The Shadow seems to have been around forever, in pulp novels in the 1930s, then on the radio, in long-running pulp magazines, American comic books, comic strips, television, movie serials, video games and a string of feature films. The character first appeared on 31 July 1930, as the narrator of a radio program, Detective Story Hour, designed to sell the monthly pulp magazine produced by Street and Smith. Viewers began asking for the Shadow Detective Magazine, so the company produced one starring the character. They hired Walter B. Gibson to create him to fit the name and voice and to write stories. The Shadow Magazine went on sale 1 April 1931.
On 26 September 1937, on the radio show based on the Shadow story The Death House Rescue, the Shadow exhibited his psychic powers—the ability to cloud men’s minds so he became invisible. We have all heard, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” which was spoken by Frank Readick, followed by the spine-tingling laugh and the music of Camille Saint-Saens.
The Shadow moniker was thought up by Harry Engman Charlot. The characters in the stories knew him as Lamont Cranston (or Kent Allard, or Henry Arnaud, or Isaac Twambley, or Fritz the Janitor). Over 20 years, Walter B. Gibson, using the penname of Maxwell Grant, wrote 282 of the 325 stories in the pulps, starting with “The Living Shadow.” He pretty much created the sidekicks, supervillains, secret identities, and the black outfits, which were inspired by Dracula. Another source was a French Drama called Judex, the Shielding Shadow. Some of the Shadow stories were written by Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage.
In the pulps, the Shadow wore a wide-brimmed black hat and a black cloak with a crimson lining. In the comics and the 1994 film, he wore the iconic crimson scarf across his lower face. In the radio dramas, his clothing hardly mattered, and in fact he was often invisible. The sinister voice announced his presence to the radio audience. The story was that he had learned dark arts in the Orient as a young man.
In print, his name is Kent Allard, and he was a famous aviator in World War One who crashed in Guatemala and was taken in by the Xinca Tribe, then used his supernatural powers in New York City as rich playboy Lamont Cranston. He is armed with two colt .45 pistols. The Shadow and Cranston are actually two separate individuals, using each other as cover and sometimes working together.
In the radio serials, this identity confusion is dropped, and Lamont Cranston becomes his Clark Kent. He learned his skills at the Temple of Cobras in Delhi—magic based on science. Socialite Margo Lane is his love-interest, added mostly because there were too many male voices that confused the audience, and there is a small army of useful people he has saved from criminals. His relationship with the police is like that of most superheroes—they sometimes think of him as a dangerous vigilante, yet he helps them, and they help him. His enemies include the supernatural Shiwan Khan, voodoo master Rodil Moglino, and Benedict Stark, the Master of Evil. On the radio, Orson Welles was his voice from September 1937 to October 1938. Agnes Moorehead was among those who voiced Margo Lane.
The Shadow appeared in comics on 17 June 1940, written by Walter Gibson and illustrated by Vernon Greene. He was in DC Comics from November 1973 to May 1982, and in Dark Horse Comics from 1993 to 1995. In Batman #253 (Nov. 1973), the elderly Shadow teamed up with Batman, who admits to being inspired by him. The Shadow, in fact, saved Bruce Wayne’s life as a child. Lamont Cranston appears in the Rocketeer Adventure Magazine of Comico and Dark Horse Comics. DC published a series in 1989-1992 called The Shadow Strikes, returning him to the Thirties, in which he teamed up with Doc Savage, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, union organizer John L. Lewis, and gangster Frank Nitti, among others. In the early 1990s, he ran in Dark Horse Comics, and the comics adaptation of the 1994 film appeared in Dark Horse as well. In Dynamite Comics from 2011 to 2014, he teamed up with the Green Hornet and Kato, and a 1930s Zorro.
There were film shorts from Universal Pictures and movie serials: The Shadow Strikes in 1937, International Crime in 1938, a Columbia Pictures 15-chapter serial starring Victor Jory in 1940, a TV-pilot which became a 1958 movie called Invisible Avenger and in 1962 Bourbon Street Shadows. The Shadow movies seem to be The Shadow Strikes in 1937, International Crime in 1938, The Shadow in 1940, The Shadow Returns, Behind the Mask, and The Missing Lady in 1946, The Shadow in 1954, and The Invisible Avenger in 1958. The Shadow starring Alec Baldwin and Penelope Ann Miller appeared in 1994.
