Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Alec Baldwin (Lamont Cranston/The Shadow), Penelope Ann Miller (Margo Lane), Ian McKellen (Dr Reinhardt Lane), John Lone (Shiwan Khan)
Check out the talent behind the camera. Director: Russell Mulcahy, who gave us Highlander. Writer: David Koepp, who eight years later would turn Spider-Man into a movie phenomenon. That’s a promising pedigree. But The Shadow is hardly a true thoroughbred.
There’s a lot to like about this affable, lively movie: an engaging combination of chapterplay serials, pulp novels and Burton’s Batman. Mulcahy and Koepp appear to be aiming for a “Dark Knight in the 1930s” vibe. Batman’s psychoses are transposed into a man who was once a Genghis Khan-style butcher, now aiming to redeem himself as a New York superhero. The Shadow, created by Walter B Gibson, and originally the star of over 280 pulp novels in the ’30s and ’40s as well as gaining radio and cinema fame, could not only “see the evil in men’s hearts” but could cloud their minds, so that he was virtually invisible, save, of course, for his shadow.
New York here is represented by matte paintings, miniatures and stylised sets that bring to mind Dick Tracy, only less cartoony and more mythical. Mulcahy, a graduate of pop videos, uses MTV trickery sparingly but effectively. Expressionist shadows loom large, and this is perhaps no great surprise considering the subject matter. But Mulcahy cleverly turns such moments into a visual signature for the film, creating a supporting cast of silhouettes and spectral images. The various fight scenes featuring the invisible crusader are amusingly ingenious, even if some of the effects are a bit hokey.
But there are problems. Alec Baldwin is startlingly uncharismatic, sleepwalking through his lead role while John Lone as chief villain Shiwan Kahn has all the presence of plankton. The dialogue does them no favours either – it’s rarely more than functional. Everything seems small scale and underdeveloped, as if the studio only really wanted Bats-ploitation flick. The Shadow avoids being that, but only just.