Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

The Shadow knows!

To which most of my UK readers will go – “Who?”

Which is a bit of shame really, as The Shadow was a multi-media sensation before such terms were even invented.

He first appeared on American radio in 1930 as the narrator of “Detective Story Hour”, complete with his “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” catchphrase and a sinister spooky laugh. (Both can be heard here.)

The stories were from publishers Street & Smith’s pulp magazines (now part of the Conde Nast empire) and radio listeners were soon demanding copies of The Shadow Magazine.

The only problem was that The Shadow Magazine didn’t exist.

Spotting the obvious gap in the market, the publishers hired former magician Walter Gibson to write the first Shadow pulp novel. (Gibson’s previous work had included being Houdini’s ghost writer.)

The magazine was a huge success and Gibson wrote at a prodigious rate – turning out two Shadow novels a month for over a decade.

The Shadow of the pulp magazines was a mysterious masked crimefighter, a scourge of the underworld who operated through a network of agents and was a master of disguise.

While this may seemed clichéd now, you have to remember that the first Shadow novel was written in 1931 – pre-dating Superman by seven years and Batman by eight. (In fact the first ever Batman story bears extremely strong resemblance to a Shadow story.)

And even today, some aspects of The Shadow are decidedly odd. His habit of laughing to himself all the time, even when being shot at or discovering murder victims is a tad disconcerting.

And then there’s his secret identity – or identities.

When The Shadow first appeared, it seemed he was really Lamont Cranston, millionaire playboy. But then it turns out that The Shadow had taken the place of the *real* Lamont Cranston, who had been “encouraged” to take a long trip abroad while The Shadow lived in his house and spent his money…

Eventually, it was revealed that The Shadow was really Kent Allard, daredevil aviator, who everyone thought had disappeared in the jungles of South America years before.

While all this was going on, The Shadow’s radio career had taken a turn for the worse, with him somehow ending up as the narrator of “Love Story Hour”…

(No. Really. Not sure if he used the “What evil…” line though.)

Things markedly improved in 1937 when the actual Shadow  radio drama began, with Orson Welles as The Shadow. (Yes *that* Orson Welles.)

The radio Shadow didn’t have the complicated triple identity thing – he was simply Lamont Cranston. As compensation, he had  “the lovely Margo Lane” as a sidekick (one year before Lois) and “the ability to cloud men’s minds”. (In other words, he could turn invisible, which is a very cost effective special effect on the radio.)

The radio show continued after Welles departed to scare the bejebus out of everyone with his War of the Worlds broadcast and lasted until 1954.

The magazine had ended by then, with the last issue appearing in 1949. There’d also been Shadow comics and film serials.

In the 60’s and 70’s, some of the original pulp stories were republished and in 1994 the Shadow film appeared, starring Alec Baldwin

Poster for The Shadow

Image via Wikipedia


With me being British, this was the first I’d heard of The Shadow. While it’s not going to win any Oscars, it’s exceptionally entertaining and has brilliant sets and costume design. You also get the sense that The Shadow isn’t entirely sane, which is as it should be.

Later on, (through a Radio 4 documentary of all things) I learned about the radio series and later still I discovered the pulp novels.

I’ve talked before about my love of pulp novels and their garish covers – The Shadow’s covers were exemplars of this. So needless to say, I was very pleased to discover that a company had began republished the stories.

Sanctum Books have published 45 Shadow reprints so far and I’ve bought them all. Each reprint has two novels (there were 325 Shadow stories written, so there’s still quite a few to go.)

The latest one I’ve read was “Atoms of Death” (“Of Death” features in the title of quite a few Shadow stories, including Cards of Death and River of Death.)

Atoms of Death is a very pleasing tale, featuring disintegration rays, a mad scientist and The Shadow getting the real Lamont Cranston into even more trouble.

And now there’s talk of another Shadow film, possibly directed by Sam Raimi – 80 years old and The Shadow still has a lot of potential.


About pointlessephemera

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8 Responses to Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

  1. mrwillox says:

    Actually I think that I’d heard about the Shadow a bit before seeing the film, but only vaguely knew about him as a character on an old radio thing I’d never heard. I seem to recall this was because of an old episode of Tom and Jerry which had featured Tom listening to (what must have been) The Detective Story Hour as I definitely recall the catchphrase and evil laugh from that!

    I liked the Shadow film, as I recall they played up the “Clouding mens minds” as being essentially an extremely potent power of persuasion. I thought this opened up a lot of potential both for The Shadow himself and even more for the antagonist, who had the same power but was less principled in it’s application.

    As in radio days, it’s a cost effective power – no wire work or particularly sophisticated CGI required. Which I actually think makes for a more interesting narrative as the film makers can’t rely on the “wow” factor of say Spider-Man (the first two (modern (gosh this is a lot of brackets)) Spider-Man movies of course had both excellent writing and the “wow” factor of the set pieces, but hopefully you take my point – visually impressive subject matter can lead to lazy writing *cough* Avatar *cough*)

  2. Fizzgig says:

    I love the film. It has some classic humour that’s not overstated to the point of farce, but very much in keeping with the time. Especially the Mongol warriors on motorbikes! 😀

    I have recently realised I have ..er.. “a thing” for want of a better word for films set in that sort of 50’s period. And I also seem to really really like the Art Deco stylings.

    I’ve just finished watching The Phantom with Billy Zane, which, as a concept appears to share a fairly similar background to The Shadow.

  3. Martin – certainly I think it helps with a film like The Shadow or the first two Spider-Men where there’s intelligent writing and a respect for the characters and the genre – otherwise you just get “Batman & Robin”…

    Fizzgig – The Shadow and The Phantom are two of the small set of what I think of as “Pulp Films”. As well as the obvious (i.e. Indiana Jones) there’s The Rocketeer, which works in places (and has a better story than the original comic) and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow which has some good moments but struggles with lead actors who seem disinterested.

    There’s also High Road to China featuring Tom Selleck in the Indiana Jones role he turned down….

  4. Pingback: Radio are you tuning in? » Indienation.fm

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