Archive for July 1994

True Lies

July 15, 1994

true-lies-1994-04-gThe best visual effect in the budget-busting True Lies is its star. As Harry Tasker, a spy for a government counter-terrorism agency, Arnold Schwarzenegger strides uninvited into a posh party as though he owned the place: slipping flawlessly into various languages, doing a quick tango with a mysterious woman, glad-handing foreign dignitaries as if they were old friends. I didn’t fully understand why he was there, except to set off an explosion and be chased by dozens of terrorists on skis, but then who ever understood the plot of any James Bond movie? The audience settles in for a loud, only slightly comprehensible, but rousing adventure — a spectacle as comfortably familiar as the Indiana Jones series. Harry, no doubt, will save the world and look sensational doing it; the man’s self-confidence is awesome.

True Lies, however, has some twists in store. Director James Cameron, who based his script on the French comedy La Totale, gives Harry a wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter (Eliza Dushku), neither of whom knows what he does for a living; they think he’s a computer salesman. (The thought of that is itself a good joke.) They will soon find out differently, but not before Harry gets a shock of his own: He overhears a conversation and concludes that his wife, Helen, is having an affair with a car salesman named Simon (Bill Paxton). Whether she actually is or not isn’t the point; the point is how amusing Arnold Schwarzenegger is when he’s a wreck. The self-confidence vanishes; Harry stumbles to the street in a daze of incomprehension. Behold the suave superspy, whose wife is boffing some cheesy car salesman! Harry looks utterly deflated; his aura of sudden, emasculating insecurity is one of the movie’s slyest jokes.

Not that James Cameron has morphed Arnie into Woody Allen. True Lies offers the usual Cameron mix of genuine thought and kick-ass, rock-and-roll action. I’ve said it before, and I’ll go on saying it unless he flips out and does an Edith Wharton adaptation: Nobody does action like James Cameron. (Nobody has gotten better performances from Arnie, either.) He may spend more than anyone — True Lies reportedly came in at $100 million plus — but no one delivers more bang for the buck. Cameron’s action sequences are huge objects of beauty, usually with a detail that makes you gasp and laugh at the same time. In one of many highlights, an Uzi is dropped down some stairs; it goes off, thumping along, and manages to take out a slew of terrorists before it hits bottom and clicks empty. Who else would think of that, or pull it off so deftly? Cameron is smitten with the magic of excess, and in True Lies he indulges himself almost nonstop.

Still, Cameron has never resisted spoofing his own hardcore hardware. He’d be uncomfortable, I think, shepherding a solemnly patriotic Tom Clancy thriller. True Lies gets into the drawbacks of spy life; it’s hard, dangerous work, and murder on a relationship. (Cameron might well say the same of making movies.) He pays scant attention to the official plot motor, realizing we’ve seen it before — Arab terrorists threaten to blow up Miami. (Yes, but do they sing?) Cameron also gives a cameo to Charlton Heston, who performs in his usual stentorian, hyper-macho mode, blissfully unaware that in his eyepatch and fake scar he comes off as a rabid goofball. (He’s playing some agency bigwig who briefs Harry and his partners.) Heston, that grand American eagle, isn’t used here as a mythic figure to confer greatness on the movie, as he was in last year’s Tombstone — Cameron makes him seem hawkishly inhuman, as if Heston had just dropped by on his way to the War Room in Dr. Strangelove. The movie shows no particular respect for government institutions that preserve national security by being snoops.

