John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #72
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Intimidation, Inc." was originally published in the December 15, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A new racket has struck the city of Dorchester - one that was generating millions for some unseen mastermind. The name Intimidation, Inc. described it quite well, until The Shadow turned the tables to outsmart them at their own game.
This was the final Shadow magazine story of 1936, and as such paled in comparison to the ones that came before it. 1936 was a banner year for The Shadow, and readers had been presented with a bounty of top-notch Shadow pulp mysteries. "The North Woods Mystery" was a wonderful change of pace for The Shadow that still was able to work in the Chinatown angle. This was the year that introduced the sinister Doctor Rodil Mocquino in "The Voodoo Master" and also featured his second appearance later that same year in "The City of Doom." Readers also thrilled to "The Man from Shanghai," "The Gray Ghost" and "The Broken Napoleons." They were treated to the first Shadow story written by Theodore Tinsley in "Partners of Peril." And Walter Gibson's own "Terror Island," "Jibaro Death" and "The Strange Disappearance of Joe Cardona." The latter had perhaps one of the most misleading titles of any Shadow novel. The story was not even remotely as boring as the title would indicate; it was actually one of the most exciting of the year. And then, at the other end of the spectrum comes this story, "Intimidation, Inc."
The basic plot of "Intimidation, Inc." is pretty standard. Crime has reared its ugly head in the city of Dorchester, and The Shadow comes to town bust the racket. There's really nothing special to add to the plot to give it a little pizzaz. Maybe the criminal mastermind could have an underground lair. Or maybe he skulks around in robes and a hood. Or perhaps he deals death in some flamboyant fashion. But alas, we are given none of these. Instead, we are given just a stock plot involving men being threatened with death if they don't follow their instructions.
The story takes place entirely in Dorchester, a city of two hundred thousand in some unnamed state. We find Ludwig Meldon visiting a Notary Public at night after normal closing office hours. Inside, he finds the Notary Public dead, a bullet through the heart, and he is attacked by a mysterious intruder. Meldon is killed by the mugger. And mere minutes later, The Shadow silently enters the office. Two men are dead, the killer has escaped, and The Shadow is left with a mystery.
It seems there is a definite reason for The Shadow's presence in Dorchester. Recent events in the financial circles of Dorchester have forewarned The Shadow that some sort of crime is due in the city. Big businessmen have been engaging in strange unaccountable transactions that have brought them great losses. Because of these curious changes in financial conditions, The Shadow came to investigate.
Ludwig Meldon was a good example of these peculiar business transactions. The general consensus in the city was that Meldon had gone screwy. He had sold all his stock in Dorchester Power & Light, dropping the price to the point where he lost a quarter million dollars. And no one knew why such a savvy businessman had done so puzzling a thing. And now, Meldon was dead at the hands of an unknown assailant.
It turns out that Meldon was just following orders. The orders came in a letter that threatened his death if he did not comply. And the letter was signed "Intimidation, Inc." He followed part of the orders; he did sell his stock as demanded. But he then decided to investigate on his own, to track down the source of that blackmail letter. It was that investigation that lead him to the Notary Public, and to his own fate.
Ludwig Meldon was not the first to receive such a letter. Because of several such letters, a chain of events had occurred within the past week. Julian Reth, a big chemical manufacturer had sold out on of his subsidiaries, the Apex Dye Works, for a mere fifty thousand dollars. The company was worth three hundred thousand dollars, at least. The purchaser of the dye company, James Blosser, soon sold the company to Martin Lambroke, owner of the Lambroke Silk Mills, for the full value price of three hundred thousand dollars. Blosser made a quick quarter million! But a week later, he paid that amount for a huge art collection for the Dorchester museum.
Reth, Lambroke and Blosser had all been threatened. They had each received letters from Intimidation, Inc. And each had followed his orders. At the end of the chain of business deals, the real payoff went to the unknown seller of the art collection, for the treasures gained by the museum were exaggerated ones, worth but a fraction of the price paid by Blosser. A crime master was behind the letters from Intimidation, Inc. And from this one scheme alone he had garnered a quarter million dollars. There were, of course, others. Many others.
The Shadow sees the potential victims in the board of directors for the upcoming State Exposition, soon to be held in Dorchester. So, as Lamont Cranston, he approaches the four-man board seeking the rights to arrange for an Oriental exhibit at the Exposition. These four men have also been threatened by Intimidation, Inc. And it isn't long before The Shadow determines that one of the four board members is the hidden crime master running Intimidation, Inc. But which one? That's the one question upon which the plot of this story hangs.
