Title: The Shadow (1994)
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, James Hong
The Shadow came out during the 90’s, at a time when Hollywood was producing comic book movies trying to duplicate the success that Warner Bros. had with Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). I guess its part of what you’d call the 90’s comic book movie revival? So anyhow’s Hollywood’s idea of making a successful comic book movie at that time was reviving the oldest comic book heroes; the tried and true characters from the golden days. I guess they thought these old characters would still be in the public’s collective mind, but boy where they wrong. While The Shadow is a character with lots of background and history, it is a hero that comes out of the 30’s; out of the depression era and well, that was a long time ago. People don’t want old heroes like The Phantom or The Shadow, they want contemporary heroes like The X-Men and Spiderman. And so, films like The Phantom (1995) and The Shadow didn’t exactly grow legs at the box office when they were released. The Rocketeer (1991) also failed because it was also a period comic book film that took place during the 30’s. So apparently, any comic book film that takes place in the old days is doomed to failure. But if you ask me, The Shadow didn’t deserve to fail at all, it’s a very fun film, a well produced comic book adaptation that is quite faithful to its source material. The Shadow you knew from the comics, novels and the radio shows is The Shadow you get on this film.
The Shadow tells the story of ‘Ying-Ko’ a ruthless opium dealer from Malaysia who is suddenly abducted by these monks, not sure if they are Tibetan or not so don’t ask. But they do have this cool looking temple in the shape of a Snake! So anyways, the leader of these monks is a holy man known as ‘The Tulku’ and he tells Ying-Ko that he will be given a chance to redeem himself. He will live amongst the monks for seven years and learn to “cloud mans minds”. Fast forward seven years and now Ying-Ko is living in New York City, is reformed and calls himself by his real name, Lamont Cranston. During the day, he is a wealthy “man about town” but at night, he roams the city streets using his new acquired powers to fight crime and protect the innocent. He is “The Shadow”, a mysterious figure that has the ability to make himself invisible to others, and hypnotize evil doers. What evil lurks in the hearts of man? The Shadow knows!
So in my book, this is an excellent movie that didn’t deserve to fail at all. In fact, out of the these three old timey comic book movies of the 90’s, The Shadow is the one I like the most. The production values where high on this one, it had a lot of style, a lot of class and to top things off an amazing cast! I think it’s sad that modern audiences just can’t connect with a period comic book film. I guess this proves that it’s true, the grand majority of movie going audiences are young kids who don’t really care for anything remotely related to the past. The most recent example I can think of right now is The Lone Ranger (2013), a film with huge production values (above the 200 million dollar mark), a good director, a huge star and great visual effects. Unfortunately it is also a cowboy movie and kids just don’t connect with those anymore either, so I guess, the lesson to Hollywood is, if you want to make a movie that takes place in the old days, you better either make it hip and cool (for example The Great Gatsby (2013)) or make it an indie with a low budget, for the art house crowd because if you don’t, you risk having a turkey and loosing your precious millions. My cry out to modern audiences is, give these types of movies a chance because you just might be missing out on a good movie! Case in point: The Shadow.
What I love about The Shadow is the character itself, the whole set up behind him, the premise. The character looks so cool with his black hat and trench coat, with his twin guns! The red scarf, the mysterious eyes, it’s a great visual in my book. But back in the 30’s, fans of The Shadow could only imagine him, you have to remember, this is a character that comes out of an era when people heard radio shows! Back in the 30’s comic book movies didn’t multiply like rabbits the way they do today, in fact, comic book super heroes hadn’t made the leap to the silver screen yet, that wouldn’t happen until The Adventures of Captain Marvel debuted in 1941, yes my friends, Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam!) was the first super hero to get his very own feature film! So until that day would come along, all comic book fans had during the 30’s were radio shows. They’d have to snuggle up next to their radios and hear their comic book heroes fight crime! Comic book fans had to imagine everything back in those days, which is quite cool when you think about it! I remember when The Shadow hit theaters back in ’94, they re-issued a couple of these old radio shows and I bought a couple of them because I wanted to experience what it was like to listen and imagine these old Shadow stories. I can’t tell you how much fun I had listening to these old radio shows! I remember one of the stories was called “The Man Who Wasn’t There”. There was this aura of mystery to these old radio shows that was just awesome, they were very atmospheric, very spooky. And this is something that this film effectively translated to the silver screen.
