The Shadow Nose

Reuters reports that Sam Raimi is on-board to make a new movie about the Shadow:

No word yet on what minor role Ted Raimi will play.

The article misleadingly states that “Walter B. Gibson created the character…” In fact, the Shadow on the radio and the Shadow in the pulps were entirely different characters. The hero of the radio serial was, as the world knows, Lamont Cranston who fought crime using his mystical ability to cloud men’s minds, assisted by his friend and companion Margot Lane. In the pulps, Lamont Cranston was a playboy who sometimes allowed the Shadow to use his identity in his endless war againt crime. The pulp Shadow had no magical abilities, but he was an impressively sneaky bastard who was always firing two revolvers simultaneously, for reasons that always seemed adequate at the time. His real identity, as revealed in “The Shadow Unmasks”, was the fantastically dull aviator Kent Allard. Having gone to some lengths to remember this, I will try now to forget it again. It has to be the single most tedious naming of a previously anonymous character, except possibly for an infamous episode of The Prisoner. At least Dashiell Hammett never published a Continental Op story where we found out that the hero was named Bob Smith. I hope.

For a brief period in the late 90s there were dozens, if not hundreds, of old Shadow pulps that had been scanned and put up the internet by Shadow enthusiasts. When Condé Nast, who own the copyrights to the old Street and Smith pulps, found out about it they moved in and stepped on everybody’s face. Then they immediately launched a reprint series of the entire Shadow run. No, not really. Apparently they don’t value the property, but it’s theirs and they don’t want anyone else to have any use of it.

I read many of the old pulps in that brief internet revival; unfortunately, I didn’t save any of the texts, as my computer then was not as roomy as my computers are now. Nor can I report that they are great literature, even by contemporary pulp standards. Still, there was something about them that caught the imagination. It might partly be that the Shadow stood alone against the sinister forces of crime, yet he had a secret army of allies who would assist him at need. It might be just that he got to wear a cool hat and commit various crimes in the name of justice. For some reason this sort of paradox has tremendous appeal, even to people who should know better.

12/31/06: UPDATE

Actually, the Shadow pulps are being reprinted. A Shadowphile named Anthony Tollin has acquired the rights from Smaug Condé Nast and is reprinting them (2 per volume, $12.95 a pop) under the imprint The Vintage Library. Send before midnight, etc.

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