What is ‘The Shadow’ (1994)?

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Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!

Okay not that one. No this is instead the pulp hero able to cloud the minds of men whilst simultaneously filling them full of hot lead. Born out of the old radio adventure hours, the Shadow has adapted himself to books, comic and film but this could be his greatest adversary yet, the twenty first century. Okay so he was a few years too early, but not by much and that means he managed to squeeze in before the flood of ‘X-mens’, ‘Daredevils’ and people who think you can scare criminals just by dressing as a flying rodent. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but for who? Them or ……………..

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We open like any good comic book movie in the opium fields of Tibet where someone is struggling to meet the demands of his boss. He can’t shift the stuff as “it’s shit” unfortunately in this business that means you are shit and you should hit the bricks, pal, and beat it ’cause your are going out! Yeah doesn’t matter if you’re selling opium or housing, if you’re dealing with heroes or property management if Alec Baldwin is your boss he don’t want no excuses.

See this opium empire is run by a very dishevelled looking Alec Baldwin complete with wig that would scare Stephen Amell and nails that would make Ru Paul wince. Just in case you couldn’t tell he was a not very nice man, this man running an opium empire, he shoots through one of his own guys to get to this nuisance who can’t sell. Hedoesn’t get to enjoy life for very long however as soon someone comes to knock him out and take him away, slung over the rear of a horse. See Alec, this is why you shouldn’t shoot through your own loyal guards to get to the one bad apple, this is why nobody wants to protect you. Seriously did you not read the evil over lord list?

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It turns out that the monks who have orchestrated this kidnapping, sense a goodness still buried deep within him and wish to bring it out. I assume if they fail then he’ll die and either way they’ll be down one opium lord so, win-win. But just to be awkward he lives, just about, having lost a fight against a knife and had his mind expanded beyond comprehension, which I think he was doing well enough with the opium tbh.

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This is the origin story of ‘The Shadow’ done in ten and with the rest of the movie to focus on punching bad guys and eating out. Like at restaurants not the bad guys, ew get your mind out of the gutter. Anyway this will be kind of relevant by the end as we are reminded that he wasn’t always such an upstanding citizen of the world and the knife pops up again to show how far he’s come, but it’s kind of nice that we didn’t go the route of modern movies and drag this intro out over the first three quarters or so. Thus before we have hit the end of the first tenth of the movie he is dispatched, cloak and all to the ‘most wretched hive of scum and villainy‘ to fight the darkness lurking within.

Well fight might be slightly too strong a word. We open with two gangsters looking to drop some poor mook of a bridge in his new concrete shoes when ‘The Shadow’ takes up a vantage point and calls out vague insults and laughs. Mind you he knows his target and thus somehow drives them into such a rage that they shoot up their own car, not in like he’s in front of it and dives out of the way at the last moment kind of way just as in a “ha that’ll show you” kind of way.

Once done he recruits the good doctor Tam into his organisation with some kind of enforced life debt kind of deal and then offers him a lift home which is nice. From here we cut to our main villain of the piece, coming in in gilded coffin. No not Dracula, Shiwan Khan the great, great, great, great, great, great, great. great, great, great, great Grandson of Genghis Khan. Now for those who don’t know this kind of trick was ripe in the days of pulp, I guess because they were to early to clone/ resurrect Hitler at that point and nobody took Napoleon seriously as a threat. I mean it’s easy to see why.

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Anyway he comes in in his nice shiny coffin which is to be guarded by Neelix which explains how he manages to get out so easily. From there he sets out to get some fashion tips, drink bourbon and take over the world. To do this he needs the bomb being designed by the colour blind Sir Ian Mckellen and his lab assistant Tim Curry.

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Now Sir Ian is of course always amazing and Tim is, well always Tim Curry. If you haven’t liked him before you won’t like him here though it should be noted that he isn’t the campiest thing in the movie, that would be Alec’s laugh. Most bizarre though would be Alec’s disguise as the shadow with not only a towel over his mouth but a full prosthetic face. I mean I know the shadow can cloud mens minds and stuff but why go for both just to keep his secret identity. It’s not the worst idea in the movie but I don’t think they can quite pull it off, at least not at this early a date.

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‘The Shadow’ is a homage to the old radio, serial pulps of yesteryear and I think that will be in it’s favour as well as it’s undoing. The characters are flat, the plot ridiculous and everyone possibly having too much fun. Daggers come to life and bombs chase people down stairs all the while Alec Baldwin spends too much time getting drunk to the point where he manages to miss a fire demon coming out of his fireplace because of that extra glass of brandy. Say what you will about Bruce Wayne but he can at least notice when someone in Gotham turns on a torch. The nods to the serials are thick and fast and a little out of place for those, who like many, will be too young to get them. Yes we get it they used to have product placement worked into the dialogue doesn’t mean you have to too. It also makes the city look rather dull when there is a twenty four hour noperator ready to report any crime straight to ‘The Shadow’ and all he manages throughout the entire movie is one suicide at a museum.

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Still it’s a shame it has been forgotten, the cast is excellent the score is by the always appreciated Mr Goldsmith. The problem is that while ‘The Shadow’ managed to beat the super hero rush it was in many ways too late. Batman had done the over the top spectacle and ‘The Rocketeer’ had done the pulp. Even Darkman had got there first and better and like George Lucas making Star Wars, that was only made ‘cos they couldn’t afford the real thing.

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It’s a good little homage to the pulps, better than remembered but not as good as it should have been and better than some of the overly serious fare we’re getting these days though I doubt it could ever be truly repeated even if you wanted to. It’s an older time, a simpler time, when men were real men even under all there prosthetics and weird joker-esque laughs, women were real women though not given a lot to say or do just told to stand there and look pretty and everyone smoked. Even the billboards.

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