Film & Water #178 – The Shadow


Episode 178 - The Shadow

On a special Sunday edition of The Film & Water Podcast, Rob is joined by fellow network all-stars Siskoid and Max Romero to talk about 1994's THE SHADOW, starring Alec Baldwin!

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11 responses to “Film & Water #178 – The Shadow

  1. I always had an interest in pulps in the abstract, but in practice, to me, they’re lackluster proto-superheroes. I love the accoutrements (the rings; secret lairs; theater costumes; cabal of like-minded helpers; retro-futurist devices,) but they seem to end where super-hero concepts begin. The premise is there, but they don’t progress past it. There’s no character development and little world building. Most of the villains are guys in gray suits with pistols or grotesques racial caricatures. Women mostly exist for peril and sexualized violence. Non-white straight male representation is servile and risible. It’s a lot more fun to see super-heroes with pulp elements than to actually interact with the source. Also, old Hollywood types kept seeing the success of super-hero adaptations and trying to do their own childhoods up without recognizing that they had failed to support those properties in the way perpetually adolescent Boomers had. The Shadow and Doc Savage had baby revivals in the ’70s, but they had “gone away” for decades and were not recontextualized the way someone like Captain America could be. There was no universe for them to integrate into, and for the most part they seemed to remain period pieces, so there was an element of obsolescence baked into the attempts. The 1980 Flash Gordon movie may have been campy as hell, but at least it resonated with ’70s kids in a way the ones that didn’t attempt an updated never did.

    So yeah, it didn’t work when there was a mild nostalgia wave, so they tried to do the same thing again twenty years later when properties like The Shadow were dead cold? So old even Boomers at best held them in second-hand affection? I showed up for Dick Tracy mostly because the midnight premiere was an event showing with a commemorative t-shirt. The Shadow offered none of that as far as I can recall, and while the Playmates Tracy toys may have been laughable, at least they were visually interesting. Those Shadow ones are a bore. I caught the flick a few years later on VHS, and while it was somewhat slow, I liked it well enough.

    Alec Baldwin is a damned handsome man, and I do feel like he’d have been a great Bruce Wayne. He can do a raspy voice, so the suit might have covered him as Batman. With the Shadow, I don’t feel like he can convey the mania and menace. I have a permanent crush on Penelope Ann Miller, who I’m still here for as she pushes 60, and you’re damned right she wears that white satin all the way right. My personal favorite of hers is Other People’s Money, and she goes a long way toward my modestly favorable opinion of the movie. Orientalism acknowledged and not exactly congruent, but there’s still something to be said for positioning an Asian actor as chief protagonist in the early ’90s.

    I feel like the movie’s MVP is director Russell Mulcahy, responsible for some of the most iconic music videos of the 1980s. Come with me on this journey. Close your mirrored eyes. Picture them individually. “Video Killed the Radio Star”, “Bette Davis Eyes”, “Only the Lonely”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “True”, “I’m Still Standing”, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “The Wild Boys”, “The Reflex”, “The One”. One of the absolute greatest the field ever produced. Then he moves to film and– very style, maybe not so much substance. Still, Highlander only exists as a franchise because the first one was such an instant classic. At least visually The Quickening works. I’ll stop now because “Extinction was one of the best Resident Evil movies” is hurting my case. The point is, there are sumptuous, dreamlike visuals in The Shadow that make it worth checking out as pure cinema.

    I was a big enough fan of Taylor Dayne that my grandmother bought me a cassette of Tell It to My Heart (my only recollection of her ever buying me music) and I adore Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Face To Face”, which closed Batman Begins. I don’t know how I forgot “Original Sin” existed for several decades, but it slaps. It’s audibly angling to be hit of the year by sheer force of will and production. Paul McCartney’s like “It’s kind of a lot, yeah? Just pick a song, luv.” But no, it’s wearing all of the songs at the same time, and it will never be enough (BE ENOUGH!) How did this not become a standard? Please tell me someone won American Idol with it one year?

    I’ve never finished The Phantom. I fell asleep on it in the first reel and never bothered to rewind. Kristy Swanson doesn’t deserve to have her name uttered in the same conversation as Penelope Ann Miller.

  2. A few things:

    Razorback is good fun. It’s crazy fun. Not Mulcahy’s best. Highlander 1 clearly is and it is the movie for which he’s best known. I’d expect more from someone who hosts a podcast about film – and certainly more from someone who created an entire show as a rebuttal to Orson “Voice of Unicron” Welles. But really, I expected more from a friend. But he’s a friend who never answers his phone or returns texts…

    I quite like this movie. It has its charm and is a solid B+.

  3. I have a lecture in my Comics & Culture course covering the pulps & I always begin with the opening sequence introducing the Shadow on the bridge. We discuss how the pulp heroes serve as a bridge to the superhero genre. I tend to focus on The Shadow & Doc Savage as they are obvious inspirations for Batman & Superman.

    I’ve really enjoyed the pulp inspired comics from Dynamite these last several years. I’d recommend The Shadow: Year One by Matt Wagner plus terrific Alex Ross covers.

    FYI this year marks The Phantom’s 85th anniversary. I hope you guys cover the Billy Zane 1996 movie. I’ve got it on dvd & haven’t seen it in years.

    If you ever do an episode on Popeye (1980) let me know if you need an “expert.”

  4. Fun show guys. I felt the same way about The Shadow when Cindy and I re-watched it for Super Mates: I liked it better than the first time, even though I enjoyed it in the theater. We gushed about Penelope Ann Miller in that episode, and she is leaps and bounds better as Margo than Kristy Swanson in a similar role in The Phantom. She’ actually seems to be sleepwalking through that movie, but Treat Williams is so busy chewing up the sets you barely notice. If they could have both reached a happy medium, the film would have worked much better. Billy Zane is fantastic in it, though.

