Monday, March 3, 2014


In recent years, Alec Baldwin has gone the William Shatner route and turned into a bloated parody of himself. It wasn't that long ago that Baldwin was considered an "A" list Hollywood leading man. He even played the lead in a "sort of" superhero movie--the almost forgotten THE SHADOW (1994), which has just come out on a special edition Blu-ray from Shout Factory.

THE SHADOW was produced by Universal, and the studio hoped that it would be a big summer blockbuster and maybe even start a series. The movie was directed by Russell Mulcahy (HIGHLANDER), and the script was written by David Koepp (JURASSIC PARK). The impressive supporting cast included such names as John Lone, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters, and Ian McKellen (who had not yet had his 21st Century mainstream success).

THE SHADOW has a lot in common with other superhero/comic book movies of the period like THE ROCKETEER and DICK TRACY. It's set in the 1930s (1936, to be the background of one of the scenes there's a movie theater marquee advertising THE INVISIBLE RAY) and the production design and the costumes are more interesting than the plot or most of the characters. This film also has some similarities to Tim Burton's BATMAN (remember that BATMAN has a very 30s/40s feel to it). The Shadow's alter ego, Lamont Cranston, has a lot of Bruce Wayne in him, and Jerry Goldsmith's music score for THE SHADOW sounds very Danny Elfman-like.

Alec Baldwin actually does a fine job in the title role. A lot of that has to do with his natural persona (if any actor fits the definition of the word "smug", it's Alec Baldwin). The Shadow has a dark side to him (the movie shows that Lamont Cranston was somewhat of a super-villain himself once), and Baldwin is able to use his unique voice to convince the audience that he has the power to "cloud men's minds" (even though on the screen he seems like he's using Jedi mind tricks).

John Lone plays Shiwan Khan, the film's bad guy. Shiwan is the last descendant of Genghis Khan and is planning to take over the world with the help of an early version of the atomic bomb. Shiwan Khan is one of the movie's biggest problems. He comes off as being a bit silly instead of dangerous. It's not the fault of the actor--the script doesn't give the character much to do. Shiwan Khan is supposed to have the same powers as the Shadow, but those powers (and their limitations) are left somewhat vague, so the viewer is left wondering about some of the plot points.

Penelope Ann Miller (what ever happened to her?) plays the Shadow's love interest, Margo Lane. Miller looks fantastic in a 1930's style wardrobe, but this is another character that is underwritten and fails to become interesting. One of the sub-plots of the film is that somehow Margo Lane has a psychic connection with the Shadow, which means she finds out who he really is (what's a comic book/superhero movie without the lead character's secret identity being revealed?).

Russell Mulcahy does give the film some nice visual moments. When Baldwin is the Shadow, he looks great, with a fine costume design and some facial makeup. Unfortunately, the Shadow doesn't appear all that much. Even in the climax of the film (which is a take-off of the mirrors sequence in the ending of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI) we see more Lamont Cranston instead of the Shadow. The entire film looks stunning, but the story is a little thin, and 1994 audiences just didn't seem to respond to it all that well.

Shout Factory's new Blu-ray contains a 23-minute extra on the making of the film, with new interviews with Alec Baldwin, Russell Mulcahy, Penelope Ann Miller, David Koepp, Production Designer Joseph Nemec III, and Director of Photography Stephen H. Burum. It was quite a feat for Shout Factory to get all these people talking on camera, but one wishes that the running time had been longer, and the interviews had gone into more depth about the production. There's also a trailer and a photo gallery.

One other thing I'd like to point out....this movie made me think of....BATMAN BEGINS. Both THE SHADOW and BATMAN BEGINS start in Central Asia, with a lead character who is a "lost soul". Both characters are trained to find their "true selves" at a mysterious monastery, and after a multi-year absence, they both return to their crime-ridden big city hometowns to fight evil. I'm certainly not suggesting that Christopher Nolan was in any way influenced by THE SHADOW. It's just something I noticed for myself.

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