Based on a comic-book of the same name from the 1930s, THE SHADOW tells the story of an American drug lord in Tibet, who is captured by mystical servants of Tulku - an ancient holy man wizard - and cursed to serve humanity as a force for good. After years of training in a Buddist temple the former criminal earns himself the power to mind-read, hypnotise and distort perception, and conceals his identify with invisibility. Returning to New York City in the 1930s The Shadow (real name Lamont Cranston - Alec Baldwin) serves the city as its lone crusader, ridding the streets of criminals and mob rule. When a former student of Tulku arrives to the city inside the sarcophagus of Genghis Khan, The Shadow must defeat him before a mystical army is raised.
Despite the character's origins and previous 1937 radio incarnation by Orson Welles, the 1994 film marches to the beat of its own drum, owing gratitude to Burton's influence while leaning heavily on the Asian-infused fantasy films of the time. The result is a delicious visceral treat that plays out like a cross between Burton and John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China comes to mind).
Director Russell Mulcahy is – in my estimation – one of the most overlooked and underutilised director's in Hollywood. A home-grown talent, he began his career directing some of the biggest music videos in the world (Elton John, Duran Duran etc) before making his impressive feature debut with the cult favourite Razorback. He would go on to make classics such as Highlander, Richochet and The Real McCoy before finding himself assigned to second-rate fodder like Tales of the Mummy and Silent Trigger. Amongst all of that he made THE SHADOW, his boldest and most impressive production to date. And how criminally underrated it is. Boasting a phenomenal production design – shot entirely on studio backlots and sound stages – the film leaps off the screen with it's vivid imagery. Richly textured city street-scapes and immaculate cinematography are accompanied by a sensational musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. The result is a film that eluded its audience upon release but found them throughout the years, earning itself a well-deserved cult status.
The film was written by David Koepp during the most prolific time of his career having penned films like Jurassic Park, Carlito's Way and Mission Impossible within the span of three years. THE SHADOW, it must be said however, is one of his weakest scripts, lacking the depth and character development of some of its contemporaries. Obviously better writing may have elevated it to respectable heights at the time, but the fundamental strength of the film is in its look and aesthetic. As with most of Mulcahy's work, the style IS its substance.
In the film Alec Baldwin makes for an unlikely superhero and delivers a reliable turn, and while there is something not-quite-right about him in the role, his charisma and handsome charm lend an endearing quality to the proceedings. The supporting cast includes Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry and John Lone (and what Asian-infused adventure movie of the 90s would be complete without the stereotyped character actors James Hong and Al Leong?). It is an impressive cast which retrospectively brings comfort and nostalgia to the film.
Films like THE SHADOW don't get made any more so do yourself the favour and track it down. Relive its delicious production design and feel the energy of Goldsmith's score. It holds up incredibly well and deserves a revisit.
The Shadow is available on Blu Ray & DVD through Umbrella Entertainment.