    But I really dug Baldwin as Cranston and the Shadow…except for the whole warlord bit at the beginning. That was pretty bad. The living, flying knife is memorable, but a tad too bizarre. It definitely feels like a “Big Trouble” leftover.

    “Original Sin” was written by Jim Steinman, who wrote all of Meatloaf’s over-the-top epics, so that’s one reason why it’s so ridiculously bombastic.


    1. Oh, and I forgot to mention, Kenner DID make the Shadow cab. Of course they tricked it out with lots of action features. I bought the other car in the line, in the hopes of converting into a 1950, bubble-domed Batmobile, but never finished it. The only Shadow figure I had was the “standard” one Rob mentioned. These figures fit right in with Kenner’s Batman efforts at the time.


  5. Like you all (it seems), I am very forgiving of this movie, it isn’t great. But it isn’t that bad.

    I knew of the Shadow from my dad talking about him. Dad loved him. I liked the Chaykin miniseries and read the subsequent monthly. So no doubt I was going to see this. And not surprisingly I liked it.

    Like many, I also have a Penelope Ann Miller crush, the thinking man’s sex symbol. Carlitos Way, The Shadow, … hell, The Relic! If she’s in it I’m watching. And I like that here she has agency, immune to the mind clouding and talking to Lamont as an equal.

    Thanks for covering, great discussion!

  6. My problem with pulp stories is that the authors ghosting the putative author treated the characters as collections of catch phrases, idiosyncrasies and plot devices. Without real characters, the stories were all kind of the same. I enjoyed reading Philip Jose Farmer’s new novels of Doc Savage and Lord Greystoke more than re-reading the originals. The originals were already kind of old fashioned when I first read a few, but I was a kid and not as critical a reader.

    You said that the Shadow’s agent lobotomizing the villain was shocking to you for its cruelty. Pulp heroes were very much rugged individualists who were sure they were right in every decision. Doc Savage had a private hospital where he sent most of the henchmen for a brain operation that made it hard for them to live a criminal life.

    The Sunshine Radio Cab company was familiar to me because ‘Taxi’ was set in the garage of the Sunshine Cab company.

    There was a real Sunshine Radio Cab Company in New York in the Thirties. The cabs had a sliding roof panel that was opened on fine sunny days. My brother collected die cast car models. You can find model cabs on Ebay that look like marketing items for Sunshine Radio Cabs that were given to bars and hotels for promoting the service (Circle 7-2323). Motorola produced the first commercial radio in 1930. They were expensive and were only options on high end cars. Sunshine Radio Cabs had a radio, with a meter, for passengers to use.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that liked this film. I did make the connection to the Batman movie, but I did think that was odd because the Shadow was obviously one of the precursors of Batman.

    Michael Ridge

  7. It was great to hear this discussion! Like Max and Siskoid, I really enjoyed Dick Tracy, The Shadow, and The Phantom when they came out. I would also lump The Rocketeer in there, too. There was a definite nostalgia for ’30’s and ’40’s in the ’90’s and I ate it all up even though I was born in the ’70’s. I could also lump in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Radioland Murders.

    But enough about other movies, The Shadow was fun and I loved it when it first came out. I really enjoyed how much fun was in this movie and it didn’t take itself too seriously. Maybe that was just how Alec Baldwin played it, like you guys mentioned. I remember that it was being marketed as a more mature movie than other spandexed superhero movies at the time but I’m not sure it is.

    Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed your discussion and I wouldn’t certainly vote to hear a Film and Water for the Phantom. It’s got Billy Zane AND Catherine Zeta-Jones! How can you go wrong? Well don, gentlemen. Keep up the great work!

    P.S. I thought the knife was great and hilariously weird!

  8. All right, y’all. I just finished watching The Shadow again. Logic and ethics say that I’m responsible for my own decisions, but I’m blaming you anyway. Not a problem, though — I enjoyed it same as y’all did — especially Penelope Ann Miller and the relationship between The Shadow and Shiwan Khan. There isn’t enough collegiality between heroes and villains today. The truth is, they often have a lot of shared experiences. And just because you’re trying to stop someone from killing and/or conquering us all is no reason to get all rude and judgmental.

    I really enjoyed this discussion of the film, and the opinions and info in the commentary were fascinating. It seems like the people making this movie did their homework, which is one more thing for which they should be applauded.

    But I Googled a thing, and now I have a scoop to share, too! Are you ready? The phurba…is real! By “phurba,” I mean the three-sided dagger used in the movie. It’s also known as the kila, and it isn’t just a dagger. In nomadic cultures, it’s also a tent peg. The phurba is a ritual instrument used to fight demons and disease in Vajrayana Buddhism.

    According to the doctrine as I understand it from Wikipedia and a mystic’s blog site, The Shadow couldn’t control it by brute force because of the spirit inside the dagger. He had to use wei wu, which translates as “inaction” or “effortless action.” This is reportedly an important concept in Confucianism and Taoism that even made it into government in the Far East.

    Nothing I read explained why this phurba needed its rabies shots, but I didn’t dig that deeply. Of course, I don’t endorse any of this — particularly not using valued cultural items as tent pegs — but I do find it fascinating. I don’t know how Vajrayana Buddhists feel about its inclusion. You could probably legitimately accuse the movie of trivializing something they consider sacred, but I wouldn’t know about if they hadn’t included it, so I think there’s a representation argument in there, too. Kind of like John Loan as the villain, I guess.

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