Wednesday, June 6, 2018
The Silent Avenger
"The Silent Avenger" was first aired on March 13, 1938 and it was the 25th episode from season 1 of The Shadow radio show. This story is thrilling, compelling and unique.
The story begins in a courtroom where Joe Brecker has just been found guilty of first degree murder and receives the death sentence. Joe Brecker then gives his own judgment by passing sentence on Judge Wilson, the prosecuting attorney, and the jury saying that they will all die. And, if his sentence isn't commuted to life in prison by the Governor, the Governor will die! Joe also passes sentence on the man who caught him - The Shadow!
Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane are witnesses to Brecker's outburst in court. As people leave the room, comments are made about what just happened and how worried people would be if The Shadow was on their trail. Lamont opines, "Unfortunately the mystery surrounding The Shadow inspires fear and terror in the innocent as well as the guilty."
Joe Brecker is in prison, waiting to be moved to the death house, and is visited by his brother, Danny. (Throughout the story we will learn Danny Brecker is a decorated veteran of World War I.) Joe has given Danny a mission - Danny is to kill the people responsible for sending Joe to jail and to the death sentence. Joe tells Danny that the same people that sentenced him to death are the ones responsible for Danny being drafted into the Army and being sent to fight in France during World War I. They are responsible for Danny getting "shell shocked" so that he can't remember things. Then Joe warns Danny about The Shadow. He tells Danny that The Shadow will come after him and he will only hear his voice but will not see him. Danny asks if The Shadow is dead, like his buddies that still talk to him. Joe tells him that The Shadow is very much alive and when Danny hears The Shadow's voice he is to throw a hand grenade at the sound of The Shadow's voice and that will kill The Shadow! Danny indicates that he will fully carry out this mission assigned to him from his brother. After Danny leaves, Joe says about Danny, "That poor dope!" In other words, Joe has taken advantage of his own brother to exact his vengeance.
After Danny left, Joe received a new visitor, a visitor he didn't expect and didn't want. Joe is visited by The Shadow! The Shadow knows Brecker is willing to carry out his murderous threat, and now he's trying to find out how Brecker will do it. Using his telepathic powers, The Shadow reads Joe Brecker's mind and learns Brecker's plan. But now The Shadow must find Danny Brecker in time to prevent the murders of innocent people.
The Shadow is searching desperately for Danny Brecker and members of the jury that put Joe Brecker in jail are beginning to be killed - killed by a highly trained sniper. Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane discuss these tragic events as Cranston has exhausted himself searching for Danny. Cranston tells Margo that he looked up Danny Brecker's war record and found him to be a decorated sniper in WW I, and he also learned Danny is suffering from "shell-shock." Cranston tells Margo, "Society trained him (Danny) to kill men. They told him they were enemies and he should kill them off. And now, with a shell-shocked mind, he's remembering what society taught him...to kill. To the people who have been through this experience, life is cheap. He is a product of our own folly: teaching men to kill in time of war and yet expecting them to respect life in time of peace."
The Shadow determines they need to set a trap for Danny so he and Margo put that plan in motion. Margo goes to the home of Danny and Joe Brecker's mother, posing as a reporter, on the day Joe is scheduled to die in the electric chair. The Shadow is there as well, but he is unseen. Just a few minutes before 5pm, when Joe is scheduled to die, Danny appears and talks with his mom. Mrs. Brecker knows in her heart that Danny is the one that's been killing people. 5pm comes and there was no action by the Governor to save Joe Brecker and so the death penalty is carried out. Danny mentions that he will be going to a tower in the city to take care of the Governor. The Shadow confronts Danny, but Danny is prepared and throws a hand grenade at where he hears The Shadow's voice. The Shadow is able to throw the grenade out a window before anyone can get hurt, but Danny escapes in the turmoil.
Cranston and Margo are pouring over a map of the city trying to find what tower Danny was speaking of. They determine it can only be the Wardman Tower which is still under construction but would be a perfect sniper's nest for Danny to shoot the Governor who will be in a parade.
The Shadow finds Danny on the 30th floor of the Wardman Tower. The Shadow speaks to Danny and is able to get him to put down the rifle. But then Danny pulls the pin on the hand grenade he has and threatens to throw it into the crowd below. The Shadow is able to use the powers of his mind to have Danny hold on to the grenade, but then Danny drops it and it explodes, killing Danny.
Police Commissioner Weston has finished talking about the case with another officer when The Shadow speaks to him. Weston says The Shadow was too late to take care of Danny Brecker and asks if The Shadow now wants to take credit for solving the case? The Shadow responds, "There is no credit, no glory in the death of Danny Brecker, Commissioner Weston. He was a victim, a human weapon of destruction, fashioned by mankind that teaches men to kill their enemies in time of war yet expects them to forget their murderous art in time of peace. Danny Brecker was an enemy of society - a killer - but only because you, and I, and countless thousands made him one. No Commissioner, there is no glory in this for you, or The Shadow, or for any man."
I listened to this episode many times to prepare for this article. Each time I listened, I found a different nuance to it that might be missed with just one listening. For example, Lamont Cranston spends many secluded hours away from Margo Lane in his attempt to find Danny Brecker. This case demanded a lot physically from The Shadow. I also noticed how Joe Brecker took advantage of his war-traumatized brother to exact his vengeance. To me, that is shameful and indicates the type of criminal Joe Brecker really was.
In this story, The Shadow used his mesmeric powers to read Joe Brecker's mind, similar to what he did in the episode, "Death House Rescue." The Shadow also used his ability to cloud people's minds so as to be invisible to them.
As part of preparing for this article I also did some research into World War I as Danny Brecker is a veteran of the war. There were 4.7 million Americans that fought in WW I. 204,000 were wounded in action and 116,516 were killed in action. There are still around 3,000 soldiers that are missing in action/unaccounted for. The war began in 1914 but the US didn't enter the war until 1917, and the war ended in November of 1918. At the height of US involvement, around 10,000 US troops a day were being sent to France.
World War I introduced us to the first use of chemical warfare and the first use of snipers. It also introduced us to a condition called "shell-shock" which we would later know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Here's some information I found on the US Department of Veterans Affairs website: "In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first observance of Armistice Day, the day World War I ended. At that time, some symptoms of present-day PTSD were known as "shell shock" because they were seen as a reaction to the explosion of artillery shells. Symptoms included panic and sleep problems, among others. Shell shock was first thought to be the result of hidden damage to the brain caused by the impact of the big guns. Thinking changed when more soldiers who had not been near explosions had similar symptoms. "War neuroses" was also a name given to the condition during this time." WWI veterans with "shell shock" were characterized as having a lack of courage, character flaws, etc. and were not treated as the heroes they were.
Six years prior to this radio episode airing, another event happened involving WW I veterans. In 1932 approximately 17,000 veterans and their families marched on Washington, DC asking the government to pay out immediately the bonus money promised to veterans. The demand was rejected and the veterans were forced out of Washington by the Army and the police. You can read more about these veterans here.
Knowing some of these facts helped me put this radio program into an historical context. It has become one of my favorite Shadow radio episodes and I hope you've enjoyed this brief look at the show and some of the history behind it. I also want to thank Pete Blatchford for bringing this radio show to my attention!