Download Link: The Curse of the Cat
Airdate: January 20, 1946
Main Characters/Actors: The Shadow/Lamont Cranston (Bret Morrison), Margot Lane (Lesley Woods)
The Shadow is one of my favorite heroes from the Golden Age of pulps. I talk about him literally all the time because I love how he’s a clear predecessor to Batman but so different at the same time.
Okay, I have always had a thing about Orson Welles’ work on the franchise but once I started listening to Bret Morrison’s run on the show, he’s the one who made the Shadow click for me.
These radioplays? Yeah, I listen to them as I fall asleep (which certainly explains the ridiculous nightmares that I keep having, but whatever). When Comixology Unlimited was announced? I got it specifically so that I could read Masks from Dynamite Entertainment and catch the pulp hero team-up of my literal dreams.
Now that you’ve got a bit of backstory for my intense love of the Shadow, let’s actually talk a bit about “The Curse of the Cat”.
“The Curse of the Cat” is one of those episodes of The Shadow radioplay that I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving.
The story opens with explorer Michael Strong and his daughter Janice returning from a trip to Africa that ended with Michael’s wife being killed by what was probably a lion. From the onset, the listener and Michael can tell that there’s something wrong with Janice in the wake of this tragedy. She’s sleeping a lot, drinking a ton of milk, eats raw steak, and at one point, it appears that she can even see in the dark.
So of course, the only logical response is to keep Janice captive in the house and away from any stimuli that would affect her.
What gets me about “The Curse of the Cat” is that instead of Janice’s dad trying to get her help for her mental health issues (that are implied to have been caused by the trauma of seeing her mother’s death), her dad just kills everyone that comes into their home. Like it’s apparently easier to murder multiple people than it is to you know… take your daughter to therapy?
So first, Janice’s dad murders a pet store owner who’d mistaken their house for the one next door. Then, he kills his daughter’s potential boyfriend (Doug Hartley). All because he has no idea how to handle or help his daughter as she’s dealing with a mental health issue and the aftermath of trauma…
This story is actually pretty light on appearances from the Shadow. While the death of the pet store owner is what puts our man on the case, he doesn’t actually appear onscreen as his vengeful alter ego until the episode is nearly finished.
I just want to point out that one of the things that gives Michael Strong away is that he keeps dumping the bodies in the same place in the same way. He dumps them in the river after stripping them of their identification (but not their money so no one believes that they were mugged).
There’s a bit more to the story, that you have to hear to believe. I know it’s weird, not giving spoilers for something almost as old as my parents, but trust me, the twist to this story was entirely unexpected.
One of the things that I liked was how this story really isn’t much of a detective story and that’s what makes it interesting.
As with Batman, we’re used to the idea of the Shadow as a detective centered in the story looking for clues and punching people in the face, but here, he’s kind of a side character in his own show. I mean, he still gets to save the day and get Janice and her dad the help they need, but he’s not the focus of this episode. The creepy tone of the episode and Janice’s’ behavior are what really capture your attention.
I didn’t end the episode with chills or with a newfound belief in cat curses, but it’s still one of my top episodes of the show for how it manages to be scary and sensitive in turns.
Next time: We’re going back in time to listen to Orson Welles play the part of The Shadow in 1938’s “The Creeper” and I get to wax poetic about one of my favorite voices in Old Hollywood.