Shadow of the Eagle Part I – Episodes 1 to 3
I remember with great affection the serials I saw as a kid in the 1950s at the Saturday morning picture shows. It was with this in mind that I decided to take a look at the three serials John Wayne appeared in for Mascot Pictures in the early 1930s.
The idea was to write two articles for each serial featuring six episodes at a time. However, upon checking out the first one Wayne starred in, “Shadow of the Eagle”, released in February of 1932 I realised that some of the episodes are VERY LONG.
In the case of “Shadow” the first episode clocks in at approximately 27 minutes alone. On that basis this first article will only cover the first three episodes with more to follow in a couple of weeks.
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The full 12 part series of Shadow of the Eagle is available
Episode One – The Carnival Mystery
The local sheriff threatens to shut down a travelling carnival unless the owner, Col. ‘Skipper’ Gregory, played by Edward Hearn, settles a bunch of outstanding bills. After coming up short by about ninety dollars stunt pilot Craig McCoy, played by JW, saves the day by making up the difference.
Skipper’s daughter Jean, played by Dorothy Gulliver, performs with Craig as a wing walker and parachutist, Craig and her running off to try out a new stunt after having saved the carnival from ruin. Wheel-chair bound Skipper watches along with assorted carnival folk including a midget played by ‘Little Billie’ Rhodes and strongman Heine, played by Ivan Linow, as his daughter jumps from the plane.
In the meantime, Craig’s plane starts to emit smoke, Skipper realising that his friend is skywriting rather than spiraling to his death. Craig has been paid anonymously to write “May 23rd 1918 The Eagle” in the sky, a feat witnessed by a group of businessmen who are gathered on the ground discussing the building of a new aeroplane factory for the Evans Aero Co., a company owned by Major Evans, played by Richard Tucker.
Returning to the office the businessmen discover a message left by the Eagle declaring “You shot down the Eagle and stole his invention. His shadow has returned. Prepare to pay.” It transpires that some of the businessmen were part of a flying squadron during WWI and one of their fellow flyers, the Eagle, was ‘accidentally’ shot down by one of his own men after being mistaken for an enemy flyer.
Enter stage left the villainous Boyle, played by stuntman Yakima Canutt, making the first of many appearances in a John Wayne film. He and his companion receive a call from the Eagle telling them that one of the businessmen, Green, is on his way to the carnival. Green intercepts Craig and asks him who requested he skywrite the message about the Eagle.
By this time Jean is starting to suspect that her father knows more than he is letting on, especially when he recognises Green as a member of his old flying unit. It then transpires that Skipper is actually the Eagle, and he did have an invention, a radio-piloted aircraft, that he believes was stolen by Green and his fellow business colleagues.
Green makes off with some of Skipper’s plans, not realising that Billy has stolen a ride on the back of his car. Craig is also in pursuit on a motorbike and arrives to take the stolen plans from Boyle and his fellow henchman who have only just relieved them from Green.
Billy reports back to tell Skipper he overheard Green on the phone arranging a meeting for that evening at the factory but his boss has been kidnapped. Craig tracks Green down and forces himself on the meeting Green has arranged, demanding to know where Skipper is being held.
As each side throws accusations back and forth, resulting in the discovery that the plans Green stole comprised a couple of blank pages, they all witness another skywriting stunt in which the name of one of the businessmen, Clark, is written and then crossed out.
A mysterious stranger enters the room, the lights suddenly go out, a loud scream is heard followed by a gun shot, the action in the dark punctuated by someone intoning that “The Eagle has struck”. When the lights are turned back on Clark lays dead on the floor. Craig runs off in pursuit of the stranger whilst the businessmen leave the room to find out where the stranger has gone. When they return to the office they find Clark’s body has disappeared.
Craig turns up at the carnival, telling Jean that he’s convinced he saw her father running away after having murdered Clark. Skipper then tuns up, miraculously no longer in a wheelchair, but still pleading his innocence in the murder of Clark and telling Craig he only turned the lights off in the office to save him.
