Friday, September 23, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: Shadow Man (1953)

He’s known simply as “Luigi” (Cesar Romero), the owner and operator of a Soho “pin table saloon.”  (“Pin table” is British slang for a pinball table, and Luigi’s joint features not only liquor but arcade games—kind of an early Dave & Buster’s.)  He’s also committing adultery with Barbara Gale (Kay Kendall), a dissatisfied socialite who has the misfortune of being married to a real wanker (John Penrose).  Complicating their affair is Angele Abbé (Simone Silva), an old flame of Luigi’s who apparently did not receive the memo that Luigi doesn’t want to ever, ever, ever see her again.  Angele is leading Luigi’s employee “Limpy” (Victor Maddern) along only because she’s convinced that he’s the ticket to a continuation of her pretend relationship with Luigi.

Angele is found murdered in Luigi’s apartment, and here’s our hero’s dilemma: he’s on record as having earlier beaten up a Merchant Seaman (Michael Kelly) when the swabbie forced his unwanted attentions on Angele, so the police single Luigi out as a “person of interest” in the murder.  Luigi knows he’s not responsible for his ex-girlfriend’s killing…the trouble is, he spotted his new girlfriend leaving his flat shortly before he stumbled across Angele’s body.

I don’t know why they decided to retitle this week’s “Forgotten Noir” Shadow Man (1953) for U.S. audiences; star Cesar Romero certainly hasn’t been hired to trail anyone.  Its original British title, Street of Shadows, makes a lot more sense; fortunately, the print of Man featured on the 2006 VCI release is the original U.K. version…which was seven minutes longer than the print that ultimately unspooled in American theaters.  (All I can say is: I have the utmost sympathy for those British audiences that had to endure that extra seven minutes.)

Beginning with his motion picture debut in The Shadow Laughs (1933), Romero was one of the silver screen’s most dependable second leads, and also demonstrated a nice flair for lighter assignments (one of my favorite Cesar movies is 1941’s Tall, Dark and Handsome).  Cesar Romero’s contract with 20th Century-Fox expired in 1950, and from that moment on he did a good deal of movie freelancing; Robert L. Lippert availed himself of the actor’s services with such productions as Lost Continent (1951), The Jungle (1952), and Scotland Yard Inspector (1952).  From 1947 (the year he had one of his best film roles in Captain from Castile) to 1993, Romero appeared in at least one movie or TV show every year until his passing in 1994 at the age of 86…and he was even working beyond that, with his last credit being 1998’s The Right Way (okay, it was filmed a few years before its 1998 release—are you happy now?).

Before the doctors explained to my parents that there was no cure for my classic film obsession, I knew Cesar Romero for two things.  One, his various guest appearances as The Joker on TV’s Batman (1966-68).  The other was his turn as the villainous A.J. Arno in Walt Disney’s “Dexter Riley” trilogy—The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1970), Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), and The Strongest Man in the World (1975).  I thought Romero was quite good in Shadow Man…it’s a shame he was saddled with such a deadly dull production.

That’s what kept Shadow Man from being a winner for me; its sluggish pace (director Richard Vernon also adapted Laurence Meynell’s novel The Creaking ChairMan was his only turn in the director’s chair) and the fact that for a mystery film there’s not much of a mystery—the killer is pretty obvious from the start.  Nothing really happens in the movie until about 45 minutes in; most of what transpires before is character creation…and I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing, it’s just that you need to go somewhere after you’ve taken the time to tell us who’s who.  (They take so much time establishing that Luigi is a right guy despite his sleazy occupation I thought for a brief moment Romero was auditioning for Casablanca.)  The tragic part of all this is that Man does a fairly good job in creating a properly seedy atmosphere (very similar to the celebrated Night and the City) but neglects to pack a plot in its suitcase.

Kay Kendall—just off her splendid turn in Genevieve (1953), and a year away from Doctor in the House (1954)—has a nice showcase as Romero’s illicit lover, and there are familiar British faces in Bill Travers (the star of Born Free and Ring of Bright Water), Edward Underdown (Beat the Devil), and Victor Maddern (the TV sitcom Fair Exchange)—Maddern’s character’s name is actually “Danny Thomas,” which was good for a snicker.  In the final analysis, however…I’d have to give Shadow Man a thumbs-down.

To cleanse my palate after the disappointment that was Shadow Man, I decided to watch the second feature on Forgotten Noir Volume 3Shoot to Kill (1947), which I covered on the blog previously in May of 2012 (it was one of several movies on the Mill Creek collection Dark Crimes; I may look on this set for future “forgotten” noirs when the VCI entries run out).  The VCI print of Kill is in a heckuva lot better shape than the Mill Creek version, and it’s still a guilty pleasure of mine (Luana Walters and her many turbans; Vince “Elmo” Barnett; that eclectic Chinese joint with Gene Rodgers playing boogie-woogie piannah). 

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