The Shadow

I only know the 30s radio show by hearsay, so I can't vouch for the faithfulness of this big-scale movie version, but if I had to choose between a sequel to this and another Batman or Indiana Jones romp, I'd opt for a second Shadow, if only because the visual design of this one—a comic-book fever dream of 30s Manhattan so well imagined and lived-in that one could almost crawl inside it—has more enchantments than the Wagnerian pretensions and Pavlovian cliff-hangers of the other two cycles. Admittedly, this visual design—which recalls more than once some of the classic Universal horror pictures of the 30s—tends to triumph over and thereby diminish everything else in the picture. The characters are fairly dim (Alec Baldwin in the title role, alias Lamont Cranston, is a bit of a stick, and Penelope Ann Miller is just a slinky icon, though John Lone seems well cast as the occult villain); the plot—largely a matter of telepathy, hypnosis, and mind over matter—while true enough to its origins in Louis Feuillade and Fritz Lang, is not especially memorable; and the action thrills tend to be obligatory rather than inspired. But the look of this movie is such a delight that even passing details—an apple twirled in Miller's hands, a striped sofa beside which subvillain Tim Curry falls to his death—seem integral parts of the production design; and when an anachronistic, spherical atomic bomb barrels down a hotel hallway, even if it occasions much less suspense than the rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it has all the sleek decorum of a Magritte painting. It's hard to know whom to credit for all the visual pleasure—production designer Joseph Nemec III, director Russell Mulcahy, or, most likely, a team comprising them and many others—but wherever it comes from, it has enough of the innocent exoticism and splendor of silent thrillers to suggest a continuity with the past missing from most other movies; all that's required is a capacity to sit back and dream. With Ian McKellen, Peter Boyle, and Jonathan Winters.

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