This statement is overheard by Major Evans and his business colleagues who are now convinced that both Skipper and Craig are in on the plot to kill them all. Billy and Heinie arrive in the nick of time to fight the businessmen off. Jean runs after her father who appears to then jump into Craig’s stunt plane but Jean is convinced the man is not her father but someone disguised to look like him.
Whoever is flying the plane then does a “North by Northwest” by first flying low over the carnival and setting it on fire through means not necessarily obvious in the print I watched before turning their attention to trying to kill Craig and Jean…
Episode Two – Pinholes
… who the following week jump into a conveniently placed hole in the ground just as it looks as though they’re about to be decapitated by the Eagle. They then rush off to help put out the blazing carnival, after which Craig and Jean come to the conclusion that Skipper must have been kidnapped, probably by one of the businessmen intent on blaming the nefarious acts of the Eagle on him instead.
Craig thinks that maybe the Eagle can be traced via the unsigned note that he received requesting he perform his skywriting stunt.
Rushing off to the factory to follow up on his theory, Craig and Little Billy trick the caretaker by having Billy disguise himself as an abandoned babe in arms. Once he’s inside the building Billy lets Craig in. Meanwhile back at the carnival Jean is awoken by the presence of a stranger outside her tent.
Producing a gun from beneath her pillow Jean lets fly with a bullet then runs outside only to find a note pinned to the canvas that reads “Dear Jean, am writing to you for one reason only. Wrap up the carnival and start West. Have laid my plans to join you quickly. Father.”
Jean is convinced it is her father’s handwriting but not too bothered that she nearly killed him. With the help of the highly intuitive Henry the ventriloquist, played by James Bradbury Jr., they work out that Skipper had been forced to write the note but has somehow managed to use a code that tells Jean where he’s being held captive.
Back at the factory Craig finds a desk calendar that he thinks will help him track down the Eagle. His thought process is interrupted when the businessmen return to the factory. Craig informs them that one of their group is the Eagle who is attempting to frame Skipper in order to cover up his own tracks. He then says he can prove it because the paper on which the unsigned note was written had been torn from a desk calendar he found in another office.
One of the businessmen, Ward, played by Kenneth Harlan, resigns on the spot, not wanting anything to do with working for a corrupt company. Ward is persuaded to remain in employment after being threatened by Major Evans that “innocent men don’t run”.
Craig informs them all that he found the desk calendar in Clark’s office which confuses everyone on account of Clark is dead and therefore cannot be the Eagle. Craig asks if they’re sure Clark is actually dead seeing as his body has still not been found.
When someone points out a blood stain on the carpet where Clark fell Craig checks it out and discovers that the blood is actually iodine. One of the businessmen suggests they look to see if the iodine bottle is still in the washroom. Upon opening the washroom door who should reappear but Clark, bound and gagged and unconscious.
In what appears to be the following day Jean and Heinie makes their way on Craig’s borrowed motorcycle to 241 Water Street, the address deciphered by Henry from the note supposedly penned by her father. Whilst Heinie takes lookout duties Jean overhears Boyle and his companion discussing with their boss Gardner, played by Roy D’Arcy, how they’re now going to find out from Skipper what the Eagle needs to know seeing as he’s about to talk.
A resourceful Jean opens the door to the room where she heard the thugs by the old trick of placing a newspaper under the door then pushing the key out of the lock on the other side of the door. Just as she is about to witness Gardner attempting to force her father to talk via the application of a large whip the telephone rings, forcing her to hide. She then overhears Gardner stating that “McCoy’s at the factory and he’s getting too close to the truth”.
Back at the factory a now revived Clark accuses Craig of not only having written the note himself but also tying Clark up and putting him in the washroom. Before matters can take a fateful turn for Craig the telephone rings, the thug Gardner who threatened Skipper with the whip putting on a disguised voice as the Eagle and demanding that Craig be allowed to leave the factory.
