Super Mates 56: The Shadow –1994

Summer Blockbusters That Weren’t! Chris and Cindy examine the 1994 film adaptation of pulp and radio’s Master of Darkness, The Shadow, starring Alec Baldwin and Penelope Ann Miller. Does it hold up today, despite its less-than-stellar box office returns? Chris and Cindy know!


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Clip credits:

“Wedding March” from Flash Gordon by Queen

The Shadow radio show opening featuring Orson Welles

Opening theme and suite from The Shadow by Jerry Goldsmith

“Original Sin” by Taylor Dane from The Shadow Original Soundtrack

25 responses to “Super Mates 56: The Shadow –1994

  1. I’m so glad that you covered The Shadow! I saw it in the theater and always have had a soft spot for it. I regularly teach an undergrad class on comics/superheroes at Bowling Green State University and I always show a portion of this film to the class as an example of what the pre-superhero pulp characters were like. Most of my students are totally unaware of this film or hero. I think it’s important for people to remember that the comic book superheroes do have their roots in the pulps.

    I haven’t listened to this whole episode yet but for anyone who wants more Shadow goodness be sure to check out the 2 hr documentary “The Shadow Knows” (available on Amazon).

  2. Great episode as usual!

    THE SHADOW and THE ROCKETEER occupy special places in my memory and fandom: movies that I *wanted* to love… but just couldn’t. I loved the fact that they were period pieces, more genre-specific than traditional superhero adventures. And as you say, they came out during the time before the Great Flood of comic book movies, when I hungered for any crossover from the pages to the screen.

    Penelope Ann-Miller is, indeed, beautiful, but I think there is something classical and old-fashioned about her beauty. Maybe it’s because I only remember her from two period/gangster movies–The Shadow and BILLY BATHGATE–but to me, she belongs in that era. She’s easily the best part of the movie, the most effortlessly watchable and funny.

    On the other hand, there are two examples of great actors who just weren’t right for their roles. I like Alec Baldwin, and he does a great job as Lamont Cranston the playboy. I don’t think he got the character’s inner darkness right, though. Maybe that was a fault of the script or the direction, but I just never felt the duality and the demons inside Lamont from Baldwin’s portrayal.

    The other one is Tim Curry, and you two both pointed out how there was clearly something off about not just the character but the performance. I don’t know if Tim Curry or the director ever knew exactly how to play the character, and Curry is simply too “big” of a personality so he played it to two different extremes.

    Man, if ever there was comic book geared toward Christopher Nolan’s sensibilities. Not that I need or want his influence on another comic property anytime soon, just sayin’.

    After I saw this movie, I got two issues of DC’s THE SHADOW written by Andy Helfer: issue #3 with art by Bill Sienkiewicz and issue #7 by Marshall Rogers. I think it was my first time seeing Sienkiewicz art; I loved the cover, but wasn’t a fan of the interiors.

    1. I love the Rocketeer. It’s honestly my favorite of these three 90s period films, but I feel like its probably best to leave that one to Film & Water because it’s pretty high on most comic fans’ lists.

      I meant to bring up that I too think Miller is particularly suited to this era, but I think the fact that Cindy didn’t whack me for gushing over her caught me off guard, and the thread was lost.

      I agree on Baldwin. For those who say he’d make a great Batman, I think he WOULD have made a great Bruce Wayne, but I don’t think he could sell a dark, serious Batman. Adam West-type Batman? He’d nail it.

      I heard about that Shadow book drawn by Marshall Rogers in Back Issue #89. I NEED to track that down, cuz you know how I loves me some Marshall Rogers!


  3. I loved the Shadow, as a character. I first saw him in Batman #259, though i had heard about the radio show. I never saw the paperbacks; only the Doc Savages. Years later, when I was haunting used book stores, looking for those pulp reprints, I found plenty of Doc Savage; but, only two Shadows, the first The Living Shadow, and a later one. Luckily, that copy of The Living Shadow was the one with the Steranko cover. I now have PDFs of the entire series, though I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. I read some of the later DC stuff; but, really wanted the Kaluta issues (I found one, with the ninja). Thankfully, DC reprinted them in a nice hardcover in the early 90s. That stuff is just gorgeous. I also got my hands on a Kaluta Shadow print. I still need to get it framed.

    You left one comic-related item out. Denny O’Neill and Russ Heath did a Shadow graphic novel, Hitler’s Astrologer, via Marvel’s Epic imprint. I picked that up at a Dollar Store; skeptical that it was actually going to be $1 (it was). It’s a great little period tale and Heath handles the details well, though he doesn’t have the moodiness that Kaluta brought. The Dark Horse books, with Kaluta and Gary Gianni are beautiful, and darn good stories.

