We’re doing something a little different this summer for #WayBackWednesday! I asked the Fangirlish staff to tell me their favorite summer flicks–films they associate with summer, be that a film set in the summer, a film that was released in the summer, or a movie they spent a summer watching. Each writer will tell you why they chose their movie and I’ll be reviewing their film recommendations during June, July, and August. This is our Summer Vacation series! Pour yourself a glass of Kool-Aid, make some ramen, and find out how we spent our summer vacations each #WayBackWednesday.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Those are words that thrilled me and filled me with delight as a kid. I’ve always been fascinated by old-time radio, especially mystery thrillers and superhero stories. I guess I’ve always been on the retro tip, even as a kid. I remember finding the old stories fascinating, and even still effective. That’s why I was so excited to watch The Shadow. I remember renting the VHS of this film several times from my local public library during the summer and being absolutely enamored by the aesthetic of the film. It’s my turn to pick a film for our Summer Vacation series, so I figured my birthday would be an awesome day for it. Have you seen this big-screen adaptation of a classic radio show? Check out the trailer for The Shadow and let’s get started with #WayBackWednesday.
Background on The Shadow
If you’re unfamiliar with The Shadow, let me give you a quick primer on the history of the character and his abilities. The character of The Shadow was originally created as a narrator for the radio program, Detective Story Hour. This program was created to promote the stories in the magazine, Detective Story Magazine. When people at newsstands started asking for The Shadow Detective Magazine, the publisher, Street & Smith, hired Walter B. Gibson to create the concept for the character. Thus The Shadow was born. The first issue of The Shadow Magazine went on sale on April 1, 1931.
The Shadow radio program premiered on September 23, 1937. The Shadow, in the film adaptation, is Lamont Cranston, a wealthy young man-about-town. As The Shadow, he has the power to make himself nearly invisible to others (save for his shadow), to cloud a person’s thoughts, and to read their minds. He does this as a vigilante crime fighter–think Batman, minus the bat and martial arts, and add some telepathic powers.
The Shadow of my Past
I’ve always been a fan of this kind of detective noir story, so when I saw that there was going to be a Shadow movie, I was all in. As is the case with many movies when I was a kid, I had difficulty convincing my parents to take me to see it, but when it hit VHS, all bets were off. If I could rent it at the library, it was pretty much fair game. A few years later, I ran across a couple of CDs of The Shadow radio program and snatched those up. They were such fun to listen to. In fact, I think I still have them. If you want to give some of the original serials a listen, there are many episodes available on Spotify!
Now that you’ve got a primer on The Shadow, let me tell you why I think the film is worth checking out.
The best surprise I got when revisiting The Shadow for this week’s #WayBackWednesday was watching the cast list roll across the screen. Alec Baldwin stars as The Shadow, which I knew from the start, but I had totally forgotten that Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings, X-Men) was in this! So is Tim Curry (Clue, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and classic comedian Jonathan Winters! While I didn’t readily recognize our leading lady, Penelope Ann Miller’s, name, she’s got an amazing resume as well, including The Artist and Carlito’s Way. Our villain, Shiwan Khan, is played by John Lone. While Lone seems to have retired from acting in 2007, he had a few notable roles in his career, including M. Butterfly. According to IMDB, Lone also has worked in theater and performed opera–a true renaissance man!
If you are most familiar with Alec Baldwin from Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock, then I think it’s time for you to see him in a dramatic role. While I wouldn’t say The Shadow is a super serious dramatic role, he plays the character of Lamont Cranston well. The entire cast is a lot of fun, making for a great, entertaining summer film. If that sounds good to you, add The Shadow to your watch list.
You all know how much I love a good soundtrack. Composer Jerry Goldsmith provides the score for The Shadow. You might better know his scores from Alien, many of the Star Trek films, Poltergeist, Gremlins, and so many more. We sadly lost Jerry in 2004 to colon cancer, but he left behind an incredible body of work. His work for The Shadow is haunting and at some points fast-paced, evoking a noir sound, influenced a bit by Danny Elfman’s Batman (1989) score, but with heavier percussion. I think The Shadow might be a bit underrated in his catalog. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Goldsmith or if you just enjoy listening to movie scores. While this one is unavailable on Spotify, a cursory web search might turn it up.
Aside from the gorgeous score from Jerry Goldsmith, there are a few songs performed in the film that I think are of note. In the scene at the club, the song “Some Kind of Mystery” is gorgeously performed by singer Sinoa in her only acting role. There is another interlude at the club which I recognized immediately, being a sax player, as Kenny G. His song, “Remember” is played, setting the mood. However, the real banger of The Shadow is “Original Sin” by Taylor Dayne, the theme for the film. You might better know Dayne’s 80s classic, “Tell It to my Heart.” While I’m a total sucker for 80s music, “Original Sin” blows anything else I’ve heard from her out of the water. Her booming alto gives me chills and really makes me sit up and listen. It’s worth watching the credits just for that! If you’d like some auditory delights to go with a fun movie, check out The Shadow.
I absolutely adore the noir aesthetic of The Shadow. I adore the costuming, the sets, the darkness. To me, it looks like a hybrid of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and 1990’s Dick Tracy. It embodies the dark, gothic aesthetic of Batman while also adding a bit of the comic book-style sets of Dick Tracy. Interestingly, according to IMDB, Batman creator, Bob Kane cites The Shadow as an inspiration for Batman. I ended up watching The Shadow twice this week in preparation for this column, just to get a good look at the set design. If you enjoy this type of noir aesthetic, give The Shadow a try.
Thanks for checking out my #WayBackWednesday column on The Shadow. If you’re a new reader to my column or Fangirlish, I write about throwback films every Wednesday here on #WayBackWednesday. I also cover all the Star Trek shows, The Mandalorian, have written about horror movies, Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things, among other works here on the site.
The Shadow is streaming now on HBO MAX.