It's established early on that the man who poses as Intimidation, Inc. is a lone wolf of crime. He trusts no subordinates, so works by himself. When crime are committed; when death strikes, it is no lieutenant in charge. It is the mastermind himself committing those acts. As you might expect, though, all four of the board members for the State Exposition have iron-clad alibis for those crimes. So the puzzle for the readers is to determine who the man behind the racket is. Once one of the four alibis can be pierced, then the criminal mastermind will stand revealed. And that's a major weak spot in this story.
One of the four Exposition board members has an iron-clad alibi that is absurdly easy to see through. So, early in the story, any reader with half a brain will find it obvious which of the four men is really in charge of Intimidation, Inc. And in a large part, that is what makes this story the weakest of the entire year. How could author Walter Gibson expect it to fool anyone is beyond me. Those of you who wish to avoid the spoiler solution to the alibi puzzle should skip the next five paragraphs.
The guilty character is obviously Bursard, the guy who has a weekly radio broadcast, and is conveniently on the air when the various crimes takes place. And readers are supposed to believe that no one questions the fact that perhaps the master criminal is broadcasting via a recording? Especially when he broadcasts alone, locked inside his office? Duh! People in 1936 were quite aware of recorded broadcasts. True, most network shows were done live, but some were recorded for time-delay purposes. And there were a ton of pre-recorded syndicated shows. So it would have been no big surprise to find out that Bursard's broadcasts were recorded in advance. Readers of this story should feel justifiably cheated by this "iron-clad" alibi.
And then to add insult to injury, Gibson writes the "big reveal" based upon the most flimsy of coincidence. At the story's end, Bursard stands in the midst of his fellow board members and The Shadow. He is innocently claiming that he must get back to the radio station for his nightly broadcast. But The Shadow has cleverly set the clock on the mantle back by ten minutes, so Bursard stays too long and suddenly hears his own voice emanating from the radio as his recorded broadcast begins. The ruse of using a recording is revealed to all, and Bursard stands unmasked as the head of Intimidation, Inc.
But wait a minute... How did The Shadow know that Bursard would rely on the clock on the mantle. The clock that had been set back? If it weren't for that clock, Bursard would have left the group on time, and there would have been no evidence that he wasn't at the studio actually broadcasting live. Everything hinged on Bursart trusting in the clock on the mantle. What about consulting his own pocket watch? Wouldn't that have been the logical thing to expect him to do?
Well, sure enough, Gibson has Bursard pulling the watch from his pocket. But then he fumbles and drops it, breaking it. So he glances as the clock on the mantle instead, and is mislead on the correct time. Yes, it is the freak accident of Bursard dropping his pocket watch that the whole unmasking depends! I can hear the thoughts of The Shadow as he planned this unmasking: "I'll set the clock back ten minutes, and then just trust that if Bursard decides to consult his own pocket watch that he'll drop it and break it, and then have to rely on the mantle clock, instead. Yeah, that's what I'll do..." Sorry Walter, but that denouement just won't cut it. The Shadow that I've come to know so well would never depend on such a strange and unexpected turn of events upon which to base the vital reveal.
Another thing that completely astounds me is that even though the "radio broadcast" alibi was a very weak alibi, Gibson used it again eight years later in the 1944 story "The Shadow Meets The Mask." This time it's commentator Ron Meldor who broadcasts alone from a locked hotel room, and is always conveniently on the air during the crimes in question. And everybody in the story develops amnesia when it comes to the fact that prerecorded programs are routinely broadcast. I just can't believe anyone would be so ignorant of a simple technology that was common even in 1936. It makes me want to tear out my hair and cry AAARRRRRGGG!!!
END OF SPOILER...
The racketeer's alibi is the weak part of the story. The revealing of the fake alibi is the other weak part. And that's why this is the poorest of the 1936 Shadow stories. It insults the readers' intelligence today, and did even by 1936 standards.
It's interesting to note that The Shadow works alone in this story. There are no recurring characters. The familiar forces of the New York police are absent, since this takes place in Dorchester. Two agents of The Shadow do appear for one paragraph, but they aren't identified by name; they are just "The Shadow's men."
We are told that two men are by a truck, and they take care of two thugs that our black-cloaked hero has captured: "The Shadow's men drove away, while their chief watched the departure from darkness. The Shadow had shipped Brad and Skeet to a destination where they could no longer engage in crime; to a colony that he had established for crooks of their ilk."
This "destination" that is referred to is The Shadow's island rehabilitation center. This is a place where The Shadow sends thugs that he believes can be redeemed. It seems to have been inspired by the Doc Savage pulp stories, where Doc had his upstate "college" for criminals. But in The Shadow's case, it is an island colony administered by his good friend Slade Farrow. Walter Gibson first wrote of this rehab facility in "The Broken Napoleons" and made reference to it in four other Shadow stories before abandoning further mention of it. Since Street & Smith's editors chose to publish the Shadow stories in a different order than Gibson wrote them, this island colony was actually mentioned briefly in "The Yellow Door" before it was fully described in the next issue, "The Broken Napoleons." This story is the third time it is mentioned.