Honesty is the watchword, despite the film’s title. True Lies, it turns out, is less about explosions and stunts than about a marriage that has sagged into vague boredom and low communication. When Harry assumes that Helen is cheating on him, his jovial partner (Tom Arnold in a fine comic performance) levels with him: “What did you expect? She’s a flesh-and-blood woman, and you’re never there.” The vigorous surveillance Harry subjects Helen to is wildly unnecessary, and it has offended some viewers. For me, though, it works nicely as a metaphor for the lengths America will go in order to feel secure in its marriages to other nations. If you feel for poor, spied-on Helen, try transferring your indignation to our intrusive foreign policies. Aside from that, the non-infidelity subplot allows for a ripe sleazeball turn by Bill Paxton, whose Simon is a twerp posing as a spy to get gullible ladies between his sheets. A car salesman pretending to be a spy, versus a spy pretending to be a computer salesman — fighting for the affections of Helen, who has no idea what either man really is. There’s no way True Lies, in which Helen is the least deceptive person on the screen, can be simply written off as misogynist.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is so polished and physically perfect that he needs leading ladies who take him for granted. When Helen awakes to see Harry in bed with her, she doesn’t register that she’s in the sack with the great beefcake of all time; he’s just her loving but boring husband, home late from a sales meeting. It’s a crime that Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t in more movies, but few screenwriters can create women sharp enough for her to play. Helen could have struck us as a ditz, falling for Harry’s lies and then Simon’s, but Curtis makes us see Helen’s confusing mixture of respect for the reassuring family life and lust for something new and exciting. For roughly the film’s last hour, she gets both. For reasons too ornate to explain here, Helen finds herself posing as a hooker and doing a sultry dance for a customer (who turns out to be Harry). The way this fundamentally inhibited woman gets over her initial embarrassment and gives in to the motion is superb. From the start of her career (shrieking and stabbing her way through Halloween), Curtis has specialized in repressed women who let the armor of ladylike demeanor fall with a resounding, gratifying clang. Harry’s eyes become baffled fried eggs as he witnesses his wife’s awakening; the sequence is hilarious.

The heart of True Lies is this relationship, so I wonder why Cameron had to make the thriller aspects of the plot timely and “significant” (the terrorists are avenging what we did in the Gulf), especially since it makes no sense. The terrorists show up every so often to scream and gesticulate; for their other trick, they blow things up. They’re almost no more than distractions blocking Harry and Helen’s reconciliation, and the climax — featuring a blown-out bridge, a nuclear warhead, and a Harrier jet — is massively exciting but empty; the punishing noise of the movie drowns out the dozens of logical questions (why is Harry’s daughter left alone with the key?, etc.). The final outcome isn’t logical either, but we buy into it because Cameron has built up to it. True Lies puts a neat spin on marital stability: The family that spies together stays together.

Forrest Gump

July 6, 1994

The commercials for Forrest Gump make it look like the sort of movie described as “wonderful” and “heartwarming”; fortunately, it’s better than that. I had read the book, by Winston Groom, and hoped the movie wouldn’t lose the engaging voice of the novel — the voice of Forrest Gump (IQ 75), a simple-minded, good-hearted Southern boy whose life is a series of whimsical, mildly satirical episodes. As it happens, Tom Hanks, as Gump, narrates the movie from a bus-stop bench and delivers many of Groom’s best lines. The script isn’t as funny as the novel — the film’s Gump isn’t as much of a screw-up as the book’s Gump — but it’s funny enough, and sometimes it hits daring notes. When Gump tells us that his childhood sweetheart Jenny is lucky to have a father who kisses and touches her and her sisters all the time, the line is funny because it’s exactly what the blinkered, innocent Gump would assume. But it’s also not funny. It’s these examples of Gump’s trusting nature being utterly inaccurate that save Forrest Gump from being mush.

The movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis, isn’t meant to be taken literally; like many enchanting films, it falls apart under close scrutiny. Most people, though, won’t have the heart to scrutinize it, and, aside from a few minor complaints, I see no need to, either. Its flaws don’t do it any great harm; it’s as comforting as an afternoon nap, but also as refreshing, and it’s going to be a big hit. Forrest Gump creates its own floating reality, and the problem many critics have with this is that it deals, in large part, with actual historical events (much of the film addresses Vietnam and the peace movement). The movie is meant to be American history as seen through the eyes of a man who understands very little of what he sees. And he speaks for people who can’t make any more sense of the last three decades than he can.

In other words, Forrest Gump — America considered through a folksy, satirical lens — will annoy those who prefer their satire with a harder edge (i.e., satire that punctures the “correct” targets). The movie has drawn fire for being reactionary, and it may well become a favorite of conservatives, but I think that has more to do with what didn’t survive the transition from book to movie (Groom’s satire was more even-handed) because of time limitations. For example, the radical hippies of the peace movement are presented as slimy, predatory womanizers who slap their girlfriends around (one guy even does this and then blames it on “that goddamn Johnson”). But talk to some women who remember those days and they’ll tell you this isn’t far from the truth: The “sexual revolution” turned out to be a new, hip variation on the time-honored male ploy to get women to spread their legs, and we’re still paying for it. The critics who want to be intellectually one up on the large, stupid wad of Americans who embrace this film are attacking the wrong movie for the wrong reasons. Forrest Gump, a proudly square fantasia, has much more to offer than a likable but coldly hip critics’ darling like Four Weddings and a Funeral, and certainly more than the summer of 1994’s crop of movies that don’t ask you to feel anything — The Shadow, Wyatt Earp, The Crow, The Flintstones, and on and on.

