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"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

The Shadow was an American Radio Drama.

It’s an adaptation of the wildly popular pulp fiction series, The Shadow, which premiered in 1931. This popularity led to a radio series in 1937, initially starring young up-and-comer Orson Welles. While the general format of the magazine series—an avenging, do-gooding Proto-Superhero went about by night, fighting crime, while posing during the day as a Millionaire Playboy—was retained, the stories were greatly altered to fit the format of a half-hour radio drama. Lamont Cranston, one of the Shadow's many aliases, was made his Secret Identity. The army of agents was replaced with "constant companion" Margo Lane (originally played by Agnes Moorehead), who became The Shadow's loyal sidekick, Girl Friday, and possibly girlfriend, although this was left deliberately ambiguous. Most famously, the Shadow was not merely a Master of Disguise who was good at hiding in the dark, but could actually become invisible by clouding people's minds!

The radio series was a hit, lasting for decades with several changes of lead actor. The Shadow has also had several Comic Book series, ranging in quality from excellent to terrible, including one from Dynamite Comics, a movie serial, a low-budget 1950s feature,and a 1994 feature film. He has even crossed over with Batman a few times, with the Caped Crusader idolizing him! In 2021 James Patterson (and coauthor Brian Sits) released a new Shadow novel that brings Lamont Cranston from the 1930s to the modern day, the first in what is meant to be a rebooted franchise for the character.

For the Comic Book series, see The Shadow. Not to be confused with the Fairy Tale "The Shadow" by Hans Christian Andersen.

This work provides examples of:

