The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
thevideovacuum

THE SHADOW (1994) ****

In 1994 Alec Baldwin made two underrated classics, the Getaway remake and this awesome adaptation of the popular 40’s radio icon. The story begins in “The Opium Fields of Tibet” where millionaire playboy Lamont Cranston (Baldwin) is living under the name of Yin Ko, a ruthless Tibetan warlord. When a holy man finds Cranston, he reforms him and teaches him to confront and conquer his dark side with the help of a bad ass flying knife with a mind of its own. Cranston also learns he has the ability to “cloud men’s minds”, which means he can read people’s thoughts and influence their actions (kinda like the Jedi mind trick) and can make himself disappear, leaving behind the only thing he can’t hide: his shadow.

You know if I had the power to cloud men’s minds, I’d much rather use it to cloud WOMEN’S minds. I’d use it to pick them up in some seedy bar and make them do my will, but then again I didn’t spend seven years as a Tibetan warlord, so who knows?

Cranston returns home to New York to fight crime wearing a black hat and cloak with a red scarf, armed with twin .45’s and the catchphrase “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

Cranston/The Shadow actually has a lot in common with Batman in that: A) He’s a wealthy playboy by day/superhero at night. B) He disappears to the Orient for seven years to hone his skills. C) He has a secret underground lair.

Once back in The Big Apple, he battles some gangsters and tosses out the catchphrase, “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit!” and forces them to turn themselves in. He also saves a Chinese scientist who like all the people The Shadow saves, becomes part of his underground network of spies who use the codeword: “The sun is shining but the ice is slippery”, to identify each other.

Cranston also meets the beautiful psychic Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller) and takes her to a Chinese restaurant for some Peking duck where he impresses her by speaking the language.

“You speak Chinese?” she asks.

“Only Mandarin.”

After the date, Lamont goes back home to chill when a laughing fire beast jumps out of his fireplace, leading Cranston to deduce, “Someone’s coming!” Talk about keen detection skills!

He’s of course right as the evil descendant of Genghis Khan (John Lone) comes to town and wants to take over the world. Since Khan admired Yin Ko’s bloodlust he comes to Cranston seeking his help in world domination, which leads to the best dialogue exchange in the movie. Khan’s world domination spiel gets sidetracked momentarily when he notices Cranston’s sharp tie. “That’s a lovely tie, where did you acquire it?”

“Brooks Brothers.”

“Is that mid-town?”

“45th and Madison. YOU are a barbarian.”

Cranston refuses to help him and Khan warns him he’ll be sorry. Trying to get a read on what Khan’s up to, Lamont contacts one of The Shadow’s agents and together they deduce that Khan is making an “implosive explosive sub-molecular device.”

“Or an atomic bomb.”

“Hey that’s catchy!”

Cranston’s fears are realized when Khan uses his mind control on Margo’s scientist dad (Ian McKellan) to build the bomb. Margo goes to Lamont for help, but since he fears her psychic ability could give away his identity as The Shadow, he tries to use his powers of suggestion on her, which unfortunately for him, doesn’t work. “You will forget about me! You will give me no further thought!”

To which she replies, “Are you drunk?”

Khan later brainwashes Margo into trying to kill The Shadow, which naturally leads her to Cranston, and when she’s unsuccessful, she discovers his true identity. Fumed, he tracks down Khan to tell him a thing or two. When he confronts Khan, Khan tries to mess with his mind by saying, “Your mind is like an open book to me!”

Nonplussed, Cranston retorts, “Oh yeah well learn how to read!” and they proceed to have the greatest shootout in movie history. They each fire a single bullet at each other, both of which collide in mid-air! Brilliant!

Khan escapes and Cranston goes and shacks up with Margo. When she wakes up the next morning she goes on and on to Lamont about what a beautiful dream she had and then asks him what he dreamt. He responds, “I dreamed I tore off all the skin off my face and was somebody else underneath!”

“You have problems!”

“I’m aware of that.”

Meanwhile when Khan is on the Empire State Building scoping out his new territory, some dude insults him and Khan makes him jump off the side of the building. As he hits the pavement Cranston says, “It’s all falling into place!”

The Shadow confronts Dr. Lane’s assistant (Tim Curry) about working for Khan and he shoots The Shadow and leaves him to die in a watery grave, but he uses his ESP to contact Margo, who saves his shadowy bacon. In the finale, The Shadow infiltrates Khan’s telepathically hidden fortress while Margo and her father try to diffuse the A Bomb. The Shadow battles the evil dagger again (“Oh that knife.”) before going toe to toe with Khan once more before saving the day.

This is definitely one of the most overlooked movies of the 90’s. It’s one of those rare pitch perfect movies that doesn’t hit a false note from start to finish. Everything from the performances to the sets to the costumes is all just right. It’s definitely the best film Baldwin’s ever made and Glengarry Glen Ross aside, his best performance.

The supporting cast, including Peter Boyle and Jonathan Winters is also excellent. I always thought of director Russell Mulcahy was a bit of a hack (Highlander 2 anyone?), but he certainly delivers a fast, funny and exciting movie which should at least be as popular as say, Spider-Man (which also happened to be written by The Shadow screenwriter David Koepp). Koepp’s dialogue is crisp and memorable and Mulcahy captures the feeling and tone of the era, (as well as The Shadow himself) perfectly.
Tags: action, comic book movie, s
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