Directed by Russell Mulcahy. Starring Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Ian Mckellen, Peter Boyle, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, Sab Shimono.
“The weed of crime bears bitter fuit.” Early in this latest attempt to put the pulp novel avenger on the screen, the title character sneered this Jehovah-like pronouncement -- one of several signature Jehovah-like pronouncements in The Shadow's repertoire -- and a shiver shot up my spine. He's just beat the living shit out of a murderous thug on a fogbound bridge, moving all but invisibly, just a coal-black blur shifting into view to deliver fast, nasty haymakers, then vanishing, always laughing madly, a cold, pitiless edge in his voice. He rendered this Biblical judgment and at last we saw The Shadow clearly, and he looked just like he did in the pulps: inky slouch hat and cloak, scarlet scarf under great hawk nose, two big, gleaming .45s in his mitts. And I felt, my god, it's him, the dark, mysterious, creepy guy I read about, the one who scared me as much as the bad guys because he'd whip them senseless or blow them away and laugh about it! Right then, it seemed writer David Koepp and director Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) had a grip on the character and a way to make him live on film. They'd drawn out his unsettling ruthlessness and neatly visualized his vaunted invisibility. They'd found in Alec Baldwin a modern actor who, while not possessing the basso profundo depth of Orson Welles' radio Shadow, credibly offered the cold menace of the crimefighter and the elegance of his alter ego, millionaire playboy Lamont Cranston. They'd created an exquisite milieu, a luxuriously ornate Deco New York -- slouch hats off to designer Joseph Nemec III! -- and topped it with tart wit. Then it slips away. The film still looks great, as does Baldwin, but the tense tale of the fight against Shiwan Khan -- a cooly evil John Lone -- becomes a silly, sloppily developed world takeover story pulled from the Batman TV show, characters stall, and the humor goes broad. Sab Shimono's Dr. Tam shines with dry wit, but Boyle, Winters, and McKellan end up with nothing to do, and a jowly, reptilian-looking Curry resorts to frothing at the mouth as a substitute for character. The ups and downs of this movie are similar to those of the Batman films, and most audiences may be as forgiving of them here as there. But old fans may just taste lost promise. Ah well, shadows are nothing if not elusive, and as Hollywood proves so often, the weed of film bears bittersweet fruit.
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