  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: The show sometimes offered in-character advice on how to properly operate and maintain a coal-burning furnace after an episode was over. This rather shamelessly combined this with Product Placement, as the program's sponsor was a coal company. He would do the same for Goodrich Silvertown Tires, sternly lecturing the listeners on the dangers of wet and slippery roads in the dark.
  • Anti-Hero: The Shadow of the radio series is a Lighter and Softer version of this, at least during Orson Welles' tenure. He was much more moral overall and never directly killed anyone, but still often manipulated villains into killing each other or themselves. Once Welles left the role, however, later actors played him as a straight-up hero.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Justified in the radio show, because he considers his powers entirely scientific and easily reproducible by anyone willing to put in the effort, so he looked at the supernatural with a jaded eye.
  • Audio Adaptation: One of the first ever, being a radio version of the popular pulp fiction series.
  • Badass in Distress: A lot of early episodes of the radio show, too, most dramatically in "The Society of the Living Dead", where he was trapped in a mausoleum quickly filling up with water, with only a dead man and a nearly-dead man for company. Only the timely arrival of the police saved him. Happens again in The Phantom Voice, as he gets caught in a room narrow enough that two gangsters can stretch their arms out and walk forwards to corner him even without seeing him, and then being put in a chokehold - he ambushes the leader later with a brief explanation that he'd "picked up one little hold in the Orient" that had let him get out of it.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Standard practice in the radio drama, as you never know who's been shot until the survivor actually speaks up.
  • Big Good: The Shadow is the rare Pragmatic Hero version. While certainly not blanching at putting a permanent and lethal end to evil, and laughing like a maniac while he does it, The Shadow is firmly on the side of protecting the innocent.
    • His Big Good tendencies are more pronounced in the radio show where standards and practices forbade the Shadow actively killing.
  • Break Them by Talking: A speciality of The Shadow, who isn't allowed to directly kill anyone in the radio serial. In "He Died At Twelve", he describes being arrested, tried, and hanged in such visceral detail that the crime boss he's got cornered is Driven to Suicide.
  • Busman's Holiday: It's quite common for Lamont and Margo to be off on vacation somewhere when they stumble into a situation that requires Lamont to go into action as The Shadow. In "The Witch Drums of Salem" they are on a getaway to visit Margo's aunt, only to get sucked into a murder case in a random town they were passing through. In "Hounds in the Hills" they're visiting a friend of Lamont's in North Carolina when they wind up investigating some weird hillbilly kidnappers.
  • Captain Obvious: In "The Old People", The Shadow pays a visit to Superintendent McWade, to get him to authorise a flight into South America to investigate a string of aircraft disappearances. When McWade asks where his voice is coming from, he's given a laconic answer:
    The Shadow: As my name implies, Mr. McWade, I'm in the shadows.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
    • "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!"
    • Some of his earliest episodes instead ended with, "As ye sow evil, so shall ye reap evil. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!"
  • Christmas Episode: "Cold Death" (Dec. 19, 1937), in which The Shadow takes a very Scrooge-like owner of a Company Town around, and forces him to see the error of his ways. (And despite the title, no one dies.)
  • City with No Name: The city The Shadow has his adventures in is never named.
  • Cold Sniper: Danny Brecker in "The Silent Avenger" radio episode.
  • Disney Death: In the radio airing of "The Blind Beggar Dies," The Shadow tricks Spike Grogan and Marty Nelson into thinking that they kill him so he could avoid his actual death. It's not the only time.
  • The Driver: Moses "Moe" Shrevnitz, Shreevy for short, a cab driver in both the novels and the radio show. In the pulps he was one of The Shadow's paid operatives, the official cab driver for The Shadow who operated as part of the gang. On the radio program he was not one of The Shadow's operatives, but was an occasional comic relief character.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The earliest episodes of the radio show do not have the full "Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?" Catchphrase. Instead the intro is just the Evil Laugh and "The Shadow knows." The full catchphrase wasn't used until the "summer series" of 1938.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Rare due to the Black-and-White Morality of the radio series, but it happened a few times.
    • In "The Ghost Wore A Silver Slipper", Li Won surrenders to the Shadow and confesses to selling narcotics and murdering a young woman. When the Shadow reveals that Li Won didn't actually kill the woman, her own father did, Li Won reacts with disgust at the thought of killing one's own child.
    • "The Leopard Strikes" features a leopard-worshipping cult who wear highly-realistic animal costumes (to the extent that most people mistake them for actual leopards) and apparently drug and kidnap women to use as "offerings" in their ceremonies, but they are not killers. (It's not clear what they do to the women in their ceremony) They're horrified to learn that the episode's villain is one of their members who has been using the costume (and its functional claws) to go on a murder spree.
  • Evil Counterpart: "Revenge of the Shadow" featured a man who had learned the same trick of hypnotic invisibility, now trying to pass himself off as the real Shadow.
  • Evil Laugh: He may have been on the side of the angels, but the Shadow's laugh was creepy as all hell.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: The first few episodes did their On the Next announcements this way, with a voice going "Extra, week..." and then the episode title. Aside from that, the trope was played straight many, many times, with newspaper vendors hawking papers with headlines about the story of the week.
  • Foreign Remake: During the 1940s original radio scripts were sold to broadcasters in Australia and Brazil so that the series could be recreated locally (and, in the case of the Brazilian version, in Portuguese). Some of the episodes of the US series that have been lost over the years survive through preserved recordings of the Aussie remakes.