In this tale, we do get to see The Shadow putting on his disguises. Of course he appears as Lamont Cranston. But he also appears as a big-time crook, Link Delvo. Readers get to see The Shadow changing his appearance to that of Delvo. We are told that The Shadow places his fingers to his face and presses, changing its contour. And mention is made of some waxlike fills that reduce his hawklike visage. Gibson teases readers, leaving them wondering exactly how The Shadow changes his face.
Wouldn't you know it, a cheap crook catches The Shadow changing his disguise. He peers over the transom as The Shadow modifies his face and changes to cloak and slouch hat. The Shadow revealed! And the thug lives to tell the tale, too. But he's one of the two men shipped off to The Shadow's island rehab colony, so we can safely assume he is transformed into an ideal citizen, and never speaks of what he saw that one day.
The Shadow is a master of not only disguise, but of languages as well. He speaks just about every language you'd ever run into, even synthetic languages like Esperanto. And in this story, we learn that he is also familiar with shorthand. There seems to be no end to his amazing abilities.
As you can tell, this is not one of my favorite Shadow stories. I feel it insults the reader's intelligence. But if you can overlook the fact that you know the identity of the hidden mastermind from early on, then you might enjoy this story. But if you have a choice of any other 1936 story, I'd recommend picking the alternate. Walter Gibson, you could have done better.
"Wizard Of Crime" was originally published in the August 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A little over three years later, a second story would be published in The Shadow Magazine with the same title. The two stories were entirely separate and had nothing in common, excepting the accidental usage of the same title. Of the two, this Shadow mystery was clearly the better.
Our proxy hero for this tale is young Ralph Atgood, recently out of a job. He's engaged to beautiful Alicia Weylan whose father is a wealthy owner of a patent-medicine business. He needs to prove himself responsible and gainfully employed, in order to win the approval of old Carter J. Weylan. So when he's offered a job working for the mysterious philanthropist R. G. Dean, he can't be choosy.
Atgood will be responsible for correspondence, delivery of important packages and other such matters. He will receive his orders from Frederick Glenny, who manages the affairs of Mr. Dean. And being the innocent young man that he is, he accepts the position. Little does he realize that his unseen benefactor R. G. Dean is in reality a swindler and extortionist. And gradually, Ralph Atgood will be drawn into the web of crime and deceit.
One of R. G. Dean's victims is Eugene Bristow, president of the Chem-Lab Company. He sabotages Fibrolast, their fiber-finishing formula. The secret formula is dangerous and can easily ignite. But it's all because of Dean's sabotage. He is forcing Bristow to purchase an alternate formula from the Experimento Company for a half million dollars.
Eugene Bristow is going to consult with famed chemist Ray Parringer. He'll give him the secret formula for Fibrolast, and see if he can test it and find a way to salvage the formula. The mysterious R. G. Dean, of course, doesn't want this. If the Fibrolast formula can be fixed, he won't be able to extort the half million from Bristow under the guise of selling him an alternate formula. Dean is out to get chemist Ray Parringer. But he doesn't count on the intervention by The Shadow.
Yes, The Shadow is on the scene! The Shadow is keeping an eye on Parringer, in an effort to keep him from harm. But R. G. Dean has young Ralph Atgood deliver a sample of the Fibrolast formula that has been modified to explode. And explode it does, destroying the laboratory and killing Ray Parringer in the accident. The Shadow barely escapes death, and although injured, is taken to Dr. Rupert Sayre who nurses him back to health.
Because of the incident at Parringer's laboratory, R. G. Dean has discovered that Lamont Cranston is The Shadow. Now, Dean is out to get The Shadow, to remove him as an obstacle to his extortion schemes. And the death traps start appearing. Death traps all designed for The Shadow!
One of the death traps involves the revolving door to an office building. It's one of those glass affairs that's divided into four sections. When a victim steps into the revolving door, it locks halfway around and scalding white steam fills the interior. Boiled alive by an automatic jet of steam!
And then there's the strange bomb at the Cobalt Club. When Cranston walks down the steps to the grillroom, a cylinder is propelled into the air. A fountain of greenish liquid spurts forth, instantly turning the air into a thickish vapor that kills by petrification. The Shadow escapes, but a parrot in the grillroom is petrified hard as a rock. Makes me wonder exactly what was in that gas bomb. Unfortunately, it was left unexplained.
