Disc Jockey: Celebrate Alec Baldwin’s retirement from fame with 1994′s ‘The Shadow’

That's young Alec Baldwin behind cloak, scarf, hat and rubber mask in the 1994 summer movie "The Shadow." Credit: Shout! Factory
That’s young Alec Baldwin behind cloak, scarf, hat and rubber mask in the 1994 summer movie “The Shadow.”
Credit: Shout! Factory

‘The Shadow’: Collector’s Edition
Shout! Factory

As Alec Baldwin retires from fame, it’s worth remembering that 20 years ago Hollywood thought he was A-list material. And why not? One of the most meta moments on “30 Rock” found Baldwin’s Jack Donagy shocking Liz Lemon with a photo of his younger, thinner, more ripped and hairy self. The mock-suaveness that Baldwin oozed for seven seasons he used to ooze for real. Execs found him suitably hot enough to place front and center in a summer tentpole series, namely 1994’s “The Shadow,” a take on the 1930s superhero of pulp novels and radio, where he was voiced by Orson Welles.

Released in the wake of “Lion King” fever, “The Shadow” failed to find a foothold, joining “The Rocketeer” and “The Phantom” as casualties of a time when Hollywood assumed the new thing was resurrected 1930s entertainments. It’s always interesting, even fun, watching wouldbe-blockbusters from the distant past, and Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray issue of “The Shadow” shows that moviegoers of 1994 might not have trounced on a neglected masterpiece, but one that has more than enough charm.

Baldwin plays Lamont Cranston, a villain forcibly reformed, by magic, into a do-gooder with the power of invisibility. Like Bruce Wayne, he poses as a vacuous playboy in 1930s Manhattan; by night he takes down crime, enlisting those he saves into his network of aids. The film, written by the overly-prolific David Koepp (hot off “Jurassic Park”), bangs out the origin story in eight minutes, then gives him no less than a revived ancestor of Genghis Khan, played by “The Last Emperor”’s John Lone, to battle. (Also on hand are Ian McKellen and Tim Curry. If they had more screentime together, they’d be a more enjoyable pair than even McKellen and Patrick Stewart.)

Even with such a formidable baddie and the usual fate of the world at stake, “The Shadow” is pretty low stakes, which is to say it’s diverting but instantly forgettable. Koepp gives his hero a violent backstory and a villain who mirrors his dark side, but the themes remain theoretical rather than visceral. Baldwin doesn’t feel compelled to give his character any humanity. He’s too busy being delightfully arch, especially when busting out his patented husky voice while taunting bad guys. But he doesn’t let anyone in, including Penelope Ann Miller’s hotcha socialite. If “The Shadow” was a comic, it’d be blast, as there’s always more story to come; as an expensive movie, it’s in and out of your mind much too quickly.

Then again, it has a lot of character. It delights in recreating the 1930s, with its Art Deco buildings and swanky wear. Director Russell Mulcahy (of “Highlander” fame) makes each frame look like a comic book panel, and keeps things light and witty. He bangs out a crazy long take that follows a canister riding through a pneumatic tube, and he has the gallows humor to start one shot following a schlub falling off the Empire State Building then pan down to show Baldwin and Miller walking down the street, oblivious of the death in the background. “The Shadow” is no great shakes, but with age it is good shakes.

Also out:

‘The Visitor’ Dug up from under a boulder and released into a time when it still makes little sense, this 1979 Italian whatzit finds John Huston as an alien trying to stop an avian-related apocalypse with help from Jesus (Franco Nero). If that weren’t weird enough, it features director Sam Peckinpah as a friendly abortionist, plus future far right windbag Neal Boortz in one of his two few acting roles.

‘The Grandmaster’ We desperately want to recommend Wong Kar-wai’s typically gorgeous film of martial arts legend Ip Man (Tony Leung). But the only edition available in the U.S. is the one chopped up by Harvey Weinstein, who felt Wong’s original was too sad and Wong-esque. It’s still a beaut.

’12 Years a Slave’ Good timing! The Best Picture winner hits shelves just in time for you to wonder how on earth it only won three Oscars.

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Note the word “catching”: Just as this YA sequel really gets going, it stops dead in its tracks, ready to be picked up by film number three. See you later this year!

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…


Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…


Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.


Transit changes for Labor Day weekend

The MTA is adding additional service Friday for New Yorkers getting out of the city for the long weekend. On Friday, Aug. 29, 27 additional…


'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

Season 11’s top four dancers gave their final performances before America’s Favorite Dancers are announced next week.

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…


'Full House' might be relaunched with some of…

A new "Full House" might be in the works.


Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.


Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.


Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.


When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.


Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…


Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…


The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…


Labor Day essentials

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or barbecuing in the park here are some must-haves for your end-of-summer bash.