At that very moment Jean holds Gardner and the other crims at gunpoint, takes the phone and tells the businessmen that she has found the Eagle and has the drop on the bad guys. Not for long though, Gardner literally whipping the gun from her hand. The weapon goes off as it hits the floor and is heard outside by Heine the strong man who is keeping a look out for Jean. Jean shouts the address into the phone then runs from the room, holding the door closed behind her. Heine appears in the nick of time and takes on Gardner and his cronies.
In the meantime back at the factory Little Billy distracts the businessmen by sticking an umbrella under a coat suspended from a coat hanger and fooling them into thinking he’s the Eagle. Craig and Billy then get away in the confusion with Evans and the other businessmen following in hot pursuit.
Heine meanwhile is still attempting to hold the bad guys at bay, he and Jean climbing out of a window onto some decidedly shaky scaffolding. As Heine continues to hold the thugs back the businessmen pursuing Craig and Billy force Craig’s car to collide into the scaffolding at which point it collapses underneath Heine and Jean who presumably fall to their death…
Episode Three – The Eagle Strikes
… but once the usual recap is out of the way Jean can be seen hanging by her fingertips from the window ledge whilst Heinie is momentarily nowhere to be seen. Craig and Billy escape unscathed whilst the businessmen, rather callously ignoring the mayhem they’ve just caused, make their way into the building.
The thugs haul Jean back into the room only to be interrupted by the businessmen bursting into the apartment. In the meantime, Skipper appears to have skipped out of the room he was locked in. The businessmen demand to know why Skipper was kidnapped. The thugs reply that they’re actually private detectives who abducted Skipper specifically for the businessmen, Jean protesting that the kidnappers are obviously lying.
Outside in the street Craig and Billy pull an unconscious Heinie from beneath the collapsed scaffolding, Billy complaining that he’s spent half his life “looking after this big palooka”. Back in the apartment one of the businessmen discover a message chalked on the floor proclaiming “Turn my daughter loose. The Eagle”. As far as Major Evans is concerned this now points to Jean and her father as the guilty parties.
Before they can call the police though Craig bursts into the room and confronts Evans, telling him he’s “not dealing with a girl or a crippled old man now”. Suddenly a man in a uniform with a peaked cap appears literally out of nowhere and hands Evans a telegram which reads “I dare not tell my name but Miss Gregory knows where her father is hiding”. The Major declares this proves Jean is guilty of deception but Craig intervenes so that Jean can escape, Craig getting knocked out in the ensuing struggle with the thugs.
As Billy helps Heinie out from beneath the scaffolding Jean unbelievably climbs into a car she thinks is being driven by her father then shouts for help upon realising it’s someone disguised as Skipper. A suddenly conscious Craig abseils out of the apartment window and retrieves his bike, telling Billy and Heinie to stop the kidnappers pursuing him whilst he rides off to rescue Jean.
Craig jumps onto the running board of the car and discovers the mysterious driver is none other than Clark. He wrests control of the vehicle and drives the car back to the carnival where he interrogates Clark who tells them he knows that Jean’s father is being blamed for all of the nefarious deeds being carried out in the name of the Eagle.
Clark is just about to reveal who the Eagle is when he is shot in the back and killed. Craig runs after the killer who he identifies as Gardner but is arrested by the police before he can apprehend him.
Just as Craig is about to be framed for Clark’s murder Pat Kelly, the carnival barker, played by Ernie Adams, helps out by taking the rap instead. As Jean explains to Craig, “We can prove him innocent whenever necessary. If you go to jail, who will fight father’s battle?”.
Craig then threatens Gardner to confess his role in the murder of Clark, both of them taking a ride on the big wheel to avoid scrutiny. Meanwhile, just as Evans and the other businessmen come to the conclusion that Clark was the Eagle all along the mysterious skywriter suddenly appears high above the carnival, inscribing “CLARK?” in the sky.
Craig realises Gardner now appears to have the plans that everyone seems to be so interested in. As he tries to get them from Gardner they end up in a fight on the wheel. The plans fall to the ground where they are picked up by an unidentifiable figure. At this point a body then tumbles from the top of the wheel…
And, just like the serials of old, you’re going to have to come back, this time in two weeks, not one, in order to find out what happens to our intrepid hero.