    I really wanted to love the film; but, I just ended up just kind of liking it. It’s got more than a few weaknesses. As you say, Baldwin doesn’t really bring the Shadow to life and it could have used more of the pulp action, rather than Russell Mulcahey’s typical shattering glass and blowing curtains and flames. It also could have used some better cinematography, in parts. Tim Curry was usually overly hammy in films (except in Legend, where it helped bring the make-up alive) but he is positively subdued here. Peter Boyle, John Lone, and Penelope Ann Miller are the best performances. McKellan is good, but his role is a bit too limited, if you ask me. Jonathan Winters was surprisingly good, in his tiny role. The soundtrack is great and I love the Taylor Dane song, from the end credits. I really wish the film had been done by Sam Raimi, who tried to get the rights, but ended up doing his own, Darkman, instead. He understood the pulps. Russell Mulcahy was a fine music video director; but not much of a film director. Highlander still tops as his best film and even it is more like an extended music video. If anything, it is pulpier than the Shadow was.

    I got the novelization of the film, before the film came out and enjoyed it far more. It tried to mix in more of the pulps and does a better job of capturing the best elements of the character. It was written by James Luceno, who went on to do some of the Star Wars books, particularly the Sith stuff. The same feeling was true of the Phantom novelization, vs the finished movie.

    One thing that is a bit off here, is referring to this as the desert period for comic movies. That’s not quite true, depending on your definition. It was a period of few superhero movies; but, there were quite a few movies based on comic books and comic strips, between 1990 and 2000: Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer, the Batman sequels, The Crow, The Mask, The Phantom, Men in Black, Spawn, Time Cop, Steel, Mystery Men, Tank Girl. That doesn’t include tv productions and international ones (like the Mark Dacascos Crying Freeman movie, or the lucky Luke tv series, with Terence Hill. A ton of properties were optioned, in the wake of Batman, though few got to the screen and many took a looooonnnngggg time.

    The Ying Ko stuff was created for the film, though there were some elements cherry picked, here and there. I think the Chaykin mini-series was on their mind, as Allard was portrayed as more flawed, hanging out in opium dens and brothels, prior to ending up in Shamballah.

    I have the Rovin book and got it in 1985, when it was new. I got all of his other volumes in succession, including the cartoon character on and the robots & spaceships volume. I later got hardcover editions of the superhero, supervillain, and adventure hero volumes, since I kept pulling them out.

    Fans of the character should check out two books. The first is The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, by Paul Malmont. It features Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, L Ron Hubbard, Robert Heinlein, and some other pulp writers in a pulp adventure, set off by the death of HP Lovecraft. It gets deep into the pulp era of writing, talking about Gibsons work as a magician and writer of stage magic books (and ghostwriting the Harry Blackstone books), his private railcar, with two typewriters to bang out manuscripts (the Shadow was bi-weekly, at one point, and Gibson was doing two scripts a month) and also about Lester Dent (creator of Doc Savage) and his wife, his yacht, and his more optimistic outlook. There’s a young writer, whose name is eventually revealed, who would go on to be one of the best writers of his genre (I won’t spoil it). The other book is The Tales of the Shadowmen, volume one. The book is one of a series of anthologies with French pulp literary characters, like Fantomas and Arsene Lupin, in new adventures, often with characters from other literature, tv and film. In volume one, there is a story, “The Penumbra,” by Chris Roberson, which sort of features The Shadow. It stars Judex, who was the hero of a French silent film, who is a cloaked avenger, who exacts revenge on a crooked banker. The character is pretty much a template for the Shadow, who debuted 20 years later. The original story owes a lot to the Count of Monte Christo. The story here features Thomas and Martha Wayne travelling in Paris, when the famed Gotham Girasol Ring has been stolen. Judex investigates and discovers that Martha Wayne actually has a lover, Kent Allard, to whom she gave the ring. She is now with child and wants Judex to keep it quiet, as she has decided to stay with Thomas. The story is a bit ambiguous and it’s up to the reader to decide if the child is Thomas’ or Allard’s. Depending on how you go, Kent Allard is the true father of Batman. meanwhile, Judex inspires Allard to take up the role of The Shadow, complete with his famed girasol ring, bequeathed to him by Martha. I recommend the entire series, as they are filled with great pulp stories and character mash-ups. There is one where Barbarella is dumping James T Kirk, after a fling, where the shoe is on the other foot. Another has Bertie Wooster’s valet Jeeves matching wits with Hercule Poirot. Kim Newman, a British writer and friend of Neil Gaiman, pens a pair of adventures for a Victorian Charlie’s Angels, where Charlie is the Phantom of the Opera and the Angels are Christine Danae (from the novel), Trilby O’Farrel (from another Victorian novel), and Irene Adler (from Sherlock Holmes). The second adventure has new angels: Eliza Doolittle, Gigi, and Rima the Jungle Girl, who have to infiltrate a European casino, owned by Charles Foster Kane (part of his Euro-Xanadu). Those two stories and additional material are the basis for a novel, coming in October, from Newman, from Titan Books.

