Friday, August 15, 2008

DECADE BY DECADE: Part 4: Friday's Favorite OTR

Today we combine our regular Friday feature with the "Decade by Decade" series and take a look at an episode of The Shadow from June 12, 1938.

I don't know how society would have survived past the 1930s without the help of heroes like the Shadow. It's apparent from listening to his radio series (and reading his pulp adventures) that madmen and villains of all sorts stalked the mean streets of New York (as well as just about everywhere else) and that horrible death was no farther away than the prick of a hypodermic needle, the click of the timer on a bomb, or the sudden lunge of a rapid dog.

But, by golly, the Shadow was there to keep us all safe. In "Death from the Deep," he goes up against a wealthy madman who has built his own submarine. The modern day pirate wages war on merchant and passenger ships, but the Shadow manages to track him down, bringing matters to a head in a confrontation aboard the sub.

Orson Welles was the Shadow in this one. It's always fun to listen to his performance knowing he was playing the part cold, without prior rehearsal and without having even glanced at the script before the live broadcast. (This was part of Welles' contract, making sure he had time to see to his Broadway responsibilities with the Mercury Theatre.) Welles could sight-read during the broadcast, jumping a little ahead of the lines he was currently speaking in order to guide his performance. It's amazing how good he was in the role using this method.

The story itself is, like nearly every Shadow episode, pure melodrama. But it's entertaining melodrama, played straight with fast moving plots, good acting and good sound effects. Besides, the idea of a modern day pirate in a submarine is just plain cool.

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