In the meantime I’m going to try and figure out exactly what’s going on myself.
Shadow of the Eagle Part II – Episodes 4 to 6
“Shadow of the Eagle” runs for approximately three hours and forty-three minutes which vies with another John Wayne serial, “The Hurricane Express”, as the longest film he ever appeared in. And I’m going to be taking a look at that one next time around. This is madness. Anyway, on with the show.
Episode Four – The Man of a Million Voices
If you recall, at the end of episode three Craig (JW) and bad guy Gardner (Roy D’Arcy) started a punch up on the big wheel after which a body is seen falling from the top of the attraction. Unbelievably the body is Craig, who somehow manages to miraculously break his fall by grabbing a strut in the middle of the wheel.
While he’s distracted Gardner does a runner leaving Craig looking for the plans he thinks belong to Skipper that Gardner dropped from the wheel.
In his frustration Craig accuses Major Evans and his colleagues of having picked up the plans for themselves so they could make a mint out of Skipper’s invention for a radio controlled plane.
By the way before we go any further I’ve just realised that Little Billy is the name of the actor and not the character he plays. His character is just known as The Midget, but bearing in mind that term is now considered derogatory I’ll just continue to refer to him as Billy.
Away from the carnival Jean reluctantly continues to go along with her friend Pat Kelly at the police station that he still takes the rap for killing Clark in order to protect Craig from wrongly being accused of the crime himself. As Pat is led away to the nearest cell Jean is asked to identify the murder weapon recovered from the scene after Clark’s demise.
Jean recognises it as the gun she took from Gardner when she and Heinie were at his office. She tells Pat she intends to go back to the office – again – to look for evidence to put Gardner and his cronies in the caboose.
Craig, Billy, Heinie and Henry the vent chew over the fat trying to figure out their next move. Suddenly Craig has a bright idea. He suggests the best way to flush out who might be the Eagle is to gather Major Evans and his businessman together at the factory and then for Henry to send word that Skipper is escaping. Where and who he is escaping from isn’t made exactly clear but I’m thinking it will all come out in the wash sooner or later.
Adhering to Craig’s plan Heinie turns up at the factory posing as a worker. Henry then calls Major Evans and using his ventriloquism skills imitates Green, one of the company directors, telling Evans he has some news about the Eagle and to call the other directors to go to the factory in half an hour.
Gardner receives a call from his unidentified boss at his office telling him he and his cronies should head to the factory on account of the directors will be gathering there. Jean sneaks in just as the thugs leave, picks up the phone and orders a taxi to pick her up at the office she’s just broken into.
Heinie lets Craig and his compatriots into the factory by the back door. The strong man complains that hasn’t been ‘wised-up’ as to what the main plan is going to be so Craig explains that seeing as one of the directors must be holding Skipper prisoner he’s going to make them think that Skipper is escaping.
His expectation is that whoever the guilty party might be will then break cover to stop Skipper skipping off. A minute later Gardner and his two cronies turn up at the factory with Jean following closely behind, Yak conveniently leaving the back gate open in case they have to leave in a hurry which means Jean can easily get into the premises herself. Those scriptwriters think of everything.
Major Evans arrives at the office first with Gardner close behind. Craig leaves the office by another door to avoid being seen by Evans, witnesses Gardner ducking up the stairs and follows him. We then see Jean following Yak and his fellow thug who chance upon the security guard that Heine had previously knocked out in order to steal his pass and gain entry to the factory.
When he tells Yak what happened his fellow thug states that McCoy must be up to something. Yak suggests they find Gardner and tip him off, Jean taking all of this in as she hides out of sight a few feet away.
Craig follows Gardner up on to the roof of the factory building and stays close behind as Gardner inadvertently leads Craig to a room where Skipper is tied up and being held captive in the dark. Craig announces his presence and knocks Gardner out with a desultory slap to the chops but it seems to do the trick.
In order to get up on to the roof before Yak can warn Gardner about Heine’s presence Jean decides to take a short cut and climb a ladder on the outside of the factory building, not realising that Yak catches sight of her before he enters the factory.
