FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
WHISPERING SHADOW was star-billed Bela Lugosi's first serial, but it's far from his best.
Even by 1933 it was routine to organize a serial around the activities of a mysterious villain, who became the narrative center while the hero or heroes sought to unveil his identity. In contrast to SHADOW OF CHINATOWN, where the villain's identity is known throughout, the "Whispering Shadow" is approrpriately seen as a shadowy figure, actually a projected image that appears before his hired thugs to give them their commands. Only a few times is the villain seen in the (heavily costumed) flesh, with the result that the serial does a fairly good job of keeping the audience guessing. I don't think I'm giving anything much away to say that the heroes' number one suspect, Professor Strang (Lugosi), is not the villain this time, but your basic red herring. Strang, who runs a slightly spooky wax museum, gets involved in the Shadow's quest to steal the Crown Jewels of the Balkan States. Also involved is heroic main character Foster, who wants to hunt down the Shadow for having killed Foster's brother.
Neither direction nor action-scenes are anything special here. The marvelous gimmick most on display here is an electrical "death ray" which the Shadow can direct at anyone who wears a "death disc," a sort of homing device for the ray. These scenes of electrical death are largely the serial's only high points, although Lugosi and heroine Viva Tattersall give intense performances.