I love pulp heroes and classic superheroes from the 1930’s. If you were around during the 90’s, you will remember many of the heroes that studios attempted to revive for big franchises and massive movie series. And sadly they all failed. From Tarzan, and The Phantom, right down to The Rocketeer, they were all fun movies, but audiences wanted no part of their worlds. “The Shadow,” the biggest inspiration for the creation of Batman, is still one of the most underrated superhero adaptations ever made, but one that unfortunately never bloomed in to a full fledged film series.
As we saw with “The Lone Ranger” in 2013, pulp heroes just don’t translate in to a big audience. “The Shadow” is still a very atmospheric and entertaining film about a man on the brink of evil who uses his powers of the darkness to fight crime. Lamont Cranston, as played by Alec Baldwin, is an American soldier who embraces his darkside and becomes a warlord named Ying-Ko. Being kidnapped by local holy men, Cranston is re-inserted in to society to fight for the forces of good, using his powers of deception. These powers allow him to appear from the shadows, and bend the wills of people with the wave of his hand and powers of suggestion.
By day he’s a somewhat shallow playboy, but by night he frightens criminals in to submission, and his two loaded weapons. Baldwin is in top form here, really giving the Shadow his mystique, while showing audiences the potential to play Bruce Wayne when he was considered for the role once upon a time. “The Shadow” is an all out festival of classic pulp and serial adventures, with the Shadow adorning his own chauffeur and garnering a romance with a local socialite Margot Lane (Penelope Anne Miller as gorgeous as ever). When the descendant of Genghis Khan plans to take over the city with a mystical blade, Cranston has to face his old enemies, and overcome his weaknesses in the process.
While it didn’t translate in to a successful film series, director Russell Mulcahy alongside writer David Koepp, stage a film very similar in tone to Tim Burton’s “Batman” films, providing off beat humor, an amazing series of set pieces, and some raucous action sequences that keep the Shadow a consistently enigmatic and entertaining anti-hero. Though he does abide by his oath, he can potentially side with evil once more with enough temptation, and this keeps him on the constant brink of corruption. As a fan of classic pulp heroes and old serials, “The Shadow” is a very welcome reworking of the superhero from the golden age of radio who thrives in the live action film format. Admittedly a niche genre film, “The Shadow” is a fun and novel fantasy thriller that manages to entertain twenty years later.
Shout! Factory doesn’t exactly stuff the new release with extras, but there is a wonderful new transfer. Plus Alec Baldwin lends his time to discuss the film. Aside from a still gallery, and the original theatrical trailer, there’s “Looking Back at the Shadow.” It’s a twenty three minute retrospective of “The Shadow” featuring interviews with director Mulcahy, star Alec Baldwin, writer Koepp, co-star Penelope Anne Miller, and production designer Joseph C, Nemec. It’s a nifty little bone thrown for the fans of the film, and I rather enjoyed Baldwin’s enthusiasm toward the material.