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Review: "Shadow Over Alcatraz" (The Shadow)
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John Olsen
2014-01-10 08:16:21 UTC
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SHADOW OVER ALCATRAZ was published in the December 1, 1938 issue of The
Shadow Magazine. A crime emperor of the future is buried with his
vicious exploits of the past - by The Shadow!

This is one amazing Shadow mystery. I loved it! Admittedly, this is not
your typical Shadow adventure. Most Shadow stories were somewhat
small-scale. They involved a murder or two... a master criminal or two.
By contrast, this story is on a much larger scale. Here we are talking
about hoards of criminals and hundreds of deaths. And their ultimate
goal is to create a criminal empire that will span the globe... indeed
rule the planet! And fighting them is The Shadow. He gets to use his
disguises. He makes some fantastic escapes. His aim with those deadly
.45 automatics never falters. His phenomenal mind can extrapolate full
details from a mere scrap of information. You won't be sorry that you
read this one, in which The Shadow battles the denizens of Alcatraz.

Yes, Alcatraz - The Rock! This is the repository of America's most
dangerous criminals, a concentrated population of the world's most
sinister masterminds. Where better to find lieutenants for the most
devious mastermind of all time! Alcatraz, where America's most hidden
master criminal will recruit his evil henchmen for a plot to create a
world-wide crime spree.

It all starts in Denver, Colorado, where eccentric old inventor Harvey
Lanyon is demonstrating his latest invention. He calls himself "The
Rainmaker" because he's created a machine that will end droughts. Or so
he wishes. But the invention is a failure; all it does is create a fog.
And what good is fog? None, except to that hidden mastermind known as
Zanigew. Zanigew has sinister plans for the fog machine. So he sets out
to capture Harvey Lanyon and appropriate Lanyon's invention.

Standing in his way is The Shadow. The Shadow, in his undisguised
civilian form, is none other than famed aviator Kent Allard. Allard is
at the unsuccessful demonstration of Lanyon's rain machine. He follows
Lanyon back to his hotel, where an attempt is made to kidnap the old
inventor. Kent Allard is overcome by a mysterious gas, and both Harvey
Lanyon and his invention are carried off by sinister henchmen in the
employ of the mysterious Zanigew.

But the evil Zanigew isn't about to stop there. He has struck before,
and he'll strike again. Already he has captured James Dansell, a chemist
and inventor. It's from Dansell that he acquired the gas which he used
to capture Harvey Lanyon and incapacitate Kent Allard. And next, Zanigew
is preparing to capture Glade Tretter, a white-haired old inventor who
lives in an abandoned lighthouse on the California coast.

Why does Zanigew want Glade Tretter? It seems that Tretter has created a
fog-breaking device. This is one more piece of the puzzle. Zanigew has a
fog-creating device and now seeks a fog-dispersing one. He also has the
strange sleeping gas created by James Dansell. To what use will these
devices be put? And who will be next?

Next is Professor Eugene Barreau. Barreau is an electrical wizard - an
amazing genius who has created apparatus that can send powerful
electrical currents through the air. It can create a protective
electrical field around an area which nothing can penetrate. A kind of
"force field." It sounds like something that Zanigew could certainly use
in his quest for criminal power.

So exactly who is Zanigew and what is he up to? The Shadow had heard the
name of Zanigew spoken in hushed tones when certain crooks thought they
were alone. Zanigew lurks in the background, directing crime from a safe
distance. But now he has acquired the tools he requires, and is about to
strike. He has the fog machines, the poison gas, and the protective
electrical shield. With them, he plans on attacking Alcatraz and freeing
the worst criminal masterminds in captivity.

Can even The Shadow stop this cunning genius of crime? It doesn't seem
so, as he hunts for the elusive crime master. With the help of the
government, The Shadow tries to track the strange wireless signals used
by Zanigew to send orders to his minions. But direction finders lead
investigators to barren spots. It seems that Zanigew has a variety of
headquarters around the country. From Denver to San Francisco to Idaho
to Puget Sound in Washington, The Shadow tracks the elusive Zanigew in
an effort to thwart his evil plans and stop and empire of evil that
could stretch throughout the world.

Assisting The Shadow in this story are Harry Vincent and F.B.I. agent
Vic Marquette. Also appearing in smaller roles are Burbank and pilot
Miles Crofton. The Shadow appears only as himself, Kent Allard... and a
few disguises.

The Shadow appears as an unnamed adventurous Easterner who bears little
resemblance to Kent Allard. We are told that when he removes the
putty-like makeup on his face, "out from the built-up guise came the
gaunt countenance of Kent Allard." No mention of the "horror face"
beneath the makeup that was mentioned in early Shadow novels. Perhaps
there was a little judicious plastic surgery performed in the
intervening years? That might explain the absence of any mention of the
"horror face" after the first couple years.

It's good to see The Shadow's autogiro make an appearance in this story.
It plays a pivotal part in the climax to the story. This is the "new,
improved" autogiro that is completely wingless, capable of making a
speed of one hundred and twenty miles an hour. Generally, autogiros were
considered to have wings, so this must have been closer to the modern
helicopter in design.