  • Genre Shift: Well, more like sub-genre shift. The radio series always held fast to its Detective Drama roots and a degree of supernatural styling in the form of the Shadow's powers, the genre of the cases he would explore each episode tended to change with what was popular at the time. Early episodes focused on standard crime drama adversaries like mobsters, arsonists, murderers, and thieves. Then there was a shift to more Science Fiction inspired cases with robots, fantastic inventions, and even actual aliens. This gave way to more horror themed enemies and cases with zombies and werewolves, and eventually Lovecraftian horror. Finally as the series came to a close in the 50s it wrapped all the way back around to standard big city crime again, but now as detective stories where you wouldn't learn what really happened until the very end, with most of the supernatural elements (the Shadow's powers aside) having fallen out of favor.
  • Gilligan Cut: In the House of Horrors, Lamont insists he is not going into to a tea room, fade out, him and Margo are enjoying tea in the tea room.
  • Girl Friday: Margo on the radio show. She loves The Shadow (although the nature of their relationship is never specified), she is the only one who knows he's Lamont Cranston, and she's a helpful sidekick in his various adventures.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: The radio episode "The Man Who Murdered Time" features this. The villain has created a time loop of New Year's Eve, and only Margo and Lamont Cranston notice (and Margo stops noticing once Lamont moves away from her). This episode may be the Trope Maker.
  • His Name Is...: Common in many mystery shows of the time, but this show had it particularly bad. One particular episode ("The Laughing Corpse") had a man start to answer the Shadow's question about the name and location of an ex-partner of his who had threatened to kill him, only to get distracted by a small box. It then happened a second time, once he realized he'd been poisoned by opening the box, by going on and on about how "I must tell you his name before he is able to complete his evil mission of revenge! His name is—" and that was it.
  • Hollywood Silencer: In "The Silent Avenger" Danny Brecker uses a silencer on his sniper rifle that gives a very quiet pfft sound.
  • Horror Host: The Shadow actually originated as the host of radio drama Detective Story Hour in 1930. He became so popular that he got his own pulp fiction magazine series, then, via Recursive Adaptation, the radio show.
  • Hypocrite: There are other examples, but a particularly egregious one is an episode called "The Silent Avenger" in which Lamont goes on and on about how society is so evil for creating the main villain of the story, a shellshocked sniper, for it teaches men to "take life in time of war and respect it in time of peace". This from a man who cackles evilly after he gets half his Rogues' Gallery to kill themselves and who doesn't really care if a poor blind kid who was being manipulated by an evil hunchback blows his own brains out rather than get arrested because "law and order must prevail". You want to feel free to make a comment on "respecting life"? Stop tricking your enemies into blowing their own brains out!
  • Iconic Sequel Character: Margo Lane, who in the modern day it's absolutely impossible to countenance a Shadow story without, was created whole cloth for the radio show. Her creation handily fulfilled several major necessities for adapting the world of the Shadow to the radio; she would serve as The Watson to allow him to explain his deductions and ask pertinent questions, she'd provide a sonic contrast to The Shadow and all the gruff gangster types he dealt with, and she'd help sell the show to a wider audience with her feminine presence and teasing of a romantic connection to him.
  • Inspector Lestrade: At his absolute worst, Commissioner Weston tended to fall into this category with his penchant to loudly declare that a case was essentially closed based on his immediate gut reaction and supposed "obvious" explanation. Invariably these were always totally incorrect and it would fall to The Shadow to uncover the real truth.
  • Invisibility: The Shadow's primary superpower, as invented for the radio show, because radio listeners obviously could not see the iconic Coat, Hat, Mask disguise from the novels. Nominally, it was just a side effect of his great skill at hypnotism — he was just "clouding men's minds" so they wouldn't notice him, and he could use hypnosis for other things, too. But some adaptations (particularly the later seasons of the radio series) prefer to have him use only invisibility. In the pulps, he had no powers at all, merely very high skill at stealth and disguise.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Once in a while The Shadow would use his mind to control other people's actions, Obi-Wan Kenobi style. 1938 episode "The Silent Avenger", in which The Shadow uses the power of his mind to stop a madman from throwing a grenade into a crowd, may be the Ur-Example.
  • Karmic Death: Happened sometimes in the pulps, but almost constantly in the radio show, due to broadcasting standards meaning the Shadow couldn't be quite so bloodthirsty. There were exceptions, like him shooting the villain outright in "The Leopard Strikes", though it could be argued that was in self-defense.
    • In particular, the villain of The Black Buddha, Soon Tai, is killed when a stack of coffins fall and crush him to death; The Shadow gives a short monologue noting that while Soon Tai had sent many to death, for once the dead have been able to take one that deserved it.
  • Luckily, My Powers Will Protect Me: Once an Episode, the radio Shadow will remind someone that they cannot see him, because he's clouding their mind.
  • Manchild: Burt Hustus in "the Nursery Rhyme Murders." He has his psychiatrist read him nursery rhymes before he goes to bed and acts in a very child-like manner.
  • Mighty Whitey:
    • The radio Shadow learned his ability to cloud men's minds "years ago, in the Orient," a secret his teacher did not see fit to teach the local students.
    • Not even the teacher's own niece, who appeared in the early episode "The Temple Bells of Nehban". She did learn some other powers (the titular "Temple Bells", which could dispel the Shadow's invisibility, though it took time for her to fully manifest them).
  • Mook Horror Show: Mooks are often scared witless because some invisible man is beating them up.
  • Multilayer Façade: The radio Shadow had several of these, Lamont Cranston being the most famous.
  • Once an Episode: It was an absolute lock that at least once every episode, The Shadow would make his voice heard, and then tell whoever he was speaking to that they can't see him.
