Alec Baldwin

The Shadow

1994

Universal Pictures

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Produced by Michael Bregman

Written by David Koepp

Created in 1930 to be the mysterious narrator of a radio anthology program, it wasn’t long before listeners demanded stories about this mysterious narrator. And so 1931 saw the debut of “The Shadow Magazine” a pulp series primarily written by the prolific Walter Gibson who also was a professional magician. It was Walter Gibson who considerably fleshed out the background of The Shadow, writing 282 out of 325 Shadow novels. The Shadow remains one of the best pulp heroes created and even today his popularity is extraordinary. His tagline: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” is known by people who have never read a Shadow novel or have little or no knowledge of the character whatsoever. His radio show is notable for its longevity as well as Orson Wells starring as The Shadow/Lamont Cranston in the early episodes. He’s also been featured in comic books, two television series and seven movies, including the 1994 big budget THE SHADOW starring Alec Baldwin as the slouch hatted crime-fighter.

Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) is living in Asia when we first meet him. Operating as the ruthless opium warlord Ying Ko he is a cold blooded killer who has totally given over his soul to evil and corruption. He’s kidnapped by The Tulku, a holy man who tells Cranston that he could be a tremendous force for good if he could learn to harness the shadow of his own evil. Cranston is humbled by The Tulku who has some pretty formidable powers including telekinetic mastery over The Phurba, a living knife. Cranston becomes the Tulku’s disciple and is taught secrets of the mind, including the ability to cloud men’s minds so that they cannot see him. Cranston then returns to New York City to take up the life he had before, that of a rich, spoiled playboy. But secretly he wages war against crime as The Shadow, using a network of agents to assist him. He’s unknowingly helped out by his uncle, Police Commissioner Wainwright Barth (Jonathan Winters) who tends to talk a little too freely around his nephew about police business as Barth has no idea Cranston is The Shadow.

It’s a secret that Cranston can’t keep from Margot Lane (Penelope Ann Miller) who has psychic powers of her own as well as a serious problem. Her scientist father Dr. Reinhardt Lane (Sir Ian McKellan) has been kidnapped by Shiwan Khan (John Lone) the last descendant of Genghis Khan who is determined to do what his ancestor couldn’t: rule the world. And he’s going to start by blowing up New York with an atomic bomb created by Dr. Lane and his slightly daffy assistant (Tim Curry) It’s up to The Shadow to stop Shiwan Khan but it’s not going to be easy. Not only does Shiwan Khan have an army of Mongol warriors who have no problem with killing whoever stands in their master’s way but Khan has mental powers that easily equal and may even surpass that of The Shadow himself.

Somewhere inside THE SHADOW there’s a really good movie trying it’s best to be seen. There’s a whole lot about this movie to like. The production values are wonderful and there’s rarely been a movie based on a pulp character that has looked this good. The 1930’s New York City of THE SHADOW is a pulp version of New York City and looks it. Alec Baldwin is obviously having a lot of fun playing the character and he does it very well. I really love how he looks as The Shadow. He looks exactly like a Michael Kaluta illustration come to life in every scene. Even though I think Jeff Goldblum or Adrian Brody are both more similar in appearance to the traditional description of Lamont Cranston, Alec Baldwin is perfectly acceptable. He’s a lot better than Penelope Ann Miller who is a great sucking black hole that saps every scene she’s in of its energy. Oh, she looks terrific in her costumes and she looks right at home in the 1930’s time period but she simply doesn’t generate very much excitement on screen.

John Lone tries his best but Shiwan Khan comes off more as a spoiled brat than a world conquering villain. Khan and Cranston have a couple of confrontations that are really strange in that they seem more like stand-up comics trying out their material on each other rather than the deadliest of enemies. And you don’t put the wildly talented Tim Curry in a movie without giving him more to do than simply roll his eyes and flash his trademark goofy grin. Peter Boyle also appears to be having a good time playing cab driver/chauffeur Moe Shrevnitz. He comes off better than Jonathan Winters since his Police Commissioner Barth appears to spend all his time eating steak in the Cobalt Club instead of doing his job. No wonder Mongol warriors in full armor and carrying swords can run around Manhattan kidnapping scientists and hacking innocent bystanders into baloney slices. Ian McKellan displays none of the bombastic energy he displayed in the “X-Men” or “Lord Of The Rings” trilogies. But then he isn’t asked to do much as he spends most of the movie being mind-controlled by Khan.

But for me the main problem is that the movie tries to merge the two incarnations of The Shadow into one. He’s both the radio version who has psychic powers and could cloud men’s mind so that they cannot see him and he’s also the pulp version who has no issues with whipping out a pair of .45 automatics and dealing out hot lead justice. I can see Baldwin’s Shadow using his mind-clouding powers when he’s up against half a dozen Mongol warriors in Dr. Lane’s lab but does he really need to use it against a single man with a machine gun? I could almost sympathize with Tim Curry when he screams; “why don’t you come out and fight like a man?”

So should you see THE SHADOW? I think so because at the core of it, The Shadow as a character is fascinating because here’s a hero who operates and acts more like a villain than even the actual villains he fights. The idea of a man harnessing his own evil nature and using it to fight evil is wonderful and I think it’s part of The Shadow’s secret of longevity. Even though it’s an ultimately disappointing effort, I like this movie for what it gets right and I forgive it for what it gets wrong as it’s obvious the director and the actors respect the characters and the material. I would have preferred a darker approach with a bad guy who does more than worry about where to buy a nice suit like Lamont Cranston’s but this movie’s a satisfactory way to introduce those unfamiliar with the character to the world of The Shadow. If you haven’t seen it it’s worth one viewing at least.

