The Shadow vs. The Hounds of Hillbilly Hell
I have in the past provided commentary concerning my love for old-time radio dramas over at our sister site, vampires.com, and in particular I’ve discussed my affection for the character THE SHADOW. The character’s sinister laugh, his skulking, his ability to appear invisible, and the fact that he was based on Count Dracula were sufficient motivations for me to cover him as a subject over there. The character has a fascinating history; I won’t repeat it here, but I will encourage you to click on over to the vampires site and read all about it.
Hoping to turn you on to something you might not be aware of but might like if you tried it, might I suggest you give a listen to some of those recordings from The Shadow’s lengthy run on radio? It’s a throwback to a simpler time in America, a different world, really. Also, some of those shows were really good. Just yesterday I listened to “Hounds in the Hills” from 1938, starring the voice of the legendary Orson Welles as the Shadow (also featuring Agnes Moorehead of BEWITCHED fame). It’s a neat plot. There’s a crazy old woman living in a rundown mansion somewhere in the hills of North Carolina. Wracked by guilt after dropping her son when he was a baby, which results in him being a hunchback in adulthood, she kidnaps, with the aid of her son, the aforementioned hunchback, local children in an attempt to somehow correct her mistake. The house is protected by a pack of savage, bloodthirsty, maneating hounds, which The Shadow has to contend with when he sets out to rescue the children.
The one thing I hate about these programs, though, aside from the sometimes poor sound quality, is the way the various writers will engender dramatic tension, not by putting The Shadow in danger, but by resorting to lazy writing to put the character in danger, by having The Shadow do something stupid and out of character. In this case, when he is pursued by that pack of slavering hounds, the writers chose to depict him as having left his two automatic pistols at home. Those familiar with the character and the show know well that The Shadow ALWAYS packs a couple of guns—except when it is advantageous to the writer for him to have forgotten them. Maybe, MAYBE you could argue that he had his guns but chose not to use them in this instance, as the dogs end up getting shot anyway, shot by a thug who is manipulated by The Shadow into doing the shooting after his partner in crime is torn apart by said hounds. Maybe The Shadow wanted to have the heel do the dirty work. Maybe. But the means by which the feral hounds get The Shadow’s scent in the first place? There’s no explaining that one away. It’s pure contrivance, pure Maguffin. Were audiences back then more, what’s the word? Gullible? Less sophisticated? That no one noticed such a copout in the plotting department?
Despite the occasional slap-your-forehead moments when the writers get lazy, though, the series is highly entertaining. Give it a listen sometime.