Retro Review: ‘The Shadow’

Following the success of the Batman films, Hollywood rushed to try and capitalize on the next superhero franchise to mixed results. Cinemas saw the likes of : The Mask, Tank Girl, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, and The Phantom during this time. Joining this fad in 1994 was a film based on Walter B. Gibson’s famed pulp crime fighter The Shadow.

After years as a crime kingpin in Asia following the First World War, American Lamont Cranston is called upon to redeem himself. Given the supernatural ability to cloud people’s minds, Cranston returns to the US taking on the life of an urbane socialite while secretly fighting crime as the vigilante, the Shadow. With each person he saves, the Shadow adds to a growing list of agents with expertise he can rely on. He will need all of their help, when Shiwan Khan, descendant of Genghis Khan, emerges with mental abilities identical to the Shadow’s and a desire to destroy the world.

The influence of Tim Burton’s Batman is all over the Shadow, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Like the Dark Knight, the Shadow is rooted in the world of Depression-era pulp stories and feature a wealthy playboy who fights crime by night. Unlike Burton’s film, the Shadow is legitimately set in the 1930’s, and director Russell Mulcahy truly makes the most of this period setting. The art deco style and feel is nothing short of cool with classic cars, classy clothes, and bold towering architecture. Given that both the hero and the villain of the film have telekinetic powers, Mulcahy even gets to employ some trippy storytelling techniques one does not usually see in a superhero flick, especially of this era. The Shadow also benefits from a strong cast featuring the likes of: Penelope Ann Miller, Sir Ian McKellen, James Hong, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters, Peter Boyle, John Lone, and as the figure in the darkness himself Alec Baldwin. The Beetlejuice star was seemingly born to play such a character, he has both the dashing good looks and the aura of mystery necessary to own the role. I also appreciate that Penelope Ann Miller’s Margo Lane is far from the typical damsel in distress or “superhero’s girlfriend” and is instead a tenacious and self-assured women who sees herself as the Shadow’s partner.

A fun action adventure flick, the Shadow has seemingly been forgotten by many, lacking even the cult fandom that similar superhero flicks of the era like the Crow and the Phantom. This unfortunate as this is a highly entertaining movie that proudly wears its pulp roots while still being a big rollicking flick in its own right.