Saturday, May 14, 2011

Joyce in Behind the Mask (1947)

Behind the Mask counts among the handful of films Joyce Compton did for the budget Monogram studio in the 1940s — whether she was a signed contract player there remains to be seen. Monogram's offerings spanned several genres including Westerns, Romances, Musicals and Film Noir Melodrama. Solid, modest entertainment was the hallmark of their best product, but even the lousiest of Monogram pictures (and trust me, there's plenty) had a scrappy charm.

Behind the Mask was the second of three Monogram productions starring popular radio character The Shadow. What sounds like a promising, gritty drama going in, however, ends up a strange, grimy little film that awkwardly injects comedy into an otherwise unremarkable whodunit. The story concerns the murder of a blackmailing newspaper reporter. Witnesses believe it was the Shadow who committed the deed; the Shadow's alter ego Lamont Cranston (Kane Richmond, sort of a poor guy's Phillip Terry) must prove otherwise with the help of his daffy girlfriend Margo Lane (Barbara Read). Having never heard a radio ep of The Shadow, I can't tell how much fidelity this film has to the source material. The film is an OK time waster whose one (tiny) distinction is Read's chucking of all demure femininity in a proto-Lucille Ball turn.

Joyce appears briefly as a flirty nightclub employee attempting to rope Cranston into a sting operation. She does her best, but the role is typical of the diminishing parts she was taking as her career was fading. Behind the Mask spent years not being available on any home video format, but it has recently turned up as a Netflix Watch Instantly offering.

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