Cast: Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters
The Shadow has, quite honestly, been under-appreciated by movie fans, and especially the fans of comic book movies. Is it a classic? No. Is it a great movie? No. Is it fun? Hell, yeah. The biggest problem with The Shadow is that it came out between Batman Returns and Batman Forever and doesn’t really stack up with either of those movies.
That really isn’t fair when you get down to the basics, because The Shadow is not the same kind of movie as Batman, although too many people see the similarities and compares it to Tim Burton’s films. Instead, The Shadow aligns better as a mixture of the first Batman movie and Dick Tracy. It’s a period Noir like Dick Tracy with some of the dark gothic sensibilities of Batman added in.
The sad thing is that its reputation is so bad that, in the world of digital media and low attention spans, most people won’t see how fun the movie really is. The opening scene shows Alec Baldwin’s drug warlord Lamont Cranston in Tibet ruthlessly killing friends and enemies alike. He is then kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken to a temple that no one can see unless the “clouds are cleared from their minds of men.” There, he is told by Tulku, a holy man with supernatural powers, that he will be trained in the ways of the Shadow and he will become a force of good.
It is almost like director Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) took the interesting story that Christopher Nolan told years later in the first half of Batman Begins, and told it in a five-minute condensed version. We then flash to present day New York City (humorously referred to in a title card as the “most wretched lair of villainy”) where he stops three gangsters from killing a man and then enlists the man he saved as one of his many informants.
The Shadow’s powers are basically hypnosis, where he “clouds men’s minds” and alters their perceptions. He can make himself invisible, except for his shadow since light can’t be deceived. He also has some mad fighting skills. The problem with this part of The Shadow is that the beginning is the worst part of the movie. The opening is too quick and just skims over the intro and the first battle in NYC with the bad guys is so cheesy and over-the-top that the impatient might just turn it off there.
However, things get better. When Alec Baldwin is not in the mask, he is great in his role as Lamont Cranston. Penelope Ann Miller is solid in the role of the damsel that he falls for, although it takes a bit to warm up to her. At the start, she is trying too hard to be the Film Noir dame, but when she lightens up, she is almost a perfect depiction of 1930s era Hollywood. There are also some solid supporting roles, especially by Jonathan Winters as Lamont’s police lieutenant uncle and Peter Boyle as his trusted cab driver. Ian McKellen also appears in an almost unrecognizable role.
Tim Curry also turns in a fun hammy villain role while John Lone is really quite good as the main villain Shuwan Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan, who is also trained in the art of the Shadow. The set design is great and the entire movie has the Film Noir 30’s Hollywood look down pat. Honestly, this is one of the best designed movies I have seen in a long time, both in the sets and the costume design. The music by Jerry Goldsmith is a little too similar to Batman, which hurts in the comparisons made at the time of The Shadow’s release.
Honestly, I look at the 5.9 IMDb score and can understand that, but I see the 45% audience score at Rotten Tomatoes and wonder if people even knew what they were watching. The Shadow was a flop at the box office when it came out in 1994, but hopefully people will give it another chance with this Shout Factory release. It is nowhere near as most horrible as people make it out to be.
The Shadow is actually quite fun if you watch it without any expectations.
The special features from The Shadow collector’s edition are pretty light for a Shout Factory release, however the one that matters is a short feature called “Looking Back at The Shadow.” It clocks in at 23 minutes, and while that seems short, it is very informative. Honestly, I got more from this 23 minute doc then I get from a lot of one-hour features. Best of all, Alec Baldwin was there to talk about the movie and had a lot of great things to say about it.
Also on hand was Penelope Ann Miller, director Russell Mulcohy, production designer Joseph Nemec III, director of photography Stephen H. Burum and writer David Koepp. It felt longer than 23 minutes and I mean that in a good way. They talked about everything from the actors to the set and costume design to the writing and direction of the movie. It was very comprehensive in a very economical fashion. Very impressive.
Other than that, there is only a trailer and a still photo gallery.