The Shadow

The Shadow. Universal Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I never heard of this movie before, and I’m not terribly familiar with the Shadow radio dramas it’s based on. I’m fairly certain that the Shadow is a costumed hero in the style of Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel, fighting through sheer force of will. I don’t know how well Alec Baldwin can fit into that role.

The box says it’s witty, so this should be fun.

During/After the movie:

Lamont Cranston spent years as an opium lord in Tibet, hidden away from the powers that decided his fate in World War I, until a holy man teaches him to use psychic powers to exert control over others, but only to fight evil. Cranston moves back to America and becomes The Shadow, a costumed crime fighter with the power to hide in plain sight through the power of the mind. Then a descendant of Genghis Khan appears, with mental powers of his own and a plan to conquor the world, starting with New York.

As Cranston, Baldwin plays very well. He’s a charming, intelligent, witty socialite and sleuth. In the guise of The Shadow, he comes off well enough. When speaking, he’s pretty good, but I just don’t like his laugh. As someone without experience with the franchise, I don’t know how much he matches or doesn’t match the iconic laugh, he just usually sounds like he’s forcing a completely inappropriate one. Also noteworthy is his brief “asian drug lord” mode, where his acting is good but he shows off an unimpressive chest.

The best thing about this film is its portrayal of 1920s New York. It’s a beautiful time to look at, and the film does not let the aesthetic down. In fact, I like this film’s style better than the way it’s presented in Batman or in The Phantom, though that may be more because of the finish that was conventional to put on them in the times they were made. Also, this film mixes modern graphic effects with lighting effects that seem old-fashioned very well.

One gauge I’m coming to discover of how well I like a film is the difference between how “big” the movie feels versus how big it looks. I didn’t like Batman Returns very well because it felt much smaller than it looked, so it seemed like it was trying too hard. The Shadow is a film that has a story that perfectly fills the container presented for it, making it a very satisfying movie to watch, though “witty” wouldn’t be the word I’d use to describe it.

Watch this movie: and see Jack Donaghy play a superhero.

Don’t watch this movie: because it’s that guy from Beetlejuice playing a superhero!

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