The time is the nineteen-thirties, and the place is Tibet, specifically the poppy fields used to farm opium. One of the drug lords is not a local, but the American Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) who has made a powerful name for himself in the narcotics trade. This day he has summoned a rival (James Hong) to his palace in the mountains to confront him, and the encounter ends with the rival executed - Cranston is a ruthless man. But he has caught the attention of a more influential figure, who kidnaps him in the dead of night and transports him to his temple dwelling where he is made to face up to his evil ways, and further, he is reformed into a man with otherworldly powers - The Shadow. A few years later, Cranston has made a new home, New York City, where he is not short of villians to combat...
If you want something to blame for the rash of big screen, comic book adaptations that flooded the nineties and beyond, look no further than the success of Tim Burton's Batman. And if you want something to blame for Batman, then take into consideration The Shadow, the creation of pulp writer Walter B. Gibson, a character that was particularly popular with audiences thanks to the radio serials of the thirties and forties, with Orson Welles probably the most famous actor providing the hero's voice. What made The Shadow distinctive along with his talents was his, erm, shadowy past, as in this belated adaptation he is an ex drugs baron turned playboy, as well as a crime fighter.
David Koepp scripted this adventure, taking care to include much of the stories' trappings and couple that with the lavish production design you are rewarded with a film that plays and looks like a forties B-movie blessed with a then-unimaginable budget. If you enjoy old black and white thrillers and horrors, or have a penchant for vintage serials, then you may well appreciate the film's approach to its material, something like the homages of the similar The Rocketeer three years earlier, another pricey Batman cash-in that earned nothing more than a cult reputation.
The Shadow makes his first appearance by making a disappearance. He has the power to cloud men's minds, and when gangsters try to dump a scientist, Dr Tam (Sab Shimono), off a bridge while he wears concrete boots, the hero prevents this by messing with their heads - after all, he cannot be seen by them. He also has a distinctive maniacal laugh, and I think more superheroes should have a good chuckle as it's unfair to leave the hoots and cackles to the villains. The saved scientist then becomes one of the Shadow's associates to assist in his war on crime; additionally, he has his own taxi driver (Peter Boyle) to cart him to the relevant locations.
Every hero needs a decent baddie to go up against, and for the Shadow he's Shiwan Khan (John Lone in an unconvincing false beard and moustache), a decendant of Genghis Khan who's out to blow up New York with a bomb developed by hypnotised scientist Dr Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellen). Khan also has the power to cloud men's minds, and may well be better at it than Cranston: a formidable foe. The love interest is in the shape of Margo Lane, the daughter of Dr Lane and a sassy, glamorous and amusing performance by Penelope Ann Miller, who has untrained psychic abilities that come in handy (she even saves the Shadow at one point). The film bullets along with the true pulp sensibility of a scant regard for logic (where did Khan get all those henchmen from?), but would probably really appeal to fans of the throwaway fiction of the period, especially now, as it was never exactly bang up to date even when it was first released, in spite of its knowing humour. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
Australian director with a flashy visual style. A former music video director - most notably for Duran Duran - Mulcahy made an impact in 1984 with his first real film, the Outback creature feature Razorback. 1986's fantasy thriller Highlander was a big cult hit, and its success led to a foray in Hollywood in the 1990s, which included thrillers Ricochet and The Real McCoy, the superhero yarn The Shadow and the sequel Highlander II: The Quickening. Subsequent work has largely been in TV.