Before BATMAN, there was THE SHADOW. In the history of troubled billionaires donning disguises at night, THE SHADOW told the story of Lamont Cranston before Bruce Wayne's story filled DC Comics' pages. Finally, in 1994, the long-running radio drama came to life on the big screen in one of the best adaptations since Tim Burton brought The Dark Knight to the silver screen in 1989. For some reason, the movie never caught on with the public; maybe not as many people remembered the radio version as I did. I loved it, though; I could watch this film again and again.
Alec Baldwin (BEETLEJUICE, HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) plays Lamont Cranston, a former drug lord who is captured by a Tibetan monk and retrained to fight evil as his penance for doing it. Cranston's power is a kind of hypnotic telepathy; he has the power to "cloud men's minds", which he uses to make himself invisible to evildoers except for his shadow (because light itself can never be fooled).
Cranston lives an exciting double life in what is apparently a glamorized version of the 30's, playing the town as a billionaire playboy and building up a secret network of helpers from those he saves as The Shadow (each identified with a silver fire opal ring given them upon their rescue), until he meets his match in two ways: Cranston loses his heart to enchanting-but-scatterbrained Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), and The Shadow must fight his evil counterpart, Shiwan Khan (John Lone), last descendant of Genghis Khan, who has a hypnotic telepathy of his own and is seeking to bring life as we know it to an end using elements that have never been combined before (Dr. Roy Tam to Cranston: "I guess you'd call it an implosive-explosive-submolecular destruction device." Cranston: "Or an 'atomic bomb'." Tam: "Hey, that's catchy.").
Forget trying to follow the plot; like BATMAN, the plot isn't the point. The point is the look and feel of the movie, and this movie has glamour and pizazz to spare. 1930's New York City has NEVER looked better. The special effects are brilliant (at one point, as water rises in an enclosed room, the invisible Shadow's legs make deep dents in the rising water) and very well used throughout, so that they are not intrusive but rather a part of the story. Like BATMAN, there's also a large assortment of anachronistic gadgetry (pneumatic tubes delivering messages over a sophisticated network, video phones, elaborate neon billboards) that somehow work with the story as well. And the acting--Baldwin, Miller, Lone, Peter Boyle as Cranston's driver, Tim Curry as an evil scientist in league with Lone, Ian McKellen as Margo's father, another scientist whose discoveries are exploited by Khan--is also first-rate. THE SHADOW is the perfect Saturday Night movie: Fun to watch, attractive-looking, and not terribly taxing on the brain. Go see it.