On this film The Shadow inhabits a dark, seedy New York City filled with art deco buildings and big band dance clubs. Russell Mulcahy, this film’s director, turned The Shadow into a nourish event, a film noir in every sense of the word. What’s film noir you ask? Well, these are films that usually take place in urban settings (a city), at night and crime, sex and violence usually figure into the story one way or another. The wind is always blowing in the city streets; the lighting on these films is purposely dark, thunder is clapping, there’s always an aura of mystery to these films, and I just love the hell out of all that ambiance, that atmosphere. So The Shadow brings all that mystical mystery from old film noir back to the silver screen. Keeping in line with one of the requirements of a film noir, the hero is doomed somehow, he has a dark side, and The Shadow most certainly has that in spades. The Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man because he himself has to keep that evil side of him under control, he was once ruthless, once cold, he has a constant battle with his inner demons. One wonderfully awesome dream sequence has Lamont Cranston actually ripping his face off and revealing the villains face underneath! So we got a character that’s tormented by his dark past, constantly trying to forgive himself, redeem himself. Speaking of The Shadow himself, what a wonderfully spot on casting decision it was to put Alec Baldwin in this role! This was before he went into the “Fat Elvis” stage he is now. Back in ’94 Alec Baldwin still had some of those dashing good looks to him, plus that voice is perfect for The Shadow.
The rest of the cast is equally great. I don’t know what happened to Penelope Anne Miller, but man, I wish she was still around making movies. She looks amazing playing Margo Lane. She wears these silky dresses that look amazing on her, especially in dream sequences! The best part about Margo Lane is that she’s is never, for one second portrayed as a helpless damsel in distress. In fact, if we get down to it she plays an important part in saving the day, I liked that about this movie. The damsel actually becomes something of a threat to The Shadow! Then we have the great Tim Curry playing a mad scientist and Ian McKellen playing a goofy one. John Lone plays Shiwan Kan, the last living descendent of Genghis Kan! The villain in this film has the traditional villainous desire to “conquer the world” by destroying it first; which brings to mind that the film isn’t all that original in terms of story. But so what, this movie is more about the look and feel then the brains behind it. There’s tons of style and atmosphere here, not to mention fun. The film was written by David Koep and I have to admit, his dialog was interesting, funny, it kept me entertained. Koep wisely keeps things light by spreading jokes in the dialog to liven things up, so be alert for a lot of word play. There’s this hilarious scene where hero and villain are discussing the fate of the world and suddenly it turns into this: “Lovely tie, by the way. May I ask where you acquired it?” “Brooks Brothers” “Is that Mid-town?” “45th and Madison; you are a Barbarian.” “Thank You!” So you should have fun with the script which is very witty and clever.
Russell Mulcahy brings a visual flare to the film by adding lots of interesting camera angles and gimmicks to keep things visually interesting, the production has a lush quality to it as well. I think he was an excellent choice to direct this film. For example, Russell’s visual trickery involves scenes like this inspired moment in which we follow a canister with a message in it as the canister travels through a series of funnels, spread out through the city…awesome sequence! Speaking of visually interesting directors, Sam Raimi expressed interest at one point to direct yet another Shadow film, in fact he stated that he owns the rights to the character, unfortunately, the last he said on that subject was that a good script had not been produced yet, and so, as far as I know, that idea has been shelved. Maybe one day, a hip young director will find a way to make a Shadow film that can connect with modern audiences by somehow bringing The Shadow into the modern age. But if you ask me, I like The Shadow just the way he was portrayed on this film, living in the 30’s New York City, going to dance clubs, moving around in taxi cabs, romancing the ladies. The Shadow works best in that era, working the dark, seedy city streets, hiding in the shadows, cackling away at the bad guys from the nothingness…around every corner, in every empty room, as inevitable as your guilty conscience.
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5