[Join your host, John Holliday, in the review column "A Movie A Week" as he shares his spoiler-free thoughts on our collection of DVD / Blu-ray titles.]
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" asks the pulp magazines in the 1930's. The answer lies in a crime-fighting character that has adventured through radio, comic strips, and multiple film adaptations clouding the minds of his adversaries rendering himself invisible in every way save his shadow. He has been called many names, you may know him by Lamont Cranston, but the most common is more likely "vigilante". He is often seen (or unseen) as an anti-hero, taking the law into his own hands which many view as a rather positive thing while some see it as potential for evil.
"The Shadow knows…" answers Cranston as his alter ego. In this 1994 version, Alec Baldwin plays the title character who begins as a savage warlord in Tibet during the First World War. After killing a local monk, his brothers and their holy leader abduct Lamont Cranston and, with their mystical powers, control his mind to turn against evil. They train him for seven years where he learns to influence weaker men so far as to prevent them from seeing all but his shadow. With these new abilities and agenda, The Shadow takes to his home streets in New York City where he keeps busy by running the gangs out of town. For every crime prevented and subsequent life saved, he enlists a new agent to repay their debts by coming to his aid when requested. It isn't long before The Shadow's influence encases the city and word of the next corruption calls for action.
As far as this version of the story goes, this is where it kind of loses it's purpose and becomes a little childish. The last descendant of Genghis Khan also possesses a world domination streak and happens to be a student of the same monks that taught Cranston. Knowing Cranston's past, Shiwan Kahn comes to New York to convince The Shadow to join him in his diabolical plans. Lamont declines and Shiwan moves ahead with building an Atomic Bomb. It continues with more cliché and illogical plot points and may seem like everything you would want to avoid, but I can explain why I recommend it.
If the direction had kept to the opening scene of The Shadow taking out some mobsters, this could have been a classic or, at the least, developed a cult following. It's exciting, old fashioned action with a simple premise that has been a proven recipe for entertainment. The hapless roles of Ian McKellan, Tim Curry and even Jonathan Winters further display the lost potential. All three can do wonders when given the right characters but it's surprisingly Alec Baldwin that carries this movie. The most redeeming value, which is sadly lacking in screen time, is the accuracy of The Shadow's costume. The iconic crimson scarf and fedora pair nicely with Baldwin and, once the nose prosthetic is applied, looks identical to the comic book character.
There's a lot that this movie got right that modern superhero movies could learn from but the mistakes it made takes away from it's credibility. That's also why this shouldn't be your introduction to the character as it may leave a bad first impression. Check out the radio shows, some comics, or even one of the older films or serials and then give this one a try. As long as an updated spin on the story isn't around to make this one obsolete, it's good enough for now. Though the whole Genghis Kahn/Atmoic Bomb thing is garbage, there's enough of the original throwback material to make this one slightly above average. That's why I give The Shadow:
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