  • Opening Narration: The opening to the show—the Evil Laugh, followed by "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!", became iconic.
  • Perception Filter: In the radio series. Notably, the Shadow achieved the power of Invisibility this by "clouding men's minds," and so did not have to worry about many of the usual problems with this power. Although he did have to avoid cameras, and sometimes more exotic methods of exposing him were used.
    • In "Hounds in the Hills", The Shadow is tracked by guard dogs, who can smell him. The villain in "Appointment with Death" lures The Shadow to his lair, an island in a lake, with the express purpose of watching for the ripple The Shadow makes when he has to swim to the island. Taken to an extreme in "Out of This World", where alien technology was used to detect and nearly identify him.
  • Pet the Dog: Despite relying primarily on stealth and terrorizing his opposition, The Shadow takes the time to comfort a young kidnapped boy and provide a handkerchief in Hounds in the Hills.
  • Police Are Useless: The police in the Shadow radio dramas are almost hilariously bad at their jobs when they're not being racist Irish stereotypes or dirty cops. Commissioner Weston, the head honcho, almost never listens to Lamont and Margo's ideas even when it's obvious that Lamont's been right in his "cuckoo theories" time and time again. He never figures out the "how" or "why" of the crimes unless Lamont indirectly or directly helps him, and he's always arresting the wrong people until the very end of the story. In fact, without the Shadow, Weston probably couldn't catch anyone.
  • Product Placement: There were always commercial breaks for the sponsor, but the 1938 summer series sponsored by Goodrich Tires took things up a notch, with Orson Welles appearing in character as The Shadow to deliver Safe Driving Aesops about how you should be careful and buy Goodrich Tires.
  • Psychic Powers:
    • The Shadow, in addition to clouding men's minds, sometimes demonstrated telepathy and an ability to detect the presence of danger. This was downplayed or outright eliminated in later seasons.
    • The radio Shadow could, once in a while, cause a bad guy to see something that wasn't there.
    • The Orson Welles version of the character was particularly prone to New Powers as the Plot Demands.
  • Race Against the Clock: "The Death House Rescue" involves The Shadow having to expose the real crooks behind a bank robbery that turned deadly, before their patsy is unjustly executed for shooting a cop.
  • Secret Identity: Lamont Cranston, amateur criminologist, "wealthy man-about-town". He doesn't do anything for a living, but he hangs out in fancy clubs and is well-connected. The amateur criminologist bit is his excuse for hanging out around the police and asking them questions, although Commissioner Weston and the others think he's a dilettante and never dream he's The Shadow.
  • The Shangri-La: Where the Shadow learned his powers. "The Temple Bells of Nehban" identifies it specifically as India.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation:
    • Adapted to film in the modern era with Alec Baldwin in 1994.
    • There are also a few less-remembered films from the 1930s: 1937's The Shadow Strikes and 1938's International Crime. These starred Rod LaRocque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.
  • Suddenly Always Knew That: In "The Phantom Voice," The Shadow turns out to have made a study of "the way a man's jaw moves when he pronounces certain words." Also, he finds himself grappling with a professional wrestler, who gets him into a chokehold... but he wins anyway, because the wrestler "didn't know one little hold that I learned in the Orient."
  • Sting: A tried and true effect of old-time radio that was heavily used in this series. There's a dramatic sting in every episode, usually after moments of high drama or before the act break that introduced the commercial.
  • Superhero: The Radio version, with his psychic invisibility and other telepathic powers, was arguably the first proto-Superhero.
  • Superhero Sobriquets: The Shadow has been called both The Master of Darkness and the Knight of Darkness. The former is older, while the later may have been invented due to the popularity of Batman's own sobriquet "The Dark Knight".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Anton Freeman, of The Old People. He became bitter after his body deteriorated due to age, and rather than research ways of restoring it, decided to capture and artificially age victims so he wouldn't be so old by comparison. The Shadow easily tricks him into thinking he's just as old and bitter as he is, while Margo tricks his elderly victims (whose intelligence have severely regressed) into attacking him.
  • Vacation Episode: A common trope on The Shadow. Any story that couldn't be set in the nameless city where Lamont Cranston lived always had him and Margot vacationing somewhere. Most of the time it would be combined with Busman's Holiday, but occasionally Lamont vacationed with a certain crimefighting goal in mind.
  • Ventriloquism: From time to time The Shadow would combine this with his power of invisibility, to make the villain think that The Shadow was someplace different from where he really was. Often times this would cause the bad guy to fire his gun in the wrong direction. Used in the radio episode "The Creeper" to trick the villain into thinking The Shadow had gone down a tunnel.
    • The Tibetian villain in "The Black Buddha" accuses Margo of using this, claiming that The Shadow wasn't real at all and simply the result of her throwing her voice. Then The Shadow reappears and he sees she isn't moving her lips.
  • Villain Opening Scene: Many episodes opened with the villain of the week up to no good, and getting the story rolling. Then after the nature of the threat was established The Shadow would find out about the case. In later years, when it had become a full-on detective series, we'd often open with the villain but not know which one the villain was until the end of the episode.
  • Yellow Peril: On at least two episodes of the radio show, the "obvious" Chinese villain turned out to not be the episode's killer (though in both cases he was guilty of other crimes). In one of those episodes, "Bones of the Dragon", Cranston is in Chinatown visiting friends.
    • The Black Buddha has a strangely inverted example - the episode's killer, Soong-Tai, has no mystical powers or ancient wisdom whatsoever, and was skeptical that The Shadow even existed after talking to him, claiming Margo was simply throwing her voice. His motivation is to reclaim the titular statue and kill any unbelievers that touched it, making him a standard religious extremist that could come from any background.

The weed of crime...bears bitter fruit.