John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #27
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
originally published in the November 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow
Magazine. A Cuban treasure is being smuggled into the country via
steamship. The mystery man known only as The Python wants it. This same
master of disguise has The Shadow a prisoner, drugged senseless. Who
can stop him now?
The Python is one nasty villain, and he's got The Shadow! As this story
opens, Lamont Cranston lies bound, drugged, unconscious, and revealed
as The Shadow. He's a victim of The Python, a cruel master mind who has
led his minions in unparalleled crime. He has left no trail, so that
even The Shadow could not follow him. But now, he's on the trail of a
Cuban treasure and has The Shadow out of the picture. And all that's
just in chapter one! It's the beginning of a top notch Shadow adventure
Whenever you had a villain who gave himself an animal name, you were
off to a good start. In 1935 alone, we had The Condor and The Python.
Also of note was another snake in The Cobra, from the previous year's
April issue. Some other villains who made it into the title of that
issue's story were The Black Falcon, The Crimson Phoenix, The Golden
Vulture, The Lone Tiger, The Wasp and The Hydra. Of course two of those
were mythical creatures, but I think they still count. The point here
is that even the name of this story, The Python, is a good portent of
the adventure to come.
Clever as he was, The Python didn't set a trap and capture The Shadow.
No, when we find The Shadow in the evil clutches of The Python, we
discover that it was all an accident. The Python hadn't set out to
catch The Shadow. He just stumbled onto him, and was then wise enough
to take advantage of the situation. It seems there was an automobile
accident; a big truck slammed into a limousine. The passenger was
thrown clear, but was unconscious. Doc, one of The Python's lieutenants
happened to witness the accident and recognized the cloak and slouch
hat in a bag that had been cracked open by the smashup. He grabbed his
hypodermic needle and drugged the crime fighter, then called his
master. And that's how The Shadow was carried off to the underground
chamber where we find him at the beginning of this story.
The Shadow, caught in the coils of The Python, has no chance to escape.
He's never conscious, hence he can make no efforts on his own behalf.
No one saw him being spirited away from the crash site, so there's no
hope of rescue from some outside source, either. Any way you look at
it, this would seem to be curtains for crimedom's nemesis. Of course,
The Shadow does escape, which is to give nothing away. After all the
magazine series didn't end with this story. It went on for another
fourteen years after this. So we know The Shadow will escape. But
watching him do it is an amazing thrill.
In the early years of The Shadow Magazine, readers were teased with a
vague description of the true face of The Shadow. It was said to be so
fearful that even the most hardened criminals would gasp. This "horror
face" was only mentioned in the early stories and had disappeared by
early 1934. But there is a reference to it in this story. Apparently
when The Shadow was in his limo accident, he was disguised as Lamont
Cranston. The accident had also damaged his disguise. We are told that,
"...his features were no longer a close resemblance of Lamont
Cranston's. He was still disguised; but only in a fashion. A grotesque
hollowness had come upon his hawklike countenance." This malformed
gauntness was perhaps the last reference to the horror face. Less than
two years later in "The Shadow Unmasks," readers would be told that
underneath the Cranston guise was the face of Kent Allard, and the
horror face would be no more.
Now, as for the title baddie in this tale, The Python. Not much is
known about this sinister hidden master criminal. He speaks with a
fierce, venomous hiss. He is a master at the art of make-up; that much
The Shadow has determined. The bent-over, white-haired cackling maniac
that gloats over The Shadow is not what he seems. But his true identity
is unknown. His lieutenants, known as Coilmasters, communicate back
forth with him via blue lights shining from a loft building that stands
near the East River. They don't know his true identity either. He's
currently preparing mass murder to achieve the possession of the Cuban
treasure being transported on the steamship Tropical from Savannah to
The story spends the first six chapters in Manhattan, while The Shadow
is imprisoned in the clutches of The Python. That's where readers get
the entire story set up, learn about the Cuban treasure, meet the
various characters involved in the story, and finally see The Shadow
make his amazing escape. The next six chapters tell the part of the
story onboard the steamship Tropical. Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland
are on board the ship, guarding Louis Revoort, the man who is
accompanying the Cuban jewels on their journey into this country. His
life is threatened. The treasure is threatened. The entire ship is
threatened. But Harry and Cliff persevere and save the day, the jewels
and the lives of the innocent.
