The Shadow began life as the ominous narrator for a radio program created to boost the sales for the floundering Detective Story Magazine. Instead, the Shadow himself became more popular than the tales he introduced, which led to writer/magician Walter Gibson being tasked with expanding the character. Soon, he was starring in his own radio show. At one point, Orson Welles provided the voice of the Shadow. The character expanded into pulp magazines, comic books, and movie serials. The Shadow was also a direct influence on the creation of another dark avenger of the night, Batman. However, the Shadow’s place in pop culture was greatly surpassed by the Caped Crusader.
Producer Martin Bregman purchased the rights in 1980, but the project never got past the development phase though British thespian Ben Cross was attached at one point to play the lead. Following the success of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, studios were seeking to start their own superhero franchise and Universal forged ahead with screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man) and director Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) shepherding the film.
With his good looks, dark hair, and deep voice, Alec Baldwin’s name was bandied about by fanboys as a possible Bruce Wayne. So it’s not much of a stretch to see him in the role of another millionaire playboy Lamont Cranston. Koepp departs from the source material by establishing Cranston as a disillusioned soldier who has set himself up as a brutal warlord in Tibet. Under the name Ying-Ko, Cranston dealt in opium and death until the Tulku, a mystical monk, reformed him into a force for good. Returning to the Big Apple, Cranston kept up a partying persona during the day. By night, he donned a trenchcoat, fedora, and a red scarf across his face to become a fearsome crime fighter. In addition to a pair of .45 semi-automatic pistols, Cranston had the power to cloud men’s minds, an ability honed in Tibet. This allowed him to become invisible and read people’s thoughts.
The mobsters of New York seem like small potatoes in comparison to Shiwan Khan (John Lone), the last descendent of the infamous Genghis Khan. Much like the Shadow, Khan possesses similar psychic powers, but turned against the Tulku to follow in his ancestors footsteps. To conquer the world, Khan enslaves the brilliant (and absent-minded) Dr. Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellan) into building an atomic bomb to destroy the city.
The Shadow arrived in theaters during a strange and primitive era of the superhero genre. The early to mid-90’s saw a spate of comic book movies. Some were good (Dick Tracy, The Crow), some were bad (The Phantom, Judge Dredd), and others were downright atrocious (Barb Wire, Steel). Today, the genre has become an integral part of the Hollywood machine with filmmakers taking a serious approach to the characters and armed with the best technology available.
Yes, a lot of the special effects in The Shadow appear hokey, but Mulcahy should be commended for his ambition. The climactic battle inside a hall of mirrors was never fully realized due to the sets being destroyed by the Northridge earthquake in 1994.
In spite of its shortcomings, The Shadow has a quaint charm that captures the tone of a classic movie serial without veering into the campy territory of the 60’s Batman TV series. The lighthearted humor, use of matte paintings, and the art deco inspired production design add to the retro quality, which is buoyed by a Jerry Goldsmith score.
Alec Baldwin is perfectly cast in the lead role with a tremendous supporting cast to back him up. There’s Jonathan Winters as Cranston’s uncle Commissioner Wainwright Barth, Tim Curry as a corrupt scientist, Peter Boyle as the Shadow’s loyal driver Moe Shrevnitz, and Sab Shimono as a helpful metallurgist. You’ve also got brief appearances from James Hong, Ethan Phillips from Star Trek: Voyager, and Andre Gregory of My Dinner with Andre fame. While John Lone does an admirable job as the antagonist, he does suffer from being written as a generic Asian villain.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Shadow was first released on DVD in a disappointing pan and scan version. Universal reissued the movie last year on Blu-ray with no extras and a grainy transfer. This Collector’s Edition from Shout Factory sports a new transfer that’s cleaner with more vibrant colors. There’s still some dirt and defects, but not enough to detract from the presentation.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo. There’s some nice directionality to the dialogue and the sound effects are very robust.
Looking Back at The Shadow (23:44) is a retrospective featuring new interviews with Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, Russell Mulcahy, and David Koepp.
Also included are the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.
Film Value: 6/10
“The weed of crime bears bitter fruit…”
The Shadow did not fare well at the box office. It was released in July of 1994, the same month as Forrest Gump, True Lies, and The Mask, a far more successful comic book adaptation. Still, it has some fun moments and fans of the film will be pleased Shout Factory gave it an upgrade.