Almost 25 years ago, Pauline Kael wrote that the then-popular movie Joe (another counter-counterculture hit, all but forgotten today) could easily be turned into a Saturday-morning cartoon, and the episodic, virtually plotless Forrest Gump would also be ideal (“Gump Plays Football,” “Gump Goes to Vietnam,” “Gump Starts a Shrimping Business”). At two hours and twenty-two minutes, the movie is an epic ramble, with characters disappearing and reappearing as the story requires. Gump is a safe guide through the tumult of the ’60s, the absurdity of the ’70s, and the greed of the ’80s. Jenny (played in adulthood by Robin Wright), on the other hand, seems to experience everything terrible about those decades: drugs, soulless sex, more abuse, more drugs, and one final pitfall that isn’t in the book. Letting her pristine features collapse into numbness, Wright fleshes out Jenny’s self-disgust. This masochistic woman isn’t ready for Gump, who, in his infinite kindness, wants only to love her. She embodies American disillusionment, and she will probably make a lot of feminists foam at the mouth. I can’t say I disagree; the book’s Jenny certainly wasn’t this self-hating (she was, in fact, more of a free spirit like Gump). Gump flies through the decades with nary a scratch, but a vague, doomy cloud hangs over poor Jenny, who always makes the worst choices. You may fairly ask what this woman is being punished for.

The movie, however, continues to see through Gump’s eyes, and since he never judges or condemns Jenny, we clearly aren’t meant to. Even the aforementioned feminists may forgive much when they see how tenderly Gump looks at Jenny (the camera agrees with him). Here, Tom Hanks cements his status as the movies’ great modern romantic lead. Handsome (though not in a plastic cover-boy way — especially not with the dorky Gump buzz-cut he’s been given), non-threatening, emotionally direct, Hanks is the obvious successor to James Stewart, who in his early thirties would have done well by Gump. Hanks’ Gump is as solemnly attentive as an owl, absorbing information he can’t add up. But he’s also confident enough in himself to be good-natured despite his low intelligence; he remembers nothing so much as what his dear, tough mama (Sally Field in a tart, restrained performance) told him: You’re no different than anyone else. One of the movie’s ironies is that only an idiot like Gump could have such terrific self-esteem.

Zemeckis makes Tom Hanks lovable, but Hanks resists being shameless — he has too much good humor for that. His beautifully modulated work as a grieving man in Sleepless in Seattle seemed too hefty for that piffly romantic comedy, yet he had a superb moment parodying women’s weepy connection to An Affair to Remember — he and a buddy sobbed while recalling choice scenes in The Dirty Dozen. And in Philadelphia he proved he wouldn’t disgrace himself by shilling for easy tears. Hanks doesn’t make Forrest Gump a cutie-pie. He intensifies his greatest resource as an actor — that we can read him better than any star since James Stewart — so that Gump’s feelings come across with startling clarity. When Hanks has his big moment near the end — Gump talking to Jenny and fighting to keep his composure — the audience is his to lose, and he doesn’t. He also has the generosity to step aside and let his co-stars take over: Mykelti Williamson as Bubba, who worships shrimp; Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan, who is disabled in Vietnam and blames Gump for saving his life, because he’d wanted to die heroically in combat. These fine actors ground the movie in bitter reality.

A review of Forrest Gump wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the astounding computer-generated visual effects, which enable Gump to interact (in actual newsreel footage) with JFK, Nixon, John Lennon, and many others, and also give us small pleasures that don’t announce themselves as artificial: a ping-pong ball, the feather during the opening credits, the peace rally of thousands of people — all computerized images, of course. This shouldn’t be surprising coming from Robert Zemeckis, the toy-shop magician who seems to set himself a new technical challenge with each movie (his previous film was Death Becomes Her). What is surprising is that Zemeckis should have such assured control of such potentially sugary material. Embracing sentiment while avoiding the pitfalls of sentimentality is a special effect in itself.