The Shadow decides that his Cranston disguise is becoming more of a liability than an asset, so he has the newspapers announce that Cranston is heading south on an exploration trip up the Amazon River, to return in six months. But in actuality, we know that after throwing off the crooks in Havana, The Shadow will return to Manhattan to continue his battle against the strange wizard of crime known as R. G. Dean.
The wizard of crime strikes again and yet again. The Sololight Corporation falls victim to R. G. Dean, when he starts a whispering campaign denouncing their product as using dangerous phosphorous. Under his pressure, they are forced to purchase a newly developed replacement chemical compound. Purchase at great price!
He shakes down a huge dye corporation by threatening to put a cheaper process on the market. Thus, he forces them to buy the alternate process at great profit to himself. He cuts off the supply of a special chemical to a wax-products company, in order to exact another small fortune from the company. The wizard of crime strikes again and again.
The Shadow must stop this unknown mastermind who calls himself R. G. Dean. He must free young Ralph Atgood from the evil clutches of the criminal. He must release Atgood's beautiful finance from the metal coffin filled with sleeping gas, where she is being kept to force Atgood's loyalty to the wizard of crime. All this The Shadow must do. And so he does!
Assisting The Shadow are his secret agents including Moe Shrevnitz, who drives The Shadow's taxicab, Harry Vincent, his most capable agent, Cliff Marsland, agent who hob-knobs with big-shots in the underworld, Hawkeye, the crafty spotter who can trail anything larger than a flea, Clyde Burke, who works for the New York Classic, and insurance broker Rutledge Mann.
The Shadow's personal physician Dr. Rupert Sayre is mentioned several times, but doesn't actually appear. The Shadow is sent to Dr. Sayre's clinic twice in this story. Yes, twice, he's injured severely enough to be sent to Dr. Sayre's. That's most unusual. He sure could have used that phial of purplish liquid to help him in those moments of pain and weakness. But, alas, the strange elixir doesn't appear in this mystery.
The forces of the police are well represented by Police Commissioner Ralph Weston, Inspector Joe Cardona and even Federal agent Vic Marquette. It's always good to see Vic Marquette again.
The Shadow doesn't get to use his abilities at disguise much in this story. He uses his Cranston disguise, as he does so often. But that's it. He doesn't appear as any other characters, sorry to say.
We do get a rare glimpse into The Shadow's laboratory, in the black tiled room adjoining his sanctum. It's here where The Shadow tests the chemical formula for Fibrolast that's given to Ray Parringer. And when he spills some of the liquid, he cleans it up with a large black cloth. Yes, even the rags that The Shadow uses are black. No normal rags for him!
The Shadow goes through several different outfits of black cloak and slouch hat. One is ripped to tatters in the laboratory explosion at Parringer's. But luckily, The Shadow has plenty of backups available. There must be a seamstress out there getting rich on making spare outfits for The Shadow. There always seems to be a need for more!
The Shadow also looses a brace of guns in the ruins of Parringer's laboratory, but as with his costume, he has extras. I think he must have an arsenal of firearms, if you start counting the times he has discarded spent automatics in the heat of battle.
Several methods of secret signaling are mentioned in this story. The Shadow uses colored lenses on his flashlight, as he has done in other stories. Flashing red or green indicates to his agents whether they should wait or follow him. Blinking ordinary white light is the way he sends Moe a brief coded message.
The Shadow also signals his agents by means of his eyes and head. Yes, there's an actual visual code that he uses with Harry Vincent:
Then came The Shadow's signals. He gave them with his eyes, whenever he gazed toward Harry. The changes of Cranston's glances, with the slight tilts of his head, spelled the letters of a visual code: "Watch Atgood. Look for a gun."
The Pulaski Skyway gets a brief mention. This was the featured landmark in the famous Shadow novel "Death Rides the Skyway" from February 1, 1936. Author Walter Gibson mentioned it in several of his Shadow novels, following this one.
Oh, and did you notice that the villain, R. G. Dean, is an anagram for "DANGER"? Walter Gibson was fond of such things, and they appear several times a year in his Shadow stories.
The title of this story, as mentioned previously, was used by accident for a totally different story in 1943. And this isn't the only time such a thing happened. Two other titles were also accidentally used twice: "The Shadow Meets The Mask" and "Alibi Trail," plus there were a couple of other really close misses. So, such things happened more often than one might suspect. But keep in mind that these stories were produced at a breakneck speed by Street & Smith which also had many other pulps coming out at the same time. So it's not surprising that some editor didn't catch a duplicate title occasionally.
This was a fun story, in which The Shadow battles against an unseen supercriminal who discovers The Shadow's identity and is out to destroy him. Lots of cool death traps are always a plus, too. If you get a chance, you should read this one. Just be sure to get the 1939 story, not the 1943 story with the same title by mistake. This is the good one.
John 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.