Gather around children and let me tell you about superhero movies of the past. The Shadow is a sleek, stylish, and above all entertaining action movie. Considering just how old the character is along with the story, it’s simply astounding what they were able to do with the source material. Let’s start at the beginning and the beginning takes us to 1931 when The Shadow first appears on the radio. After the initial success of the radio show came the pulp mystery and graphic novels along with a series of movies out of which the last one was released in 1958. So, there’s a lot of backstory and history that comes with this character. Something that I was completely oblivious to back when I first saw the movie.
The special effects blew me away completely along with exotic sets with a distinct noir feel to them. You have to remember that in the nineties CGI looked quite bad and rudimentary. When I laid my eyes on Phurba for the first time my jaw simply dropped. I could not believe that something so cool can exist and I get to see it. And what about that story? I mean, any movie that starts in the opium fields of Tibet has to be good, right? This intro alone tells you that The Shadow is a different type of superhero movie. It’s got an edge to it and some of that old-school thirties charm.
The world was a different place back then, much more rough and raw. Also, for most people, special powers were a thing that probably existed. There was a natural air of mystery about the world. And excitement as science was finally making great strides, especially in the world of technology. As I already mentioned, all this gives a special flavor to the story and this movie. It makes it exotic and engaging, not to mention perfect for thinking about all these concepts. Bob Kane had cited The Shadow as a major influence behind Batman. And you can feel this throughout the movie. It’s actually a fun game to try and pick up on all the hints.
Lamont Cranston, a ruthless drug lord living in Nepal, rules his lands with power and cruelty. After WWI, he abandoned the West and came to live here as a king. However, one day, a mysterious being known as the Tulku kidnaps him and offers Lamont redemption. Something that he refuses but is granted nonetheless. Now, he’s a different man, determined to fight crime and evil man. And there are loads of them in New York City.
With very snappy and well-written dialogue, The Shadow is also a funny movie. I know it would be a much funnier movie if Sam Raimi directed it instead of Russell Mulcahy. On the other hand, Mulcahy is such a creative director with a clear vision of what he wants that he was perfect for this complex adaptation. I mean the scene where that message travels through tubes spread across the city is fantastic. And remember, all this is accomplished without any drones or shit like that. If you like his style, you might wanna check out Ricochet and Give ’em Hell Malone. Plus, Razorback, Mulcahy’s first movie about a giant killer boar is always a hoot.
Finally, we have to talk about the cast of The Shadow and we’ll start with our main guy Alec Baldwin. He’s the perfect example of how the image of masculinity in superhero movies has changed over the years. Alec is not in particularly good shape but he has this raw strength about him. Not to mention a huge love rug or chest hair that would have to go today. Oddly enough, when he turns into The Shadow, his nose also changes and he ends up looking like his brother William.
Beautiful Penelope Ann Miller was the perfect Margo Lane, classy, sophisticated, and yet down-to-earth. John Lone as Shiwan Khan, the last descendent of Genghis Khan played his character subversively great giving us an authentic and fun villain. I also have to mention Tim Curry giving one hell of a memorable performance along with always good Ian McKellen. And to top things of we have Peter Boyle playing the same character he did in Taxi Driver.
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Writer: Walter B. Gibson, David Koepp
Cast: Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters
Fun Facts: The billboard of the “Smoking man” is a parody of a real one that actually blew “smoke” rings. The original was for Camel cigarettes, whose motto was “I’d walk a mile for a Camel!” The “Llama” cigarette motto parodies this with “I’d climb a mountain for a Llama!”