    In regards to heroes unmasked, Billy Batson has more screen time than Captain Marvel, in the Republic serial, and you get quite a bit of Bruce Wayne, in the first Columbia Batman serial.

    You can spot a Jim Steinman song easily: lot of fast, booming piano, epic tone, and a powerful voice. Steinman wrote much of the music in Streets of Fire (the stuff that Diane Lane “sings.”) “Original Sin” is filled with it.

    It’s a shame that the pulp heroes have been let down at the movies, though this was by far better than the Doc Savage movie. We’ll see about Shane Black’s Doc Savage, with the Rock. I just wish someone would do The Spider and Operator 5. The Spider’s battle with the fascists of the Empire State would make a great movie; ditto Operator 5’s battles during the Purple Invasion.

    Oooh, boy, The Phantom!

    1. I will definitely keep an eye out for the novelization, and those other books as well.

      Yeah, I’m one of those guys who think super hero only when it comes to movie adaptations. I know. It makes me a bad person. I try, but I just can’t seem to help it.

      As always Jeff, you are a font of information. You really need to do a podcast and spread that knowledge!!!


    2. It’s always great to have you chime in Jeff! You are the best encyclopedia around and I always learn so much from you!

  4. Great show, guys — as I mentioned elsewhere, I have a soft spot for this movie, and it was nice to revisit it with this episode. I have a question, and I’m curious to hear your opinions. Do you think there is something about the pulp characters and story lines that, for whatever reason, just don’t seem to successfully translate to the screen? Or do you think filmmakers just haven’t nailed it yet?

    As mentioned above, there have been a few; The Shadow, The Phantom, Allan Quatermain and King Solomon’s Mines, and most recently, John Carter. With the exception of Indiana Jones, these kinds of heroes don’t seem to come across as well as they should, and wind up being considered corny or derivative (which is unfair, considering these guys were first). Personally, I would’ve loved to have seen a sequel to The Shadow (and John Carter, for that matter).

    I’m looking forward to the Doc Savage movie — I guess we’ll see how much pulp the filmmakers decide to include.

    1. Yeah, I’m not sure Max. I don’t know if the period setting is what puts the general movie goers off or what. It seems like big budget period actioners have a hard time in general nowadays. Add in an obscure (to the general public) character in a weird outfit, or some outlandish scenarios, and maybe that’s a combo they just can’t swallow.

      I really enjoyed John Carter, and really hated to see it tank like it did. I blame the marketing. We get into how marketing can sink a movie in our Phantom episode up next.


  5. Like many, I also enjoy this movie more than I probably should. I’ve been a fan of the Shadow in comics. And like you guys, my dad grew up in the era of movie serials and radio shows. He actually had some cassettes of the radio shows I used to listen to.

    I always felt that Penelope Anne Miller was the intelligent man’s sex symbol. It is a classic beauty. Here she looks gorgeous in a Rita Hayworth sort of way. But I liked her in Relic and Carlitos Way as well, two very different eras. There is great chemistry between her and Baldwin and the double entendres do fly.

    Still, overall this is pretty silly stuff.

    As an aside, I love The Rocketeer. I think it might be the best superhero movie ever made.

    1. Well said, Anj. Penelope Ann Miller is a class act. I’ve never seen Carlito’s Way, but a google image search shows me I should. I’m sure Cindy WILL slap me for this. 🙂

      Deep, deep love for The Rocketeer. Definitely one of my favorite comic adaptations.


  6. Great episode guys, even if you are working my side of the street!

    I remember wanting to love THE SHADOW, and I did like it a lot, but I think it just misses a bit. Maybe if it had someone a little more sophisticated at the helm (it was directed by the same guy who did HIGHLANDER, so cue David Gutierrez showing up to say it was directed by one of the finest filmmakers to ever walk the earth).

    That said, I did like how the movie didn’t take itself too seriously (those clips you played good evidence of that), and maybe after BATMAN audiences just didn’t want that. The whole nose growing thing was weird, I wonder why they bothered with it.

    It seems like everyone’s Dad liked The Shadow!

    1. Hey, we just set up for a day or two, down the block a bit. Let’s not get antsy, Rob.

      I can’t bust Mulchay’s chops too much or my sister will come after me! My nephew’s middle name is Connor, and yes, he was named after Christopher Lambert! So let’s make sure not to get her and David in the same room, or we’re toast.

      But I agree, The Shadow could have used a touch of sophistication and style here and there to punch it up.

