritation with all of the hair-brained silliness and shrill squawking that Barbara Reed and Dorothea Kent bring to the picture. With George Chandler also playing his butler role for laughs, Richmond is surrounded by buffoons which would have seemed outrageously over-the-top even in a comic Thin Man caper. Joseph Crehan makes for an admirably crusty Inspector Cardonna, and Pierre Watkin gives his always reliable sturdy support as Cranston’s uncle, the police commissioner. Edward Gargan as the perpetually whining hypochondriac Detective Dixon soft-pedals the silliness and is a more welcome addition to the cast.
The film appears to be framed at approximately 1.30:1 (there are slivers of pillarbox bars within the 1.37:1 frame). Sharpness is only average, but the grayscale in certain scenes can look quite crisp and appealing when contrast has been dialed in with precision. Black levels vary throughout with a usually dark gray tone for most of them but occasionally they look deeper than that. There is no disguising the film’s age with dust specks, occasional scratches, and film damage present and with the reel change markers in full view. The film has been divided into 7 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. The mix is stronger than one might have guessed it would be given the low budget and the age of the sound materials. Dialogue is always clearly audible even with the sound effects and the music score sharing the track with it. There is some hiss, but it’s not a constant presence nor is the occasional flutter and pops that one can hear from time to time.
There are no bonus materials for this made-on-demand disc.
2.5/5 (not an average)
The Shadow for all of its pulp fiction and radio success has never been able to make a really successful transition to the movies. Behind the Mask is misguided and woefully slack in the production department wasting its ideal leading man with an unenviable number of clownish co-stars who drag both him and the movie down. Still for those who want to know what "The Shadow knows," this movie is now available.