After World War II, Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) becomes a drug kingpin and warlord in Tibet. The Tulku (Barry Dennin)) a powerful holy man, abducts him and offers him an opportunity to redeem himself. Believing he is already a lost cause, Cranston resists and is attacked by the Phurba, a mystical, sentient, flying dagger. Eventually, Cranston becomes Tulku’s apprentice and returns to New York as a wealthy playboy, except that he is secretly The Shadow, a vigilante terrorizing the city’s criminals. He recruits those whose lives he saves into a ring of informants and helpers. However, his secret identity is threatened when he meets Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), a telepathic socialite.
Shiwan Khan (John Lone), another protégé of the Tulku, who has gone rogue, arrives inside Genghis Khan’s sarcophagus, calling himself the last descendant of Genghis Khan. He plans to complete his ancestor’s dream of world domination. Cranston refuses to join him, but having obtained a rare coin from Khan, he realizes that it is made of Bronzium, a metal that could generate a nuclear explosion. Margo’s father, Doctor Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellen), is becoming reclusive and aloof because he has been hypnotized by Khan.
Khan hypnotizes Margo as well and orders her to kill the Shadow, Cranston breaks the hypnotic spell, but she learns his secret identity. Reinhardt’s assistant Farley Claymore (Tim Curry) joins forces with Khan and produces a working bomb, which Khan uses to blackmail New York City. The Shadow discovers Khan’s location, the luxurious Hotel Monolith, a building that is invisible and forgotten by all, and is bigger on the inside.
The Shadow invades the hotel for a showdown with Khan, but is subdued by the Phurba dagger, until he turns it back on Khan, disrupting his hypnotic control over Reinhardt and the City. While Margo and Reinhardt disarm the bomb, the Shadow pursues Khan deep into the cellars and defeats him by causing a glass shard to fly into his frontal lobe. Khan wakes in a padded cell and the doctor, working for the Shadow, tells him they saved his life by a frontal lobotomy that destroyed his psychic powers. Cranston and Margo begin to work together to fight crime.
The screenplay was by David Koepp, who had listened to the Shadow radio serial as a child, re-run on CBS. Universal Studios liked his affectionate and accurate take on the character. Martin Bregman produced; Russell Mulcahy directed. Sam Raimi lost out but created Darkman instead. Koepp figured that if anyone knew what evil lurks in the hearts of men it was Lamont Cranston, who must have known evil intimately, so he created his backstory as a drug warlord. He had Alec Baldwin in mind for the lead from the beginning. Jerry Goldsmith wrote the music, which didn’t hurt, using a big orchestra for the adventure and synthesizers for the creepy parts.
Everyone concerned, in my opinion, produced a wonderful homage to the wonderful characters, though there was a little too much slapstick humor toward the end for my taste. But the movie was hardly a box-office hit. It seems to have been eaten alive by the Lion King. The corner where the invisible hotel stood was a little-used park on the corner of Second Avenue and Houston Street, next door to the building I lived in, early in my days in New York City. I would have walked by that invisible building every day on the way to the D-Train, so I admit to feeling at home in the movie. I am pre-disposed to admire the film-noir effects and Alec Baldwin’s embrace of the great pulp role.
When Shiwan Khan and Lamont Cranston meet, their discussion of where Cranston purchased his tie is a spoof on the product placements in the radio show. I recall watching TV detectives who, on their way out to solve crimes, stop at the shop in the lobby to rave about their favorite brand of cigarettes. The Shadow’s ability to render himself invisible, Margo Lane, and his firm secret identity as Lamont Cranston comes from the radio show, and his pulp-cover costume, his network of agents, and his twin .45 caliber automatic pistols come from the magazines. Walter Gibson, who wrote many of the magazine stories, was ghost-writer for Harry Houdini. Tim Curry signed on just to play with Ian McKellen.
The scene in which Doctor Roy Tam is saved by the Shadow on the Brooklyn Bridge is taken directly from the first Shadow novel, entitled The Living Shadow, which it seems was stolen itself from a novel by Balzac. In Phillip José Farmer’s books Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, it is suggested that Margo Lane is Lois Lane’s sister. Shiwan Khan is not actually the last living descendant of Genghis Khan; DNA research suggests that there were five or ten million descendants of Genghis Khan on the planet in the Thirties, mostly in Mongolia. The finale in the hall of mirrors was meant to be much longer, but the set was destroyed in an earthquake and would have been too expensive to rebuild.