The Shadow Vintage Radio Drama vs. Kindness That Kills

1939 radio drama The Shadow explores how humans’ corrupt nature twists our virtues into sins.
Adam Graham | Aug 23, 2016 | 1 comment |

The Shadow is an iconic figure whose history dates back to pulp fiction magazines and became popularized over radio. The show often dealt with strange and occasionally supernatural creatures. One would expect that the January 22, 1939 radio episode, “Valley of the Living Dead” was a zombie story. But that would be incorrect.

In the episode, Lamont Cranston (played by William Johnstone) and his assistant Margo Lane, drives out from his haunt in New York to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Cranston has heard rumors of strange goings-on by a community that lives in a valley in the mountains.

Cranston stops at a service station. He finds a small community lives in the valley, where all their needs are met by their benefactor, Mr. Maxim. Maxim provides everything they want or need. However, only people without money are allowed into the community, and no one is allowed to work. A rich vein of gold was discovered on the property, and Maxim forbids it from being worked.

The Shadow, radio dramaCranston actually knew Maxim in college and remembers him as being a generous soul who helped out the lower class. As such, Margo suggests the trip is pointless. But Cranston wants to get a closer look. He drives down the road, only to have boulders mysteriously roll down from up above and nearly hit his car. Undeterred, Cranston rents a plane and flies into the valley. He discovers a situation that requires the attention of the Shadow.

The episode tells an intriguing story and makes two great points.

First, the people in the valley are called the “living dead,” because Maxim, by trying to provide everything for them and deciding everything that’s best for them, has robbed them of vitality and energy. They go through their life in a sort of daze. Throughout the episode, the Shadow refers to the idea that God designed people to work. But if they ignore this design, people will become unhappy and listless. In this case, it could even be said that the residents of the Valley have rejected God-given labor in exchange for the appearance of ease that Maxim offers. Ultimately this ease only causes their misery.

Maxim is one of the more interesting villains in The Shadow. Usually the Shadow’s villains are people whose villainy comes from their total indifference or malevolence toward fellow human beings. But Maxim took a different road to megalomania: a road formed by his virtues.

Cranston remembered Maxim’s genuine caring and kindness in college. But over time, Maxim’s virtues became as selfish as any other villain’s. Maxim “helped people” in a way that left them totally helpless without him. He exalted himself above them. He kept his perfectly healthy wife in bed and urged her to lie down and not do anything, saying she is too frail. Maxim even left a cast on the leg of his young son for two years. And Maxim shows he’s willing to destroy any who might try to help themselves.

The story shows how, due to man’s corrupt nature, it’s possible for even our virtues to become sins.

While the story has a healthy bit of 1930s melodrama in it,  “Valley of the Living Dead” is one of the best Shadow stories I’ve ever heard. It’s an interesting tale that raises thought provoking questions about the nature of work and charity while still  remaining entertaining and true to the spirit of the series.

Adam Graham is a recovering politician and journalist, living in Boise, Idaho with his wife and fellow author, Andrea Graham. He is the author of the superhero comedy Tales of the Dim Knight (November 2010) and the follow up books Fly Another Day (March 2013), and Powerhouse Hard Pressed (May 2013). His current projects include the next book in that series, Ultimate Midlife Crisis as well as his first mystery novel Slime Incorporated. Adam also hosts The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio and Old Time Radio Superman podcasts. You can follow his blog, Christian Superheroes, and follow him on Twitter @Idahoguy.

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Audie Thacker

Interesting episode, and a story that is maybe even more relevant today then back then.