(director: Russell Mulcahy; screenwriters: story by David Koepp/Walter Gibson characters from The Shadow stories; cinematographer: Stephen H. Burum; editor: Peter Honess; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Alec Baldwin (Lamont Cranston), Peter Boyle (Moe Shrevnitz), John Lone (Shiwan Khan), Ian McKellan (Reinhardt Lane), Penelope Ann Miller (Margo Lane), Tim Curry (Farley Claymore), Jonathan Winters (Police Commissioner Barth), Sab Shimono (Dr Roy Tam), Brady Tsumtani (The Tulku); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Will Baer/Martin & Michael S. Bregman; Universal Pictures; 1994)

“It’s a failed attempt to revive a former pulp hero who has been passe for years.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The fantasy crime fighter film is based on the 1930s pulp fiction and radio drama series (the one in which a young Orson Welles said the famous lines, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” It’s lightweight B movie fodder, but its big-budget stylish cartoonish depiction of the long-running radio serial in the 1930s is crude. The story is by David Koepp, and the characters are from The Shadow stories by Walter Gibson. The most impressive thing about the Russell Mulcahy (“Highlander”/”Ricochet”) film are the visuals. Otherwise it’s a failed attempt to revive a former pulp hero who has been passe for years (the radio show ended in 1954).

It opens in an opium field in Tibet, in the 1920s, where the ruthless drug kingpin goes by the name Yingko, but in reality he’s the American Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin). Cranston is abducted by Tibetans working for the mystic Tulku (Brady Tsumtani), who forces the reluctant criminal to pay a steep price for his redemption, a redemption he doesn’t want–by becoming a fighter against evil and equips him with the magical means of mind control to get the bad guys.

Seven years later, in the 1930s, Lamont Cranston has successfully relocated to Manhattan and secretly becomes the vigilante crime fighter known as The Shadow. He poses as an aimless playboy, who lurks unseen at night in the shadows dressed in a black cape and with his face hidden behind a fedora and bandana. He works through a network of agents he recruits after rescuing them. His main man is Moe (Peter Boyle), a taxi driver. 

The central plot centers around the mystical NYC arrival from Asia of Shiwan Khan (John Lone), a relative of Ghenghis Khan, whose psychic powers equal those of Cranston’s. Shiwan Khan’s ambition is to destroy NYC and to rule the world, and to do it he plans to use atomic weapons. It’s The Shadow’s mission to stop him.

The only actor to distinguish himself was John Lone, who plays the villain with perfection.

I found Baldwin unconvincing as the mystical crime fighter. Penelope Ann Miller gave a hollow performance as Cranston’s telepathic socialite love interest. The talents of Jonathan Winters were wasted in his small role as the clueless police commissioner. Also wasted in a meaningless role was Ian McKellan, as the genius scientist and father of Penelope.

It’s slickly presented, but never felt inspired.

REVIEWED ON 1/13/2020  GRADE: C+