Killing Zoe / Clerks

July 2, 1994

You have to feel sorry for Roger Avary. He started out as a clerk at the now-famous Video Archives in California, working with (and befriending) the now-famous Quentin Tarantino. The two film geeks talked movies and watched cheesy videos until dawn. And when they weren’t renting or arguing about movies, they wrote their own: Avary, it’s been reported, made uncredited contributions to Tarantino’s scripts for Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, and Natural Born Killers, and he has a co-story credit on Pulp Fiction. This has undeniably been the year of Quentin; roughly 5,000 magazine articles have made the same points about how omnivorously film-literate Tarantino is, how fond he is of movie board games, ad nauseum. Quentinmania has eclipsed Avary’s directorial debut, Killing Zoe, which has been noticed, if at all, in terms of its being “a movie by Quentin’s pal.” (Tarantino served as an executive producer on the film.) Avary must fear that no matter what he does, he’ll forever work under Quentin’s long, lanky shadow. Well, if he goes on making stupidly violent clinkers like Killing Zoe, he’ll deserve no better fate.

Let me be clear: I am not slamming this Roger Avary film for not being a Quentin Tarantino film. I am slamming it for not being a good Roger Avary film. Killing Zoe has some tense, funny moments, but overall this is — sorry — the sort of nihilistic bloodfest Tarantino satirizes so suavely. Sitting through the moribund Boxing Helena (another bad gerund film!), the directorial debut of Jennifer Chambers Lynch, I asked myself whether I was being unfair to her by holding her movie to the high standards set by her father, David. But then I thought: Nah, the movie sucks by any standard. Same with Killing Zoe. The characters have no intrinsic interest, no life, nothing to set them apart except a few clumsy pop-culture references. The plot — a pack of internationally mixed thieves pull a bank heist — is just a gory hipster rewrite of Dog Day Afternoon (whatever can go wrong does); it’s Reservoir Dog Day Afternoon.

The star, Eric Stoltz (as a jaded safecracker), should really come up with a new look; he’s had the same grunge-Christ hairdo and goatee for several movies now. And he’s been giving pretty much the same nasal, neurotic performance, making me forget how appealing he was in The Waterdance and Mask and (I’m not kidding) The Fly II. Stoltz is Zed (wasn’t that the name of one of the hillbilly rapists in Pulp Fiction? Where’s Maynard?), a slacker who lived in Paris as a child. His boyhood pal Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade) has been planning a bank heist, and he wants Zed in on it. The night before the heist, Eric and his cretinous buddies treat Zed to a heroin-fueled paint-Paris-red session. Then the heavily armed thieves descend on the bank, and it’s Roger Avary’s turn to paint Paris, or at least every available surface, blood-red. Killing Zoe is big on giggly sadism disguised as a moralistic comment on amorality; it’s everything Reservoir Dogs was unfairly accused of being. We’re meant to experience the violence through Zed’s dazed, passive eyes, but since we feel superior to Zed early on — we judge him by the idiotic company he keeps — the movie’s viewpoint is thrown out of whack.

The movie is also, not coincidentally, boring. Killing Zoe grinds forward to its predetermined splattery conclusion. We don’t care about anyone in the movie, not even the titular Zoe (Julie Delpy), a student/prostitute who services Zed in the first reel and then, improbably, turns up later as a teller in the bank. (I’m always bumping into students/prostitutes/bank tellers.) I trust I will ruin nobody’s experience of the film by revealing that Zoe is not killed. Just about everyone else is, though. The title isn’t just misleading, it’s dumb: It looks as if the title was originally Killing Zone and someone left off the ‘n’. (The meaning of Zoe as a name is “life,” so, like, the movie is about killing life, y’know? Heavy, man. Very French.)

Is there nothing enjoyable in this ugly, scattershot movie? Jean-Hugues Anglade puts a mean, witty spin on his lines, but in no time flat I got sick of looking at him and his gang of scuzzy bohemians. Avary stages a long, woozy Paris-nightlife sequence, with Zed reacting badly to various drugs (it’s like an outtake from Sprockets), and you can’t tell what Avary is doing; on some level, he seems to appreciate these drugged-out jerks. They do come to a bad end, but it’s a movie-ish bad end, a Pacino-Scarface bad end — a blaze-of-glory bad end, in which Eric, the lead sociopath, takes dozens of explosive bullet hits and then slithers to the floor in romantic slow-mo. Killing Zoe is a pointless, derivative exercise in mayhem for its own sake. I have a friend who hates movie violence, who told me, shuddering, that an old boyfriend of hers had raved about Reservoir Dogs. Based on his description of it, she’s immovably convinced (without having seen it) of its thuggish, unredeemed brutality. And what I wonder now is whether her ex was actually talking about Killing Zoe.