      Yep, everyone’s dad liked the Shadow. And the Lone Ranger. And the Green Hornet. And…


      1. Highlander is awesome, in a gonzo kind of way. I place it with some of those 60s Italian films you find from cult movie vendors: goofy, and cheaply done; but massively entertaining. It’s decent pulp, too, which I thought would make Russell Mulcahey a good fit for the Shadow; and, he mostly was.

        1. Oh, I love the first Highlander. The second one is atrocious, even when Mulchay did his best to fix the Planet Geist business. Three is decent, but a bland remake of the first, honestly. The TV series never grabbed me much. Typical late 80s/early 90s syndication fare.


          1. I remember Mark Singer on a first season episode, as an immortal mountain man. He sounded like a higher pitched Solomon Grundy.

            “MaClawd, awm goin ta take yahr Quickinin’!” I laughed my butt off and mostly avoided the show afterward, and I like Mark Singer. I did catch an episode with Nigel Terry, who played King Arthur, in Excalibur. It was the first time I saw him in anything besides that film. There was another with Roland Gip, of Fine Young Cannibals. It really made me wish he had stuck with music; he was an awesome singer, in a great band and a pretty mediocre actor.

  7. Russell Mulcahy is an Aussie and he’ll always be much more famous to me for directing the shlocky Razorback* than Highlander. Plus the pinnacle of his directing will forever be Rio for Duran Duran.

    *DO NOT watch Razorback if you are a dog lover.

    1. What, not Culture Club’s “War Song?”

      Mulcahey was the top video director of the Golden Age of MTV. he did Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” most of Duran Duran’s major videos, Spandau Ballet’s “True,” Berlin’s “Sex” (which MTV didn’t show), Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” (with all of the half naked, painted dancers), Billy Joel’s “Pressure” and “Allentown”, Kim Carnes “Bettie Davis Eyes,” Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks,” the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese,” and, of course, Queen’s “A Kind of Magic” and “Princes of the Universe.” Highlander was basically one big music video, complete with his signature shattering glass, blowing curtains, murky lighting, sparks, and every other trick that he made famous and got beaten into the ground by other directors. He just wasn’t much for long term storytelling, as witnessed by The Real McCoy.

      1. Yeah, I should have brought up Mulcahey’s music video resume. MTV was HUGE for me as a kid. I remember when we finally got cable in 1984. I was 9, and MTV and Nickelodeon were my entire world. Well, except for the afternoon cartoons and Zorro reruns on the Disney Channel. But Mulcahey did indeed shape much of that brief Golden Age of music videos. Although many from that era are pretty painful to watch now. Kind of like a 70s variety show, in many ways. Most of his hold up, however.


        1. We got cable in the summer of 1982. MTV was part of the package and was just finishing up their first year. They had so few sponsors that you got to watch a lot of videos (and VJ filler). The best part is that it exposed me to new music, as very little of their playlist was turning up on mainstream radio. By the end of 83, they were becoming a major element of songs breaking through the Top 40. When I worked for Barnes & Noble, we got in a 10th anniversary hardcover history of the network. They sent people into the field, in the few areas where they were being carried. In Oklahoma, they went to a music store and the manager told them they had had the Buggles album gathering dust and when MTV debuted on their cable system, they sold out. They also got the videos, for free, from record companies, who considered them promotional material. That set a precedent that the record companies came to regret. As it was, when they first started, they had a limited number of videos and Rod Stewart had more than any other artist.

          A friend of mine had one of the old MTV t-shirts. I still remember the debate at school when Culture Club first turned up. People were split whether Boy George was male or female. My answer was to consider the name as a clue. Amazing how shocking he was then and how little people recall of that.

          Back when I was in the Navy, I got up one Saturday morning to discover that MTV was having their Reunion Weekend, where the original VJs were back. This would have been around 1990 or 91. They were playing the old videos, so I jammed a tape in the vcr and recorded stuff all day. The ended with a skit about how things would be, if they were all still working there, with them hosting the then-current shows. Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter are hosting Yo, MTV Raps, Mark Goodman was doing Pauly Shore’s bit, JJ Jackson was doing Downtown Julie Brown’s schtick, and Nina Blackwood was doing the Sporting Fool bit. Good times!

          1. I hear the MTV VJs on Sirius XM’s 80s on 8 radio station every day. Well, at least Mark, Nina, Alan and Martha. If I’m going to hear DJs, it might as well be those guys! Takes me back a bit.


  8. Really enjoyed your Summer Hits That Weren’t Double Feature. I’m behind listening since I’ve been away for a couple of weeks, but it was a treat to hear these two episodes back-to-back today.

    We like both of these movies as well as The Rocketeer that is mentioned throughout everyone’s comments above.

    Sky Captain is another fun film we like that I include in this group of movies that sadly didn’t lead to the sequels they all deserved.

    Oh, and John Carter. Such a tragedy that wasn’t the success it deserved to be … IMHO 😉

    Nice show Chris and Cindy!


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