When Stanley Stanfield’s (Onslow Stevens) father dies he blames big shot Wade Barnett (Walter Miller). Stanley is an electrical engineer who has an invention he is working on. Stanley pays a visit to fellow inventor Professor Carl Van Dorn (James Durkin). He has an invention for a vanishing ray that he needs the professor’s help with. The professor agrees to help. Stanley leaves the blueprints for the invention with The Professor.
Stanley needs money to help finance his invention. Stanley’s father owned the Tribune newspaper. He plans on selling his stock in the paper he inherited so he heads for the office of John Caldwell (J. Frank Glendon). On the way he rescues a young woman from being run over by a fire engine. The young woman turns out to be Barnett’s daughter Gloria (Ada Ince). Gloria is estranged from her father due to his corrupt dealings. To distance herself she goes by the name Gloria Grant. Stanley can relate to her feelings for her father since he hates the man too. A romance begins to bud.
When Stanley arrives at Caldwell’s office Barnett is there. Barnett wants the bonds that Stanley had planned to sell to Caldwell. An argument ensues and Barnett pulls out a gun. In the struggle for the weapon Caldwell is shot. Barnett tells everyone in the outer office that Stanley shot Caldwell. Stanley flees and goes back to Professor Van Dorn’s laboratory with Barnett’s henchmen on his tail.
The Professor relates to Stanley that he too was working on a vanishing ray and with Stanley’s blueprints he has managed to finish his. The only problem with the ray is that it casts a shadow. Stanley uses The Professor’s ray to outwit the henchmen that are after him. Eventually Stanley learns that Caldwell is not dead and that Barnett is after the newspaper. Stanley’s only hope is to combine his shares in the paper with those of the paper’s editor MacDonald (William Desmond). Together they can have voting control of the paper. Barnett, with the help of his minions, does everything he can to get Stanley and MacDonald’s shares so he can have controlling interest in the only thing that could take down his empire.
“The Vanishing Shadow” was released in 1934 and was directed by Lew Landers. It is a science fiction serial produced by Universal Pictures. The serial is a little on the obscure side and at one time was thought to be lost. In 2010 it showed up on youtube. It’s now available on DVD.
It features what is believed to be the first appearance of a hand-held ray gun in film. Other toys are an electric torch, a Destroying Ray that disintegrates all living things and a robot. The robot looks like a cross between a tinker toy and a silver duck and it’s a little wobbly but a robot is a robot and all of them are cool.
The serial is a lot of fun with its gizmos and some half way decent cliff hangers. The acting is decent for a serial, especially one from the thirties. Universal has a bad rap for making crappy serials. This one goes against the grain. It’s pretty good.
Among the stock footage is Lee J. Cobb’s tiny part as a road crew foreman in Chapters 3 and 4. It was his film debut. The footage was also used in “The Phantom Creeps” 1939.
Unfortunately the chapters are out of sequence in the Archive download. It goes from Chapter 1 to 10 through 12 and then chapters 2-9 so be aware of that when viewing. We’re lucky to have it even if it’s a little out of sequence.
CHAPTER TITLES 1. Accused of Murder; 2. The Destroying Ray; 3. The Avalanche; 4. Trapped; 5. Hurled From the Sky; 6. Chain Lightning; 7. The Tragic Crash; 8. The Shadow of Death; 9. Blazing Bulkheads; 10. The Iron Death; 11. The Juggernaut; 12.Retribution.