All the directors gather in the office and realise they’ve been duped when Green tells them he knows nothing about ringing Evans to arrange the meeting. An authoritative voice suddenly intones “You stand in the shadow of the Eagle.
Gregory has escaped and is on his way to the police” which sends the directors looking everywhere to find out where the voice came from. For some reason, no one bothers to look behind the large coat hanger behind which Billy is hiding and from where he delivered the message.
Thinking that the owner of the mysterious voice might be on the fire escape a couple of the directors open the window just as Jean is climbing past on the ladder. She screams and starts to descend only to realise Yak and his thug are on the way up the ladder to get to her before she can reach the roof.
She jumps through the nearest open window to be greeted by Henry the vent who shows her the way out. Back on the top of the building, Craig is aiding a weakened Skipper towards the staircase when the Eagle himself suddenly appears with a big coat collar wrapped around his face to serve as a rather weak disguise. He and Craig have at it, the Eagle then joined by Gardner who has miraculously recovered from the so-called pummelling Craig administered a few minutes before.
Jean and daddy are momentarily reunited only to be pulled apart as Major Evans and the directors appear and take Skipper captive. Back on the roof top Craig decides he’s outnumbered and tries to climb down to the ground on a rickety steel ladder. The Eagle spots an opportunity and wrenches the top of the ladder from its moorings, sending Craig plunging to his …
Episode Five – The Telephone Cipher
… delayed death as he lands on the roof of the opposite building. It turns out that the film jumped towards the end of the last episode as in this chapter Heinie appears from out of nowhere and rescues Jean from the clutches of her captors, reuniting her in the blink of an eye once again with daddy Skipper.
Yak and his crony catch sight of Skipper about to drive away and attempt to apprehend him before they’re cautioned by a passing policeman. Yak tells the copper that Skipper is insane. The idiot copper buys their story and accompanies Skipper to the local asylum as instructed by Yak. Just in case you’re wondering where Jean is whilst all this is going on look no further than the interior of the now crowded car where she lies slumped inside fast asleep.
The directors, still yet again convinced Skipper is really the Eagle, witness another skywriting exercise in which Ames, one of the directors, has his name displayed in the clouds. Back at the asylum Jean wakes from her stupor – apparently she’s been in shock – and asks for her father. When told she has been brought to the place by none other than Yak, Jean slumps back in bed as if accepting things couldn’t get any worse.
At the carnival things start to take a very surrealistic turn when Henry the vent converses with his dummy as if the wooden puppet has a life of its own. Before this can get totally insane Craig and Heinie turn up looking for Jean and Skipper.
Craig enters his tent straight into the company of Evans and the directors, accompanied by Gardner who holds a gun on Craig. Back at the asylum, Jean asks a nurse to fetch her a glass of hot milk but we know she’s feisty enough to be up to something which she is, phoning the carnival and being told by Henry in code that he, Billy and Craig are being held at gunpoint.
At that moment Heinie appears and disarms Gardner. I have to be honest and admit it might not be Gardner holding the gun on account of its difficult to tell the villains from one another seeing as most of them sport thin moustaches and insist on wearing a hat at all times.
Now aware that Jean has been kidnapped and held at the asylum Craig turns up masquerading as Doctor McCoy. Distracting the nurse by ‘accidentally’ breaking a thermometer Craig asks Jean how she ended up in the hospital but the most crucial piece of information to come out of this conversation is that I found out Yak’s companion is actually called Tom Moore, played by Bud Osbourne, so I can refer to him by his proper name from now on.
Things start to get rather ludicrous when, after tracking Skipper down in the hospital, Boyle and Moore (Yak and Bud Osbourne), are interrupted by Craig disguised as a doctor by hiding behind a large white mask but no attempt to change his voice, which surely must have been a giveaway to anyone in the film who has heard him speak before.
Craig also does a whole other kind of stupid himself by removing his mask and telling Skipper that Heinie is waiting outside with a getaway car before Boyle and Moore have physically left the room.