PG-13

108 minutes

Miami Blues

1989

Orion Pictures

Directed and Written by George Armitage

Produced by Fred Ward and Jonathan Demme

Based on the novel “Miami Blues” by Charles Willeford

 

You ever watch a movie then see it years later and it in no way resembles the movie you saw years ago?  I had that feeling while watching MIAMI BLUES.  I know I saw this movie years ago at a 42end Street grindhouse mainly because I’m such a Fred Ward fan.  But I remember the movie as being more of a comedy and not quite so dark and violent.  Maybe it’s me that’s changed and not the movie.  After all this time I should hope I’ve changed.  But it was still disconcerting to me because I’m usually pretty good at remembering movies I’ve seen even as far back as 1989.  My wife Patricia says she can’t understood how I can’t remember the names, phone numbers and birthdays of 75% of my relatives but I remember casts, plots and lines of dialog from movies I’ve seen 20 years ago.  There’s an obvious answer but we won’t go into that now.  Let’s get on along with the movie review.

Frederick J. Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin) flies into Miami wearing the suede sport coat of a man he’s killed in San Francisco.  Fifteen minutes after he’s touched down Junior has broken the finger of a Hare Krishna just trying to offer him celestial enlightenment and stolen a suitcase.  Junior’s a killer, a con man and thief.  He’s successful at all three but only God knows how.  He never plans his crimes, just seizes whatever opportunity he happens upon and through a combination of nerve, luck and bravado manages to pull them off.   Junior quickly shacks up with the extremely dim witted hooker Susie Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is totally captivated by Junior.  She dumps her pimp for him as well as empties her bank accounts to give to Junior.

In the meantime, Detective Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward) is assigned to the case of the Hare Krishna with the broken finger.  Seems as if the poor bastard died from shock so now it’s an active homicide investigation.  Neither Moseley nor his partner (Charles Napier) seems very interested in solving the crime.  But Moseley gets lucky enough to actually track down Junior to Susie’s apartment and rattles Junior with a couple of quite astute observations while they’re having dinner.  Just the scene where Fred Ward manages to get himself invited to dinner is a quirky enough scene.  It’s not funny enough to be comedy yet it’s not serious enough to be drama.  After chowing down Susie’s pork chops and drinking all of Junior’s beer, Moseley retires to the run-down hotel he calls home.  And is yoked the very next day by Junior who has followed him there.  Junior beats the ever-lovin’ tar outta Moseley.  He then steals Moseley’s gun, badge and his false teeth (don’t ask) and proceeds to go on a one-man crime wave using Moseley’s badge and pretending to be a cop.  Moseley, now the laughing stock of the department lies in a hospital bed, getting fitted for a new set of choppers and planning his revenge on Junior once he gets released.

MIAMI BLUES is a strange sort of crime thriller in that when I first saw it I remember laughing a whole lot more but having watched it recently after such a long period of time there were scenes where I was wondering if I should be laughing or cringing.  The scene where Moseley is having dinner with Junior and Susie qualifies as comedy until the moment when Moseley offhanded asks Junior where he did his time.  Junior replies that he’s never done time and Moseley casually notes that Junior protects his plate as if somebody is going to take his food from him.  The same way cons in the joint protect their plate.  Suddenly the mood and tone of the scene changes gears just that fast and you get the feeling that Junior just might do something nobody is going to like.  Especially since we’ve seen that he can commit mayhem as easily as other men put on their pants in the morning.

It’s got a nice cast.  Alec Baldwin has a lot of fun playing the psychotic Junior Frenger.  Baldwin is really good at playing guys like this; guys with more good looks and charm than any one man should have but who can turn into a cold-blooded bastard in a heartbeat.  And you can’t help but have a sort of admiration for the sheer nerve Junior has in pulling off his crimes.  This is one of those movies where the bad guy is actually more appealing and sympathetic than the good guy.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is a hoot as the slow-witted hooker Susie.  I’m so used to seeing her play really smart roles that it was actually very funny seeing her play a character so dense that even other characters in the movie ask each other if it’s possible Susie can be that dumb.  Fred Ward is one of my favorite all time actors and I’ll watch him in anything.  His Hoke Moseley is a cop who really doesn’t seem all that motivated or interested in doing his job.  At least not until Junior starts running around Miami pulling stickups while waving his badge and shooting people with his gun.  I could do without him taking out and putting in his false teeth every five minutes but the teeth are a running gag in the movie so maybe you’ll get more of a laugh out of it than I did.  And I was pleasantly surprised to see Shirley Stoler appear in this movie.  She co-starred with Tony Lo Bianco in “The Honeymoon Killers” a terrific crime suspense thriller based on a true story.  Charles Napier, Paul Gleason and Nora Dunn are also very good in their supporting roles, especially Nora Dunn who plays a detective Moseley pressures into helping him find Junior after Moseley gets out of the hospital.

So should you see MIAMI BLUES?  It depends on your mood and your tolerance for quirky semi-comedic/dramatic movies and how much of a fan you are of Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward.  I happen to like all of them so just on that basis I’d say yes.  Alec Baldwin has plenty of scenes where he walks around with no shirt on so he’s eye candy for the ladies and this is a chance to see him in his early in his career when he was hailed as the next big thing in movies.  If you’re a fan of crime thrillers I’d say give it a rental.  But as I said earlier, there’s a lot going on in this movie that might have you thinking that it’s a comedy.  At least until you get to the violent bits.  And the violence in this movie is unexpectedly brutal so consider yourself warned.

97 minutes

Rated R: And it most certainly is.  There’s free use of adult language, brutal violence and two mildly graphic sex scenes so make sure the urchins are in bed before you watch this one.