The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: The Whispering Shadow

Welcome to my 30th Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review. I think we should all celebrate this milestone with cake and ice cream.

Basic Story Line
A priceless set of crown jewels are hidden in The Empire Transport Corporation’s warehouse and everyone is after them, including a gang of criminals run by the deadly and illusive Whispering Shadow.

Quick Facts
Released in 1933
Directed by Albert Herman and Colbert Clark
Written by Barney Sarecky, George Morgan, Norman Hall, Colbert Clark, and Wyndham Gitters
Starring Bela Lugosi, Malcom McGregor, and Viva Tattersall

As a mystery and a thriller The Whispering Shadow is a mess. However, if you watch it as a comedy it’s actually quite entertaining.

When watching a serial, if the opening credits list Nat Levine and Mascot Serials, do yourself a favour: run. These are the people that gave us the infamous Three Musketeers, starring John Wayne (Yes, that John Wayne) and now, The Whispering Shadow. Both serials had Colbert Clark as a director. Both serials were released in 1933. Barney Sarecky, Norman Hall, and Whyndham Gitters were writers on The Three Musketeers and The Whispering Shadow. As I was watching The Whispering Shadow I started thinking, “Wow, I owe Undersea Kingdom an apology.”

As bad as Undersea Kingdom is, it is watchable, and probably entertaining enough for kids. It has horses, robots, a rocket powered submarine, and guys running around in funny hats with swords. The Whispering Shadow lacks decent production values and any imaginative coolness. Apparently the whole serial was filmed quickly and cheaply in 18 days. It shows. It is filled with jump cuts and continuity errors that knock you out of any willing suspension of disbelief you might have had. The camera work is uninteresting. The lighting is poor. With the exception of Bela Lugosi, the acting is either stiff or over-the-top. With no musical soundtrack to help suck you into the story emotionally, there is no reason to forgive the technical flaws.

The story of The Whispering Shadow is a muddled mess. There are seven different factions, all trying to get their hands on the stolen jewels. Everyone is running around in confusion. The box of jewels is constantly being switched and lost. It also has some of the most ridiculous twists at the end that I have ever seen. However, if you imagine playing the Benny Hill theme over it with some comic sound effects, this serial suddenly becomes a brilliant farce with slamming doors, mad chases, mix-ups, fight scenes that consist of flailing limbs, and people jumping out windows. The muddled mess works as a comedy.

Perhaps a farce or screwball comedy is not what the makers of this serial had in mind, but thinking of it that way certainly makes it a lot more watchable.

Things to watch for
-An auto-gyro aircraft.
-A dangerous wax museum

The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (Note: This is the spot where I try to write something clever about what should be considered a plot hole. With this serial I’m not really sure where to begin.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Medium to High

Now hand me some of that cake.


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