The disaffected generation that Avary is so eagerly courting is much more likely to respond to Clerks, a $27,000 first effort by the 24-year-old New Jersey filmmaker Kevin Smith. “Write what you know,” they say, and Smith paid his dues working in a convenience store while making this movie set mostly in a convenience store. Dante (Brian O’Halloran) toils at the Quik-Mart; his buddy Randal (Jeff Anderson) semi-works nearby at a chintzy video store. The movie isn’t really about anything but these two slackers passing the time on a particularly bad day, but Smith has a remarkable ear for stylized, articulate dialogue — it’s the grunge version of staircase wit, and Smith gives his characters the profane, vicious comebacks we wish we had the presence of mind (and freedom) to come up with. (Sometimes the comebacks are very profane: the movie, which has no sex or violence, narrowly avoided an NC-17 rating for its language alone.) Dante, who’s kind of an Everyslacker, is a decent guy afraid to make a decisive move in his life; he’s also torn between his duplicitous ex-girlfriend Caitlin (Lisa Spoonauer) and his current girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghighliotti), who appalls Dante when he asks her to be honest about her sexual past — and she is. (Asking about a girlfriend’s past bedmates is the guy equivalent of a woman’s asking “Do you think I’m fat?”) Randal, a cheerfully nihilistic slacker, tells Dante to “shit or get off the pot,” which is the movie’s closest thing to a message — and what lifts it out of the usual self-coddling whininess of Gen-X pop. Clerks doesn’t feel as if it’s trying too hard, and that’s its major charm.


July 2, 1994

This awesomely idiotic kiddie comedy is the worst movie John Hughes never made, a witless exercise in adult-bashing that seemed to require masochism in the few parents dumb enough to take their kids to it. Elijah Wood, usually fresh enough to triumph over rotten material but not this time, is North, a perfect boy disenchanted with his uncaring parents (Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus). He seeks a “divorce” from them and travels the world in search of better parents. This gives director Rob Reiner many opportunities to indulge in crass stereotyping: in addition to North’s materialistic, hypochondriacal Jewish parents, we have Dan Aykroyd and Reba McIntire as hee-hawing Texans; Keone Young and Lauren Tom as opportunistic Hawaiians; Graham Greene and Kathy Bates as Eskimos who send old Grandpa (Abe Vigoda) off on an ice floe to die (yeah, exactly the sort of comedy one looks for in movies for kids); and John Ritter and Faith Ford as clones of 1950s TV parents.

Meanwhile, North’s scheming schoolchum Winchell (the preternaturally obnoxious Matthew McCurley) gets kids across the country to overthrow their parents, with the help of ambulance chaser Jon Lovitz. Bruce Willis, in a variety of costumes ranging from the Easter Bunny to a FedEx driver, is North’s guardian angel, who eventually leads him back into the loving arms of his suddenly sensitive parents. That this is all a dream doesn’t make North any less stupid, boring, offensive, or unfunny. The movie not only ridicules its hopeful adoptive parents (it even makes light of the Texans’ losing their son in a stampede) but says that a good way to make your parents appreciate you is to worry them sick. A preposterous bomb from start to finish, its only merit is furnishing the title of one of Roger Ebert’s funnier books.

The Shadow

July 1, 1994

shadowfeattured1To many fans, the Shadow — who hit his peak of popularity in the ’30s and ’40s, on radio and in pulp magazines — isn’t terribly interesting in and of himself. He has a set of tricks, mostly involving the clouding of men’s minds; he packs two .45s that he isn’t shy about using; and that’s about all there is to him. What a lot of people enjoyed in the Shadow’s adventures was his army of loyal agents. He had no personality; his agents never felt free to bend the elbow with him after helping him send some villains to a better life. But they owed their lives to him, and were devoted to him. The agents provided a core of humanity, and we identified with them as they tried to carry out their dark master’s latest strange assignment.

The main problem with The Shadow, the attractive but empty new movie about the legend, is that the agents take a back seat. Instead, the script (credited to David Koepp) goes the other way and humanizes the Shadow. As played by Alec Baldwin, he’s now a conflicted, weary man struggling with the darkness of his past and his guilt over his violent instincts. This stab at Unforgiven-style moral ambiguity doesn’t fit this character, who should be no more troubled by his casual fascism than Dirty Harry would be. The Shadow of this movie is basically Batman with a hocus-pocus background. He doesn’t just fight evil, he fights the evil in himself; he “knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men” because it lurks in his, too. Sorry, I prefer the Shadow straight up, no psychobabble chaser. Don’t the moviemakers know that if they shed analytical light on the Shadow, he ceases to be, well, shadowy?

