Russell Mulcahy’s big screen adaptation of The Shadow was produced on a budget of 25 million dollars and went on to gross 32 million dollars. Mulcahy beat out Sam Raimi for the gig, who went on to create Darkman and in the last few years has spoken of doing a new Shadow flick. While The Shadow did not lose money, it was not the blockbuster the studio was hoping for. With massive merchandising and ties ins the goal was simple. To become the next Tim Burton’s Batman or Batman returns. Like Burton’s movies, 1994’s The Shadow is very dark and violent for the connected toy line. The Villains kill viciously and frequently and at times only for their own amusement. While The Shadow’s twin pistols are used quite sparingly he does not share Batman’s no kill code from the comics or Nolan’s films. And one villain is dispatched rather sadistically.
The Shadow is clearly meant to be the beginning of a franchise, yet worked to kill Mulcahy’s big screen career. After the film’s release he was relegated to cable movies and tv shows. I remember being incrediblty excited to see The Shadow, and being simply let down. While the movie wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. After re-visiting it recently it has quickly become a simple pleasure. On a basic stylistic level Russell Mulcahy’s works well creating a grim art deco reality for Cranston to inhabit. Adding to this mood is Jerry Goldsmith’s forgotten score, which contains within it a dark epic grandeur with cues that throwback to the style of the 1930’s.
Screen writer David Koep’s story while admittedly clichéd in places and simple in its typical hero vs villain set up and beats carries some under appreciated quirks especially between the characters. Alec Baldwin’s voice carries his performance but he also excels playing the humorous moments as Lamont Cranston, while still remaining the intimidating force necessary for an action role. He plays well off John Lone, who carries a terrific gravitas as the film’s main villain Shiwan Khan. Penelope Ann Miller plays Margo Lane, what could be a throwaway mandatory love interest, but her character is one of the areas that show’s Koep’s strength as a writer. Margo is an equal to Lamont Cranston and is never rescued by The Shadow, in fact she functions much as one of his agents and even comes to his rescue.
The entire cast is amazing without a clear weak link, Tim Cury, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, James Hong and Peter Boyle. Baldwin is an actor that brings a gravitas to his productions, while always playing well with other actors, this is one of the reasons he was always such an amazing SNL host.
If you find the final sequence/showdown between The Shadow and Khan underwhelming it’s because the the original set was destroyed in an earthquake and rebuilt quickly in order to ensure the films completion.
The Shadow is a film that could never be made today. Despite its clear attempts to become a franchise blockbuster phenomena the film is far too dark and odd. The Shadow was a risky venture and while I will always wonder if Sam Raimi’s vision of the Shadow would have been better, if you give the movie a chance I think you’ll find a unique risking piece of entertainment.
M.R. Gott is the author of the fanboy horror hybrid Rising Dead, as well as Where the Dead fear to Tread. Click here for a free short story or novella.