For some reason, the mid-90s saw two pulp heroes from the 30s get adapted into motion pictures and both went down as being misses with the critics. One of those two films was The Shadow with the Donald Trump impersonator extraordinaire: Alec Baldwin. The other film was The Phantom but I’ll cover that one in two weeks. Right now, my sights are set on the film that asks the question: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The answer, as we know, is The Shadow but here’s a question for all of you: Was It THAT Bad?
So, there’s this guy named Lamont Cranston (Baldwin) and he did some bad things in the past overseas and fancied himself a warlord. All of that nonsense was redeemed after he was enlightened by some mystic types. Now with the ability to “cloud men’s minds,” Cranston returned to the states as the vigilante The Shadow. However, a fallen student of the man who showed Cranston the way, Shiwan Khan (John Lone), shows up and is ready to start some funny stuff. Using his own hypnotic powers, he takes control of a brilliant scientist (Ian McKellen) and gets his hand on a dangerous new weapon—the Atomic Bomb! Now it’s up to The Shadow to save the day!
So, is this one really THAT bad?
Short answer: No, not at all.
I won’t try and argue that The Shadow doesn’t have issues. The biggest drawbacks the film holds is that the action isn’t too special. Most of the fight scenes are just some bullets flying and punches being thrown. There’s nothing about them that you would reference later and say, “Remember that part? Oh man, that was moment was huge!” Additionally, the story does have some development issues and a lot of the characters go underdeveloped. Ultimately, however, this doesn’t completely destroy the entertainment value it holds.
Some of the greatest parts about this movie are just in the presentation. Old timey New York looks fantastic and has a vibe that screams old Hollywood and comic book at the same time. The film uses light and shadow excellently—I’m particularly fond of the glowing eye effect and the cloaking shadow that comes whenever Cranston uses his powers to cloud men’s minds. The film also has a little fun with itself as it delivers a plethora of cheesy (but fun) one-liners and some surprisingly dark gags throughout the film. Hell, even the film’s practical and special effects are decent and hold up fairly well.
Without a doubt, however, the strongest part of this movie is the cast. First off, you have Alec Baldwin as the hero and during a time when we were unaware of how funny he can be. Then you have John Lone as the villain and he and Baldwin have some absolutely fantastic scenes together. There’s an entire sequence in a restaurant where the back and forth between these two men is absolutely enthralling and entertaining to watch. You also have the likes of Penelope Ann Miller as the love interest, Peter Boyle as Cranston’s faithful driver, Ian McKellen as the absentminded professor, and you even have Tim Curry and Jonathan Winters in this piece! Honestly, the cast in this film is incredible and they are all absolutely awesome in their roles.
One thing that really struck me about this movie as I revisited it is how The Shadow doesn’t fit the usual definition of a hero. I never saw this film when it came out but rather experienced it in college. When I watched it there, I enjoyed it but never really paid attention to how Cranston is more of an antihero akin to the action stars of the 80s and 90s—the kind of guy that will shoot first and not really care if he kills off all the baddies in the room. Only once does The Shadow really show any attempt at not killing a bad guy but it really is only become he needs information from him. The rest of the time he is just ready to kill them all and leave them with a wildly inappropriate and pithy one-liner for their dead ears to not hear. Is this a bad thing? No, not at all.
I think the critics were definitely missing out on this one. While The Shadow may have some problems in the development department (and that could very well be the result of changes made in the editing room) it doesn’t escape the fact that the film is a fairly decent movie with some memorable moments and scenes. While the film might not be the epitome of character adaptation, the film is almost definitely ahead of its time. We are in a time where antiheroes and vigilantes that push the bounds of stereotypical super-heroism are pretty common. Had The Shadow been made today, it probably would have done a lot better but, as it is, this film isn’t THAT bad.
Rev. Ron has no idea what evils lurk in the hearts of men. All he knows is pointless trivia and pop culture nonsense. He also knows he loves movies. When he’s not asking if something is that bad, he’s reviewing all the movies he watches and you can read those reviews on his blog at RevRonMovies.BlogSpot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@RevRonster), if the mood strikes you. Thanks!