The movie looks fine. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, who previously perpetrated Highlander and Ricochet, The Shadow is immeasurably better than those films, which isn’t saying much. Mulcahy unveils a sumptuous ’20s milieu, with lavishly detailed sets that I hope to see adorning a good movie someday. The look is neither gothic (Batman) nor Sunday-funnies (Dick Tracy); the designers may have taken DC’s Shadow comic books of the ’70s, drawn by that master of mood Michael Wm. Kaluta, as their blueprint. The streets are consistently gray, as if the Shadow had already clouded everyone’s mind. In other scenes, when the Shadow slips into his society-lad identity Lamont Cranston and schmoozes at the Cobalt Club, the atmosphere is pleasurably ritzy. You wouldn’t be surprised if Howard Hughes dropped in, the way he did in The Rocketeer.

Yet they’ve painted such a lovely art-deco-film-noir city for the Shadow to live in without giving him much to do there. The script pits him against a nasty warrior (John Lone) who’s supposed to be a descendant of Genghis Khan. Lone, who should have left this inscrutable-Oriental crap in the dust after slumming in Year of the Dragon, plays Khan without irony, a fatal mistake. Khan, who wants to take out New York with an atomic bomb (I couldn’t tell you why, really), also knows what evil lurks in the Shadow’s heart. Underneath, Khan insists, they’re both barbarians. This gives the Shadow many boring occasions to doubt himself.

Meanwhile, the Shadow’s operatives … well, they sit around and wait to be called. The Shadow’s cabbie, Moe Shrevnitz (Peter Boyle), miraculously appears whenever his master needs to be somewhere fast. (And why does nobody call the cabbie by his nickname, Shrevvy?) Dr. Tam (Sab Shimono) seems to be in the movie to defuse charges of racism, but though we see the Shadow saving his life near the beginning, we never see Tam repay the favor. (Okay, so he identifies the metal of an ancient coin — big whoop.) Harry Vincent, one of the Shadow’s key agents, is absent. And if you blink, you miss the computer whiz Burbank (Andre Gregory — why is he even in this?). The script comes right out and acknowledges the agents’ uselessness in a rather sorry shot of Shrevvy standing outside bored in the rain, while the Shadow is inside saving New York.

The agent who most detains the camera is Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), who has been re-imagined as a very odd woman who “hears voices.” Actually, she’s a psychic (which is news to me), and she develops an instinctive rapport with the Shadow. She also falls in love with him, following in the footsteps of Michelle Pfeiffer in Wolf — a woman fascinated by a good man’s dark side. What he, in turn, sees in her besides her cleavage is unclear. The Shadow is, or should be, the least likely hero to succumb to the tender emotions, but at the end, of course, he must smooch Margo. Can’t she just be a dedicated, competent agent? Why must she bloom into a gratuitous rose to be plucked by Alec Baldwin? Miller gives the latest in a string of bland performances, in which the only tension is her almost falling out of her dress in every scene.

As for Baldwin, he’s better than I expected. He’s young and handsome enough to pass as Lamont Cranston, and Mulcahy has given him the trademark big nose in his scenes as the Shadow (the better, I guess, to sniff out crime). His Shadow is adequately intimidating, though his laugh can’t touch the blood-freezing chuckle I remember from the radio show. (Tim Curry, as a wormy crook who throws in with Khan, has a much more sinister laugh; he’s so exquisitely slimy he easily steals the movie.) Baldwin does show some wit when Cranston, posing as one of his own operatives, turns up at Dr. Tam’s house; Cranston seems to enjoy this self-effacing Henry V disguise.

Will you like The Shadow more if, unlike me, you have no preconceived ideas about how it should be done? Maybe, but what’s on the screen is so tired by now that you’ve seen it before even if this is your introduction to the Shadow. What’s missing is what would have set it apart: the interaction of the agents — the sense that they, not the Shadow, are the real heroes, the true forces of good. The implicit joke of the Shadow is that this unfathomable loner needs his operatives; without them, he can’t function — he’s a .45 without bullets. The Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood downplayed his Merry Men, too. Have movie stars gotten such fat heads that they won’t play heroes who need a little help from their friends?