The final half of the novel, eleven more chapters' worth, slows down a
bit. Up until then, things are happening so furiously that you barely
get a chance to take a breath. Finally, we return to Manhattan and
watch as The Shadow starts laying his plans to thwart the sinister
schemes of The Python. It's not that the story starts to get boring,
but it does seem a bit more plodding in comparison to the first half of
Remember those blue lights that shine from the building by the East
River? They send out coded messages to the lieutenants of The Python,
known as the Coilmasters. All of those messages are sent by an
assistant of The Python who acts much as Burbank acts for The Shadow.
Burbank is in charge of communications for The Shadow. The Python has a
stoop-shouldered, heavily-bearded mute known as Laxley. He can't speak;
he can only emit a strange croak. Laxley is The Python's signalmaster
who is in charge of the blinking blue lights that send coded messages
to the Coilmasters. This is the first story that I can remember reading
where the villain had an assistant analogous to The Shadow's Burbank.
Most unique and quite interesting!
It's in the second half of the adventure that we see The Shadow break
into the penthouse headquarters of Laxley, the signalmaster. He watches
as the man sends out messages, learning how the code system works. Then
he overpowers the stoop-shouldered henchman. He calls Burbank, and has
Burbank come to the hidden signal spot. There, Burbank guards the
trussed-up Laxley, and it's Burbank who sends out bogus messages to The
Python's minions. Finally, poor old Burbank gets out of his usual
quarters and sees some new locations. It's good to see him out of that
claustrophobic room that he's usually stuck in.
The Shadow must have a huge collection of keys. I don't remember very
frequent mention of those master keys. In this story, he requests
Burbank bring him keys H, I, and J of series seventeen. If we assume
his keys are lettered A-Z and there are at least seventeen series, that
makes a minimum of 442 keys. Whoa! That's a lot of keys. Makes you
wonder why he needs them, when he's described so often as a master at
The major players in this story are Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland.
Burbank gets his one good scene when he runs things in The Python's
signal headquarters. Moe Shrevnitz gets one brief scene. Rutledge Mann
is mentioned, but doesn't actually appear. And, as far as the usual
agents go, that's all who appear in this pulp adventure.
Acting Inspector Joe Cardona of the New York Police appears in the last
half of the story, and his boss Commissioner Weston shows up at the
very end. Sergeant Markham also appears, as do a couple of inspectors
who were apparently created just for brief mention in this story,
Inspectors Lavin and Bray. That's the entire cast of law enforcement
The Shadow appears in a couple of disguises. Of course, he appears as
Lamont Cranston, which is how he was originally captured at the
beginning of the story. Later, he takes the guise of Louis Revoort, the
man guarding the Cuban treasure. It's such a perfect disguise that it
fools even The Python. The evil mastermind The Python is also a master
of disguise. In one scene, he is a stooped, bewigged old man, and later
The Python takes on the identity of Carl Ramorez, the man who actually
owns the treasure. Seems like everybody is a master of disguise, in
There seems to be an abandoned story element with a legal secretary.
The stenographer of lawyer Lester Bornic keeps barging into her boss's
office without knocking, and author Walter Gibson makes a big deal out
of it. Bornic repeatedly complains about "persistently dumb"
secretaries. But then, the whole bit goes nowhere. Was this female
character supposed to the unseen daughter of one of the main
characters; mentioned but never seen? Was she supposed to accidentally
barge in on something sinister? Whatever the original intent, it didn't
survive to the final pulp story. Perhaps a mystery forever...
A new twist is given to the secret method of communicating hidden
messages between The Shadow and his agents. Usually, it's done via a
radio announcement. The announcer would stress certain words slightly,
and The Shadow's agents would string those words together to form the
message. In this story, it's The Shadow himself who speaks the words
over the telephone. It's all done while he is in disguise as Louis
Revoort, and is in the presence of The Python, who is disguised as Carl
Ramorez. Without tipping off his opponent, The Shadow is able to make a
telephone call and send a hidden message to Harry Vincent.