Craig holds off the bad guys and tells Skipper to get out of the hospital. The film then cuts to Jean who has locked the nurse in a closet and somehow or other managed to dress up as a nurse herself. Skipper wanders out of the hospital as slowly as possible and is inevitably spotted by one of the orderlies.
Heinie engages with the asylum staff as they try to hold on to Skipper whilst Craig dukes it out with Boyle and Moore. Craig gets knocked out giving Boyle and Moore the chance to engage in a car chase with Heinie, Jean and Skipper. Back at the hospital Craig lies unconscious whilst a bottle of chloroform drips on to him.
Heinie jumps from the running board of the car to go back and find his friend, leaving Jean and Skipper to continue being chased by Boyle and Moore. Jean, who is driving the car, is confronted by a man waving frantically in front of a ‘Road Closed’ sign but ploughs on regardless anyway, whereupon a huge explosion probably initiated by the construction crew building the highway sends the car, Jean and Skipper…
Episode Six -The Code of the Carnival
… just a few feet further along the road instead of blowing them to smithereens, although to be fair the car ends up with a blown out tyre. Realising they’re being followed Jean and Skipper hide in the bushes then steal Boyle and Moore’s car, leaving the dim-witted thugs high and dry.
Moore goes off to report to the Eagle leaving Boyle to change the spare. In the asylum two orderlies discover Craig still unconscious due to the chloroform and try to revive him, intending to then turn him over to the police. Their efforts are interrupted when Heinie appears, throws them out of the room and locks the door.
Moore informs the Eagle by phone that Skipper escaped but McCoy is still at the hospital. Boyle picks Moore up, Moore telling him the boss has a great idea but they need to find a leather coat in order to carry out the plan. Boyle points to Craig’s flying togs in the back of the car which for some reason sends them into paroxysms of laughter.
They then arrive at the asylum just in time to catch Heinie carrying an unconscious Craig out of the window. Moore forces Heinie to hand Craig over at gunpoint before driving away and leaving the strong man alone on the sidewalk looking like the proverbial spare man at a wedding.
Heinie returns to the carnival where Little Billy and the others are welcoming Skipper back. When Skipper hears that Craig has been kidnapped he realises the only way everyone will be safe is if he gives himself up to the police, even if that means he will be blamed for the crimes of the Eagle.
On the other hand Skipper reasons that if he is in jail but the Eagle still carries out his dastardly plans it will prove Skipper is innocent. Just at that moment, the police arrive to arrest him anyway. As they leave the tent the Eagle appears once more doing his skywriting trick, this time spelling out the name of Danby, another company director, and then crossing the name out. Danby happens to be present and realises he is a marked man.
The plane suddenly starts to spiral to the ground before landing, the policeman and Jean driving off to intercept the pilot and arrest him. Meanwhile, Boyce and Moore turn up with a now conscious Craig dressed in his flying gear.
It turns out Gardner was the pilot and it was his idea to frame Craig as working for the Eagle, leaving his cronies to tell Jean and the policeman that they caught Craig just after he landed the plane. The policeman takes Craig back to the tent which now contains Major Evans, Gardner, Skipper and assorted business directors and various carnival employees.
As Craig professes his innocence the police officer searches him and finds a note stating “Stand by. When the directors reach the carnival grounds write ‘Danby’ and draw a line through it. G”.
In desperation Craig pulls a gun on everyone but is in turn disarmed, much to his surprise, by a seemingly disappointed Jean who, now apparently resigned to Craig’s guilt, holds a gun on him instead.
She tells Craig and everyone else in the tent that carnival people have their own way of handling traitors, telling Heinie to take Craig outside and ‘peg him out’. Craig is then thrown to the ground and covered in a piece of canvas. Although everyone else stays in the tent they can hear the thump of sledgehammers making contact with Craig’s body as he is dispatched by his own kind. Jean then faints at the horror of it all.
I know how she feels.
Join me again in a couple of weeks after I’ve schlepped through the next three episodes which I know thousands of you are eagerly waiting to read about. Right?