THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
The Shadow (1994)
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
“Baldwin brings it here, showing that he could have been Batman.”
Comic book movies are a funny thing. And I don’t mean that they were once called funny books. No, no. They’ve always been around, but suddenly it’s the top tier form of entertainment on the big screen. A-list casts. A-list directors. They are the summer blockbusters as there’s nothing else (well, minus Twilight and Harry P) that counts as an event flick. Obviously, however, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the last century (1989 to be exact), Tim Burton gave birth to this new genre (I’m not counting Superman because he was the only game in town for a decade) and every studio tried to cash in. Few succeed until the 2000’s.
Funny thing though (again, no pun intended), studios suddenly thought old pulp characters was gonna be bigger than January Jones’ ego (see TMZ). Maybe it was the “gothic” setting of Gotham that studios thought was the trick, but regardless, if it looked like the 1930s, studios made it. The Phantom, Dick Tracy, Rocketeer, and The Shadow. And of those, the one that’s been unfairly ignored and forgotten is The Shadow. Yes, before Alec Baldwin hawked credit cards, called his daughter a pig, and made millions laugh on NBC, dude was the next big action star. Huge hit with Hunt for Red October. Carried big, respectable flicks like Married to the Mob. He was the guy most thought should have been Batman, so it only made sense to hand him a franchise that had survived in radio, books, and comics for roughly 60 years. Problem was that no one cared about the movie. The thing flopped, earning about $32 million in the States.
Boom…forgotten. Franchise dead. In fact, while he never stopped working, Baldwin only had minor hits here and there after The Shadow. Point, you ask? Well, don’t blame The Shadow for his downfall. It should have been bigger as Baldwin brings it here, showing that he could have been Batman. Hell, he could have taken on any role because it seemed as if he had no limit during this time. Here, he plays Lamont Cranston, a man about town who has the power to manipulate the minds of others. Sort of like Professor X, except The Shadow carries twin pistols, kills, his face alters when in the Shadow getup, and he can walk. Anyway, the film doesn’t waste much time on Cranston because like Bruce Wayne, it’s just a shell to give the character humanity. You never know much about him minus what we learn at the start of the film. He was a drug dealer pimping long hair until some monk dude gave his life purpose. He made The Shadow into a man who controls the city with an army of men who help out. Also, he doesn’t mind f*cking with people’s minds as he battles the resurrected descendant of Genghis Khan as his attempt to use a bomb in the middle of NYC. All in good fun!
Beyond the Baldwin factor, the movie also has Ian McKellen in a secondary role as a scientist take control by the baddie. Although this is a few years before he became a household name, he’s still good. Plus, there’s Penelope Ann Miller as the love interest (looking hot), Peter Boyle randomly as a taxi driver, Jonathan Winters trying to be serious, and Tim Curry having a hellva of a good time as the second villain. There ain’t a thing wrong with that cast as the acting is all top notch. In fact, everything here looks damn good despite the relatively small budget of $25 million.
Of course, I’m not going to sell you a sandwich and not reveal there’s a little shit sprinkled on top. The Shadow has its troubles. For one, it’s a little too obvious that Universal wanted the “Tim Burton look.” I think director Mulcahy could have done a little more to establish his own world even with the similar setting, especially considering the imagination he brought to Highlander. The movie could have done more to separate itself from the Caped Crusader, even if the Shadow came first. Regardless of my bitching, at least another generation learned his damn cool catchphrase: “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? The Shadow knows…” And now you know too, sucker. Disagree? Get the DVD and discover for yourself.