Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) is a millionaire playboy with a dark past. After being trained by the Tulku in mystic arts he now resides in New York City and uses his newfound abilities to fight crime as The Shadow. His past catches up to him when the last living descendent of Genghis Khan comes to New York City with the goal of using a nuclear weapon to conquer the world. Now the Shadow and his team must stop Shiwan Khan (John Lone).
Probably one of my favorite superhero movies. It is a superhero period piece. Even characters with long histories do not get more than one in the era in which they were born. Being set in the past gives The Shadow a different vibe than most others. It embraces the character’s roots and history. It is not 100% faithful, but it does more than just take the names. The trend these days is to adapt the material in broad strokes rather than try to create something close. I understand strictly adhering to the source is not good because not everything translates from page to screen. It is just that usually what makes it to the screen is barely related to what inspired it.
One of my favorite things about this film is that they set it in the past. They did not try to update the character or bring it into the present day. They set it in the 1930s and that helped keep the pulp fiction vibe that the character originated in. The movie did not try to bastardize the character by setting him in the present day.
Setting it in the 30s also helped to come up with a suitable world threatening plot for The Shadow to overcome that did not rely too heavily on science fiction. The plot here relies on more plausible science with the creation of a nuclear bomb.
And what a plot to use! Nuclear doom and conquest plotted by the final descendent of Genghis Khan. The character of Shiwan Khan is pulled from the source material but it is my understanding that he is not 100% faithful to that source material. John Lone turns in a great villain performance here. He is arrogant and pompous and over the top. He is the perfect counterpart to Baldwin’s Shadow.
Alec Baldwin is great in the role of Lamont Cranston/The Shadow. Some have suggested he was going for camp in his role, but it always came off as cocky to me. He feels very self-assured but is also putting on a cocky front to try and intimidate his opponent.
Penelope Ann Miller plays Margo Lane. She is no damsel in distress-at least not for the majority of the film. Margo is concerned over her father and the only time she is in any kind of danger is when Khan attempts to use his powers to get her to kill The Shadow so The Shadow will kill her in order to bring out Yin-Ko-the man he used to be. The rest of the movie she is either dating or saving The Shadow. She is important to the plot and not there for window dressing.
And how can you forget about Tim Curry? He is a great actor. He is always good. And his best roles are always villainous. He is just perfectly slimy and creepy as Khan stooge Farley Claymore. He is a sniveling sycophant to Khan. He is a pushy jerk to the bomb builder Dr. Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellen). And he is a creep to Reinhardt’s daughter Margo.
“Original Sin” is a great theme song and is performed here by Taylor Dayne. She was one of the best artists of the 90s. And this was a Jim Steinman song with a glam rock feel that really showcased her voice. How she never did a Bond theme back then is a mystery to me. She fit the vocal template of that Bond era.
I love this movie. It has style. It has great performances. It ranks in my top five of great superhero movies. It came out long before Hollywood was turning out superhero films with rapid cookie cutter efficiency.
Given the period it is in it looks like few other superhero movies look today. It has the art deco style of the 1930s. The music and the cars are different, and it just helps with the pulp fiction and comic book vibe.
A superhero movie needs a threatening villain or villains as well as a very threatening plot. And this movie delivers that. Khan is a genuine danger. And the plot he comes up with is equally as dangerous. And his henchmen are not complete boobs in a fight either. They are smart enough to look for the things The Shadow can’t hide like the outline of his feet in water like Claymore does or The Shadow’s very own shadow. They shoot at that. That is one of the reasons this movie is good. The villains are smart. They do not make foolish mistakes…usually.
The only point the humor in the film is a bit much is at the end when Margo and her father are attempting to defuse the nuclear bomb that Khan has decided to set off and it starts rolling around and they have to chase it through the abandoned hotel. It was a little too goofy for my tastes.
I feel that The Shadow is a classic of the superhero genre. It is a wonderful film and deserves more notice than it currently gets. It came out at a time when there were many huge money makers in theaters which unfortunately crushed it. Fortunately, modern times allow people to rediscover films that were missed when they originally came out. Find this movie and watch it. You will enjoy it.