Some of the scenes in this story are a bit more lurid than usual. Not as
lurid as those written by Theodore Tinsley, when he penned his
twenty-seven Shadow novels. But a bit stronger than Walter Gibson
usually wrote. He describes a criminal henchman caught on fire; the odor
of seared flesh as the human torch whizzes past The Shadow. Finally, The
Shadow stands above the thing that had once been alive, looking at the
limbless remains. -gulp-

Walter Gibson also describes a torture device put into use by the evil
Zanigew. It's a modern version of the old "Spanish Maiden." It's a glass
box designed to the human shape. But instead of spikes, it contains
needles set deep in steel studs that cover the inside of the glass
coffin. Electrical current slowly pushes those needles inward, at an
almost imperceptible rate. In two hours, the needles will penetrate the
victim. The torture is described by Zanigew as "exquisite." Not only can
the screams be heard through the airholes in the box, but the victim can
be seen writhing in agony through the glass walls. Yes, this is truly pulp!

There is one scene in this story that reminds me of the 1980 John
Carpenter movie, "The Fog." Glade Tretter lives in a lighthouse, a giant
finger shafting eighty feet upward from the low rocks of Point Sonola.
His daughter cries out, "Look, dad! That fog is coming from the land
against a sea breeze!" Despite the wind, the thick mass crawls toward
the lighthouse until it is surrounded. The girl sees shapes that appear
suddenly from the fog. They are things like men, but grotesque creatures
that might have been created by the fog itself... If you've seen "The
Fog," you'll recognize this scene with a shudder!

I found one passage of interest. "Crofton always identified The Shadow
as a globe-trotting, big-game-hunting millionaire named Lamont Cranston;
never as Kent Allard. Preserving the secret of his actual identity was
important to The Shadow, even with his most trusted agents." In later
years, the importance of preserving that secret was tossed aside in
"Crime Over Casco." At the end of that 1946 story The Shadow admits to
being Kent Allard in front of his agents... and two innocents who had
gotten caught up in the adventure... and in front of the master villain!
And then the master villain escapes, knowing The Shadow's identity! Wow,
that's quite a change of policy. Apparently preserving the secret of his
actual identity was no longer important in 1946. Can I pretend that the
1946 novel never existed? I would feel so much better...

In this story, does Zanigew die in the end? Well that's not certain. We
are told that he hits his head and lies still, his eyes closed. And the
steamer ship sinks, apparently carrying his body with it. But author
Walter Gibson left plenty of loopholes so that he could bring back
Zanigew in some future tale, as he occasionally did with other master
villains like Shiwan Khan and Doctor Rodil Mocquino. But in this
particular case, Zanigew never returned. If indeed Gibson had planned
it, such a story was never published. And the evil Zanigew was never
mentioned in any other Shadow mystery. Too bad. He made a suitably
powerful adversary for the master of the night.

And one final note. Did you know that The Shadow can squeeze through
steel bars only seven inches apart? It's not easy, but he accomplishes
it in this story. Maybe he can dislocate some joints, somewhat like
escape-artist Harry Houdini was reputed to do. Get out a ruler and look
at seven inches. That's not much space. I'm surprised he could get his
head through! Unless... (no, let's not go there.)

This is one of the classic Shadow stories... and one of the top rated.
And it will make an adventure that ranks among the very best among the
325 Shadow magazine stories published. It's one you won't want to miss.

John
--
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
The wonderful old pulp mystery stories are all reviewed at:

http://home.comcast.net/~deshadow/
Joe Pfeiffer
2014-01-11 04:32:43 UTC
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As always, an excellent review which I thoroughtly enjoyed! On one
minor technical note, however, I don't know that I've ever heard of a
real autogyro that had wings -- they were (and are) strictly rotorcraft,
with an unpowered rotor. The batgyro had vestigal wings, but I'm having
a hard time thinking of a non-fictional example.
John Olsen
2014-01-12 19:51:13 UTC
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Post by Joe Pfeiffer
As always, an excellent review which I thoroughtly enjoyed! On one
minor technical note, however, I don't know that I've ever heard of a
real autogyro that had wings -- they were (and are) strictly rotorcraft,
with an unpowered rotor. The batgyro had vestigal wings, but I'm having
a hard time thinking of a non-fictional example.
Hi Joe


I've never seen an autogyro (or autogiro) in real life, but I remember
the first time I saw one on film was in the 1933 W.C. Fields movie
"International House" (which I saw on TV in the early 1960s). I thought
they were pretty cool. That one had wings. Look at this picture:

Loading Image...

As I understand it, the early autogyro had wings, but they were used for
control, not for lift. Here's picture of another model that had wings:

Loading Image...

Wikipedia has a long article on autogyros (which I found kinda boring)
and lots of pictures, and most of them do NOT have wing, as you pointed
out. I guess the wings were just one of those early things... which
just happened to coincide with when the Shadow stories were being written.

Someday I'd love to see an autogyro in real life... no matter whether it
has wings or not!

John
--
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
The wonderful old pulp mystery stories are all reviewed at:

http://home.comcast.net/~deshadow/
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