Summer 1994 was a busy one for movies. I spent many days parked at my local theater with friends. After all, this was the summer that saw the releases of “Speed,” “The Lion King,” “Forrest Gump,” “True Lies,” “The Mask,” Beverly Hills Cop III,” and more. But there’s one movie from that summer that is always forgotten: “The Shadow.”
Based on the pulp fiction character created by Walter B. Gibson in 1931, “The Shadow” was directed by Russell Mulcahy. The film boasted an impressive cast featuring Alec Baldwin as the titular character, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Peter Boyle, and Tim Curry.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to see “The Shadow” on opening day because of an Aunt’s visit. But I made plans with my friends to go see the 12:30 movie the following Tuesday. And since the movie was playing in the theater next to my apartment, I decided I would just meet everyone there a few minutes before the movie started.
I got there as planned, but with only five minutes to go, there was still no sign of my friends. Not wanting to miss anything, I got my ticket and my popcorn, and sat in the back row so my friends could see me when they walked in. By the time the trailers started, my friends were still missing in action, and by the time “The Shadow” began, I realized they weren’t coming.
Oh well, screw my friends. I was there and I was still excited to see the movie.
I suppose Universal Studios was hoping “The Shadow” would be the beginning of a new cinematic franchise, something to rival Warner Bros. successful Batman franchise. Universal likely wanted a hit movie, but also all the merchandising the Batman movies got.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, “The Shadow” landed with a massive thud. The film was on the receiving end of bad to mixed reviews and flopped badly at the box office. I think audiences ignored the movie in part because there was so many other option that summer.
Yet, I’m one of the few people who saw “The Shadow” in the theater and really loved what I saw. “The Shadow” was pure popcorn entertainment in a summer that had more serious films getting all the attention. “The Shadow” is a comic book adventure that embraces its silliness, complete with one-liners, over-the-top villains, and fun supporting characters.
The film did not deserve to get savaged by critics the way it did, and I still believe this film deserves more credit than it gets. The cinematography is beautiful, and so are the costumes. The villain probably gets the best outfits, but the leading lady has some nice outfits as well.
The 1930’s set also serves the film well, and I like how the agents of the Shadow communicate with one another. But almost none of the critics mentioned any of that when they savaged the movie.
The cast in “The Shadow” is pretty great too. Alec Baldwin plays Lamont Cranston like he’s having an absolute ball. Whether he’s dark and brooding, while saving innocents from criminals. Or when he’s charming a new lady in a club, Baldwin was perfectly cast as Lamont Cranston. Seeing him in “The Shadow” made me wish he’d played Batman at least once.
The rest of the cast is solid too. But every hero must face a unique challenge, and the Shadow gets his in the powerful psychic warrior Shiwan Khan (John Lone). He’s determined to destroy New York unless the city bows to his rule. There are moments were Khan seems better suited for a part in “Batman and Robin,” but the flamboyant he got, the more I liked the character and the performance by John Lone.
As Cranston sets out to stop Khan, he also meets a burgeoning telepath named Margot Lane (Penelope Ann Miller). Cranston likes her, but because she’s a telepath he doesn’t immediately pursue a relationship with her. However, fate throws Cranston and Lane together when her scientist father (Ian McKellen) is under Khan’s control, and on the verge of creating a powerful weapon that will ann but ensure Khan’s victory.
Maybe critics and audiences thought “The Shadow” looked like a Batman ripoff, but that’s not the case at all. The Shadow began in the pages of pulp magazines back in the early 1930s, and later made the jump to radio. The character actually predates Batman by a several years, and its more than likely that the Shadow influenced the Caped Crusader and not the other way around.
Not that it mattered in summer 1994. Audiences and critics didn’t give the new Shadow a chance when the movie came out, so we never truly got to see what else Alec Baldwin could do with the character and his world.
“The Shadow” also proved that not every comic book type movie needed to the an origin movie. At most, the film spends 10 minutes showing us how Cranston became the Shadow. After that, the main story is off tot he races. Also, nearly all the main characters are given backstories, and all plot threads are resolves by the time the film ends.
Over twenty-four years since its release, I still enjoy watching “The Shadow” a couple of times a year. Alec Baldwin shines as the hero of the night, and as the rich playboy Lamont Cranston. The sets are beautiful, and the musical score always gets the blood pumping. The action is nicely done, and there are a couple of great set pieces like when the Shadow is nearly drowned. In the end, I believe “The Shadow” is one of the truly underrated comic books movies.
As for my friends? They simply “forgot” we had plans. Sure they did…