The Shadow


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.


108 minutes



20th Century Fox/Cannon Films/Highlander Productions Limited/EMI Films

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Produced by Peter S. David-William N. Panzer-E.C. Monell

Written by Gregory Widen-Peter Bellwood-Larry Ferguson

Here’s a perfect example of what people mean when they use the expression ‘milking it for all it’s worth’.  When HIGHLANDER had its original theatrical run it was hailed as an above average action/adventure with a strikingly different visual style and an intriguing premise: what if a secret race of Immortals walked among humankind, waging a hidden war that has gone on throughout the ages, lasting for centuries?  A war that would decide the fate of Immortals and Humans alike?

If it had been left at just this one movie, the whole concept would have been stronger but there have been a series of really bad sequels, some so-so television spin-offs, including an animated one.  All of them violated just about everything that was set up so well in the original movie but even HIGHLANDER is not without some glaring plot holes that virtually guaranteed that any sort of sequel that followed it was doomed to failure.

Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is a warrior living in the Scottish Highlands of 1536.  During a battle between rival clans, Connor is viciously attacked by The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) a nightmarishly savage barbarian from Russia whose people entertained themselves by throwing children into pits with wild dogs and watching them fight.  The Kurgan delivers to Connor what should have been a deathblow but amazingly, Connor recovers from his mortal wound and the next day is walking around alive and well, his wound miraculously healed.


Quite naturally this means he must be in league with Satan so his own people cast him out and he wanders the land until finding love and peace with Heather (Beatie Edney).  This peace is disrupted by the appearance of the strutting, dashing swordsman Juan Sanchez Villa Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery) who reveals Connor’s true nature to him.  Like Ramirez, Connor is an Immortal, fated to slay or be slain by other Immortals who must all kill each other until only one is left.  And this one will receive ‘The Prize’, some great gift that will change the fate of the world forever.  Ramirez trains Connor in swordsmanship and teaches him how to use his Immortal abilities but unfortunately, The Kurgan is also an Immortal and once again disrupts Connor’s life, killing Ramirez and brutalizing Heather.


In 1985 New York, Connor lives as an art/antique dealer named Russell Nash and comes to the attention of The NYPD due to the fact that there seems to be a lot of headless bodies showing up whenever he’s around and in particular to police forensic scientist/ancient weapons expert Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) Brenda finds metal shavings at a crime scene near a headless body that she’s convinced came from a samurai sword that was made two thousand years before the first recorded katana and she’s even more convinced that the mysterious Russell Nash knows about the sword.  Well, of course he does.  But he can’t very well tell her that he’s going around defending himself from attacks by his fellow Immortals by cutting of their heads, which is the only way to kill an Immortal with the sword he inherited from his mentor Ramirez.   But she soon finds out the truth as The Kurgan is also in New York and at last after centuries of Immortals slaying each other it has come down to just The Highlander and The Kurgan, who is holding Brenda as a hostage to gain an edge on Connor…. and There Can Be Only One…you just knew I was going to work that in somewhere, didn’t you?


When it comes to the look and visual style of the movie, it still holds up really well.  Russell Mulcahy had directed plenty of videos before HIGHLANDER and he made a horror film called “Razorback” which is about a giant wild razorback pig terrorizing the Australian outback.  Trust me; the movie is a lot better than it sounds.  Mulcahy brought the visual techniques he used in his videos to HIGHLANDER and they’ve been copied so often since then that we see them and yawn but back in 1986 this was really exciting stuff.  Even today many of the shots are breathtaking, such as the opening shot of a crowd in Madison Square Garden that dives and swoops like an eagle trapped inside the building until the camera zooms in on Lambert.  The scenes set in 16th Century Scotland are astonishingly beautiful as well and provide a nice contrast to the concrete cliffs of 20th Century New York.  The fight scenes are beautiful, brutal and bloody as all good movie fight scenes should be.

But it’s after the movie is over and you sit back and think about it you realize that HIGHLANDER is a lot like a politician’s campaign speeches: There’s a lot of talking but not a damn thing has been said.  I’m kinda disappointed that we’re presented with a race of Immortals who instead of working together toward a common goal spend their time running around hacking off each other’s heads.  We’re given tantalizing glimpses into what surely must be a fascinating culture, but that’s all we’re given.  It’s never explained why The Immortals have to kill each other off or how they found out that the only way to kill an Immortal is to cut his head off (seems like a secret I’d keep to my own damn self) or why they never fight on holy ground.  And if the whole point is for Immortals to kill themselves to get ‘The Prize’ then why does Ramirez train Connor instead of taking his head?  Do Immortals age naturally until they reach a certain age?  It would explain why Connor, The Kurgan, Ramirez and the couple of other Immortals we see in the movie are all obviously different ages but this is never explored.  How did The Immortals learn about ‘The Prize’?  Who told them?

I know…I know…there were sequels that attempted to explain some of these questions but trust me on this: you don’t want to see them, especially “Highlander II: The Quickening” which is undoubtedly the worst movie Sean Connery ever made.   Supposedly the only reason he was in it was because he and Christopher Lambert got along so well and Lambert wouldn’t do the movie without him.  The bottom line is this: there’s a tantalizing amount of good stuff that just isn’t used here and as a result the movie is wildly entertaining but strangely unsatisfying to me.  I wanted to know more about these Immortals and I didn’t get it.  And the ending of the movie where we finally find out what ‘The Prize’ is has to be one of the biggest let downs I’ve seen in a movie.  I sat through the whole thing waiting to see what this ‘Prize’ is gonna be, figuring it’s gonna be something really nifty and when it was finally revealed I screamed; “That’s IT?!”


However, HIGHLANDER has three big things going for it: Sean Connery, who steals every scene he’s in as Ramirez who even though he has a Spanish name is actually a two thousand-year-old Egyptian. Christopher Lambert who I really like as an actor.  He can be badass, cool, charming and goofy all in the same scene and make it believable.  He’s got a strong scene where he’s comforting his dying wife Heather who has grown old while he has stayed young and strong and it’s a very touching moment where Lambert effectively captures the pain of what being an Immortal must be like.  Clancy Brown is terrific as The Kurgan and plays him as an unstoppable killing machine with a grisly and totally inappropriate sense of black humor.  He’s one of the best movie bad guys ever.

And I can’t end this review without mentioning the outstanding music score that features songs by Queen. Everybody knows ‘Princes Of The Universe’ but ‘One Year Of Love’ and ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ are equally memorable and near the end of the movie there’s a brief bit of Queen doing ‘New York, New York’

So should you see HIGHLANDER?  Sure.  It’s perfectly entertaining high adventure that’s got a fun story, interesting characters, a great music score, some good fight scenes and despite what I think are plot holes big enough to fall into, you can ignore ‘em and just have a good time.  It’s not a demanding movie by any stretch but it is what it is and that’s more than enough.  Enjoy with my blessings.

Rated R

116 minutes