The Shadow Reviews
Like the comic-book heroes he inspires, The Shadow is an urbane city-dweller who maintains a outward persona under which he pursues a ruthless war on crime. His civilian identity is New York City millionaire Lamont Cranston. The "rich man-about-town" was later aped by BATMAN's Bruce Wayne, but in Cranston's case, it was an elaborate hoax to further confound his enemies. In truth, The Shadow is Kent Allard, an ex-WWI spy who faked his death, went to Tibet, and learned mental mysticism. Embittered by trench warfare and espionage, Allard knew well the evils of mankind. Then he met the industrialist Lamont Cranston, a man he so resembled they were constantly mistaken for each other. Knowing Cranston could get him access to social circles he himself could never obtain, Allard moved to NYC, stole Cranston's identity, and used his mysticism to hypnotize anyone who could still tell them apart. He then went about his new life mission--to battle the evil in men's hearts. Sound complex? It should; it's the movie Hollywood DIDN'T make.
When I think of 1930s crime fiction, I don't see flying demonic knives biting off the tips of people's thumbs, nor do I see Mongol warriors strolling down 5th Avenue fully dressed in battle gear. At least The Shadow himself looks cool, aside from inexplicable make-up that psychically "transforms" Baldwin into the long-nosed avenger. I'm even willing to tolerate how he wears a trench coat that looks like a dress. What I'm NOT willing to buy is the hackjob script. It starts in Tibet, where scuz-bag opium lord Lamont Cranston kills his enemies heartlessly. See, right there, I have to ask... why is America's first "superhero" now a druggie? He doesn't look like a morally convicted fascist, he looks like Vinny Appice from Black Sabbath. Anyway, a Buddhist monk abducts Cranston into a Himalayan temple and uses a knife possessed by evil spirits to beat Cranston into submission. He then lamely forces Cranston to fight crime all over the world, empowered by the "beast within." The mystic tells him this is the price for his redemption. Bear in mind, it's all ham-fisted into the first FIVE minutes, so it's clear THE SHADOW has no focus. Is it horror? Suspense? Action? Adventure? Drama? Comedy? It tries to be all these things because the moviemakers have no clue. Originally, the Shadow fought Depression-era crime, political weakness, and financial decay. In 1994, apparently that meant he had to become "accessible to audiences," so Hollywood psychoanalyzed his crimefighting motivations and put its own stupid spin on things. Result? This Shadow's a tortured-soul pagan poster-child for Zen Buddhism who acts like he's got a split personality. One moment he ruefully regrets his past sins, and the next he laughs sinisterly at how much they empower him.
Aside from wonderfully dark music by Jerry Goldsmith (my favorite score, actually), the film's only success is how it approximates 1930s NYC. Other 1990s superhero flicks look staged, but this is wondrous, with lavish nightclubs, immense mansions, and dark alleys. It's really Manhattan, right down to cigarette billboards dwarfing Times Square. Day scenes are overcast, and night scenes are swathed in dark blues, thick fog, and pitch black--IT LOOKS AWESOME! The cast also look their parts, but they never gel because the whole thing's cardboard. Baldwin tries, but his creepy laugh always sounds forced, like he's posing for the camera without understanding the Shadow's psychopathy. More successful is villain Shiwan Khan, a terrorist descendant of Genghis Khan who wants to blow up NYC because he thinks it's his Heaven-sent imperative. (9/11, anyone?) Their showdown should be more thrilling than it is, but then, we're in 1990s territory, when comic book films were made for children taken to theaters by parents who thought that costumed stuff was nonsense. Sad to say, at times THE SHADOW is outright nonsense--on the level of 1997's BATMAN & ROBIN.
Imagine Heath Ledger's Joker fighting crime instead of fomenting it...THEN you'd get a basic idea how intense this could have been. He's a morally provocative figure because he asks us to condone "Dirty Harry" fascism and mocks audiences for thinking the human race can ever be noble or good. In 1994, Hollywood must've been discomfited by that notion, because here, when the Shadow chuckles with malevolent glee and drafts innocent bystanders into his clandestine war on crime, it's silly, not disturbing like it should be. Ah, well. If you want a sampler, "YouTube" the bridge scene where the Shadow makes mincemeat of a mobster, then turn it off and imagine the rest of the film in your head. It's better than the flawed spectacle that follows.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. Some of us know Lamont Cranston from the re-broadcast radio programs from the last century. When in Mongolia/China, Lamont learned his psychic powers and the ability to cloud men's minds to fight crime. Lamont has a shadowy past when he was truly evil, so he knows.
Despite this being a favorite radio, pulp, and comic book character, this movie showed a lot of promise. However, this movie didn't really take off like many of the other superhero movies did. Please don't let the spilled popcorn or the rotten tomato scare you away from this movie.
I thought it was a good movie with some fantastic actors and special effects. The 1930's look and feel was excellent. Lamont's girlfriend, Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller) was super hot, especially with those silky, backless gowns. This movie was back when Alec Baldwin was very handsome.
Lamont's nemesis is Shiwan Khan (John Lone), a descendant of Genghis Khan, and remembers Lamont when he was Ying-Ko (Eagles Beak), and opium smuggler and warlord before he was kidnapped and changed by the mysterious Tulku (Brady Tsurutani) who gave Lamont those powers and caused him to use those powers for good.
The movie is tung in cheek and doesn't take itself too seriously, and is filled with some nice humor, not without the help of Jonathan Winters as Wainwright Cranston.
Based incredibly loosely on the serial, but more of a vehicle for early CGI & Special Effects.
It's fun to a degree & easy watching but to me didn't capture the essence of the serial. Penelope Ann Miller wasn't too bad as the dame. Will appeal more to children most probably.