This is a slam-bang story that you'll really enjoy. Never before has
the reader seen The Shadow captured, unmasked and helpless under the
influence of opiates. Never before has the reader seen The Shadow
survive amazing torture such as appears in this amazing story. It's
thrilling to see how The Shadow makes good his escapes, how he thwarts
the diabolical schemes of The Python, and how he eventually unmasks the
mastermind and reveals him to be... the last person anyone would
This is a top drawer Shadow novel from 1935. You won't want to miss it.
"The Shadow, The Hawk, and The Skull" was originally published in the December 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Yes, this story features not one, but two villains. Two master criminals, each a match for The Shadow. But what should happen if the two should team up against The Shadow? Two super-foes instead of one - would it be too much for The Shadow?
First, there's the Hawk. All New York has heard of the Hawk, lone ace of crime. No one knows who the Hawk is, but in reading this mystery, we learn early-on that he's expert gem thief Carl Tournay, the talk of Europe. At every crime, he leaves his token - a hawk's feather!
Second, there's the Skull. His features have the expression of a death's-head. Shrunken, yellow complexion, with deep-set sockets for eyes. His teeth form an ivory smile between wide-open lips; his nose, its nostrils dilated, look like a gap in the center of his face. Not a pleasant visage! Also recently from Europe, Giles Brenk, alias the Skull, leans more towards blackmail. He robs the wealthy of illicit gains, wealth they can't admit to having. He leaves his victims with a golden skull, a token reminder to remain silent.
Both left Europe because of war conditions. Remember that although America wouldn't enter World War II for another year, Europe was already ablaze. It was too hot for these two; America was ripe pickings. And so to the United States both have traveled, ignorant of each other, but anxious to start their new reign of crime.
Our proxy heroine in this story is lovely young Lenore Meldon. She is accidentally drawn into the Hawk's first jewelry store robbery, and is framed by the Hawk as an accessory. But The Shadow knows better. He thwarts the robbery and realizes that Lenore is innocent. He enlists her assistance and she becomes an agent for The Shadow.
The story revolves around Lenore Meldon and her adventures working for The Shadow. She gets to pose as Spanish Countess del Oro, to trap the Skull. And she uses her wiles on the Hawk to set him up for capture. In this story, she shows determination and true grit. She is a very capable agent of the Myra Reldon type. What Margo Lane would aspire to become.
A couple of interesting notes about this mystery. The Shadow wears gloves. Yes, those black gloves that were often mentioned in earlier years but usually ignored by 1940, are mentioned here. In the later years, The Shadow's costume only comprised a slouch hat and cloak; the gloves were missing. It's good to see him here in full costume!
And his short-wave radio apparatus deserves mention. In this story, his limousine, as driven by Stanley his faithful chauffeur, contains a short-wave radio apparatus, which he uses to contact Burbank. This device is not often seen; usually The Shadow has Stanley pull over to some convenient cigar store, so he can use a pay phone to call Burbank. But the short-wave set did appear a year earlier in "The Voice" and perhaps in other stories that don't come to mind at the moment.
The story features The Shadow as Lamont Cranston, Burbank, Moe Shrevnitz and Harry Vincent. Notice that Moe isn't referred to as "Shrevvie" yet. The radio show version of The Shadow wasn't having much influence on the pulp version... yet. Representing the law is Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona. And that pretty much rounds out our cast of regular characters.
This is a pretty typical Shadow story for 1940. The Shadow is less bloodthirsty, but still shoots straight. And there's the twist surprise ending that we've come to expect, even though we usually can't see exactly what it is until it's sprung upon us. It makes for a fun read.
Olsen was first introduced to The Shadow in the early 1960's, tuning in to
rebroadcasts of his adventures on KEX radio in Portland, Oregon. Several years
later, John was drawn to a hardback book entitled "The Weird Adventures of The
Shadow," containing three Shadow novels reprinted from the old pulp magazines.
The pulp Shadow was a far different character from the beloved radio version, but
the stories drew him in and opened his eyes to a richer version of the hero.
Today, John is retired in Sherwood, Oregon. He has read all 325 of
the old Shadow pulp mysteries and enjoys them so much that, as of this writing,
he is well over half way through reading them all again for a second time.