Cool SFx for the time, although it looses it's pacing in the second half
Worth a look
The intro scene in The Shadow does a really good job setting the film up because it puts a lot of clever emphasis on characterising the titular protagonist of The Shadow in his transition from Lamont Cranston into crime fighter. It gives the film a strong set-up because we see the dark side of the character as it becomes the powerful driving force against crime. It turns into a moment which really capitalises on the style visual style on the film and further emphasises the nature of The Shadow's own power by depicting the dark intimidation tactics he uses, and how he command the people he saves to help him out. The Shadow sets up a really interesting character for its story and a strong visual style which should be enough to carry itself to the end. Unfortunately, it falters soon after.
After the strong intro of The Shadow, it devolves into a characterisation of Lamont Cranston in social situations while the story moves along at a slow pace. There isn't all that much of a tale in the story as it is a generic tale of cat and mouse between the mind-clouders in a Gotham-esq setting. A lot of the film's style both from sight and sound perspectives seems reminiscent of Tim Burton's 1989 rendition of Batman without seeming derivative, and whenever it emphasises that it proves strong. But the issue with The Shadow is that the scenes in between the tense moments of darkness and pulp action are not sufficient. The script of the film is decent with some interesting themes and a gentle touch of dark comedy to it, but most of the time they just stretch on and bore. There are a large collection of stock characters in the film who are nothing more than filler for the majority of the scenes deficient in pulp action or thrills. They just stretch on for a while and take the story nowhere and with little meaning to the narrative as they are mostly all shallow creations. Whenever the film loses focus on The Shadow, it goes downhill because that is when it's story gets boring and style gets dull. I personally found that as a whole the pulp style of The Shadow was enough to make up for its lacklustre scenes, but it is easy to see why viewers would find themselves less than favourable of the film. But I still enjoyed it despite its cliche elements and predictability. The touch of dark comedy in the film is decent. It has some moments of weakness, but most of the time it lightens the mood and adds a sense of fun to the feature without detracting from the dark nature of it. So it is certainly a film easy to watch, and if you can appreciate the visual style of it then it will do the job.
The Shadow has more than enough visual flair to entertain. I don't know how true it is to the source material in terms of story, but it is certainly a fun and innovative experience. In keeping with its pulp action roots, The Shadow incurs a Neo-noir style to it which is very intriguing. It's like an amalgamation of Tim Burton's Batman and Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. Since I liked both those films, seeing them team up on screen in The Shadow made it into an interesting dark fantasy and Neo-noir hybrid. The cinematography in The Shadow follows a very classical film style and captures everything at a very atmospheric angle. While it doesn't take on many of Russell Mulcahy's iconic techniques, to does use a clever mix between noir style cinematography and large scale superhero style means that it reaches the correct ambitions. It is all edited timely which allows things to move along slowly enough to match the eerie atmosphere of the feature and allowing viewers to enjoy the colourful setup presented to them. The production design in The Shadow is planned out with fine detail, using set pieces and costumes which fit the level of class in the setting. And to add to it all, Russell Mulcahy manages to make clever use of the visual effects without making The Shadow reliant on them. It moderates them nicely and lets them play their way into the choreography of the scenes cleverly, resulting in The Shadow being a strong mix between actual scenes and strong editing allowing its visual style to find the right balance.
And Alec Baldwin headlines the cast of The Shadow very well. Alex Baldwin makes a pretty good lead. While at times his monotonous attempts at deep line delivery may get repetitive, as a whole he embodies the role well in a Bruce Wayne type fashion. The thing is that Alec Baldwin stands fearlessly confident in the part with the right level of sophistication for Lamont Cranston and the confidence and grasp over his weapons required for a true action hero, meaning that he has the unpredictable darkness of the hero and a sense of intelligence fit for a private investigator. Alec Baldwin manages to capture the appropriate sophistication for his leading role and balances his sense of heroism with a strong touch of sadism which renders him an ideal casting decision.
Penelope Ann Miller delivers a rather generic supporting effort. In the part of a thin character, Penelope Ann Miller fails to find anything to do with a character like Margo Lane and instead is left with the ability only to look good in the part while she turns the role into another generic damsel in distress who hardly seems worth saving by Lamont Cranston. Penelope Ann Miller fails to bring any flair to her presence in The Shadow which would make her a useless character if the story in The Shadow didn't adhere to certain tropes so often
Tim Curry is always a welcome presence because of his natural ability to deliver a certain combination of sophistication and humour, and he brings his natural ability to play that exact character into The Shadow for its benefit.
It is even interesting to see a young Ian McKellen in his supporting role. Providing a John Hurt-esq charm in the role, Ian McKellen brings a sense of sophistication to his part. Even if his character isn't much more than an archetype with some of the weaker lines in the script, he still manages to do his part. Peter Boyle makes a good cameo as well, and as a fan of Alf, I was happy to see Max Wright make a small appearance in the film.
So although The Shadow is somewhat slow and not brilliantly original, it has a terrific visual style to it and a fascinating gothic atmosphere which makes it one of Russell Mulcahy's better films and a good medium for the leading talents of Alec Baldwin.
The Shadow is slightly different from the rest of these entries in that he is the only superhero to not be famous for being in a comic book, his fame primarily came from the mostly dead medium of old-time radio serials (as well as penny dreadfuls/pulp novels). Like Dick Tracy before it, The Shadow was a notable box-office and critical flop. This is not actually a good movie per se, but purely on the gorgeous aesthetic style, rather cleverly choreographed fight scenes, and interesting special effects - it is a film that, at the best, is a curiosity.