For a composer arguably most celebrated in the realms of sci-fi, horror and action, Jerry Goldsmith's contributions to the superhero genre were surprisingly thin on the ground. After Supergirl, The Shadow is perhaps his most notable comic-book effort, one in which Goldsmith doffs his cap to the master of latter-day, brooding superhero scores, Danny Elfman. The problem was neither film was especially successful, a pity in the case of The Shadow as director Russell Mulcahy conjured up one of the more enjoyably tongue-in-cheek post-Batman flicks. Taken from the pulp comics, Alec Baldwin stars as Lamont Cranston, a man who disguises himself as a masked vigilante with the ability to see into the hearts of men, clouding their judgment so he seems invisible. Battling the last descendant of Genghis Khan in 1930s New York, the art direction carries a pleasingly retro feel throughout (somewhat akin to the Elfman-scored Dick Tracy) and it's bolstered no end by Goldsmith's typically commanding score.
Although the dark tones of the brilliant central theme carry definite vibes of the classic Batman March, the authoritative sense of rhythm, coupled with the powerful full orchestra, is pure Goldsmith. He was arguably Hollywood's finest composer of action and excitement, always squeezing every ounce of energy out of the ensemble, and The Shadow does little to buck the trend.
What's noteworthy about The Shadow is its slightly tongue-in-cheek quality; clearly riffing on the campy nature of the film, Goldsmith composed one of his most straightforwardly entertaining 90s scores. The rich, resonant brass tones in The Poppy Fields are so blatant in their statement of heroism, that the score's sense of fun is apparent from the outset. Of course the theme is peppered with Goldsmith's usual attention to detail, being underpinned at the start with an eerie rising electronic figure hinting at The Shadow's violent past as an opium lord in the Far East (a history laid bare in the film's opening scenes).
Throughout, the interplay between electronics, orchestra and unusual instrumentation is dazzling and complex in the way only a Goldsmith score can be. Sadly, the full score has never officially been released; this commercial release packages 30 minutes of highlights together with the unfortunate result that certain aspects of the film's musical identity get overlooked, most notably the love theme between Cranston and psychic socialite Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller). There's also little chance for Goldsmith to pay lip-service to the film's jazzy setting, that aspect of the story instead being left to certain source music selections.
Nevertheless, it still packs a brisk momentum and variety within those 30 minutes! The Sanctum puts the main theme through a variety of mickey mouse techniques, passing it from the synths to the orchestra and back again, before it gains enormous force and builds into a wonderfully triumphant piece. Who Are You? ushers in the first strains of ominousness in the form of the villain's theme, one which carries a definite Oriental slant and is backed by an array of clattering wooden percussion. Once again, the intervening electronic work is marvellously detailed and done in typically tasteful Goldsmith fashion, always supporting the orchestra, never overtaking it. The quiet bursts of the main theme also seem to suggest a connection between The Shadow and his nemesis, Shiwan Khan (John Lone).
Chest Pains which follows is terrific, a full bore piece of Goldsmith action where the brassy statements of the theme are supported by a rumbling piano and synths, before the full orchestra takes over. Again it must be said the music carries a much more light-hearted feel than most of Goldsmith's action work around the same period, lending it a sense of campy charm. The Knife again ushers in more of the whooshing electronic work, percussion and relentlessly building orchestra, building a sense of urgency in the way only Goldsmith could.
The Hotel is the score's lengthiest track and allows some wonderfully extravagant variations on the main theme to play out at length; carrying with it a sense of Elfman-esque Gothic menace. The insistent interplay between the electronics and the orchestra however couldn't be mistaken for any other composer; Goldsmith did it more successfully than anyone else. At the same time the brassy declarations of the main Shadow theme find the composer in a rare kind of exuberant mood. The Tank is the score's standout action piece, a tremendously energetic track where the wooden percussion, brass, strings and timpani build an astonishing momentum. No other composer in Hollywood was able to portray danger and anxiety as effectively in their action music.
Things end on a wholly satisfying note in Frontal Lobotomy, which wraps up Khan's theme, the infrequently heard love theme and finally The Shadow theme itself in a confident, brisk 2 minute package. It's one of Goldsmith's most purely enjoyable end pieces, and marks his formidable talent at moving from one emotion to another so smoothly. The final magnificent burst of the main theme at the end is guaranteed to leave the listener with a massive grin, ending the score on the same tongue-in-cheek note with which it started.
Goldsmith had a wonderful decade in the 90s with such landmark scores as Total Recall, Basic Instinct, The Ghost and the Darkness and others. However, very rarely did his scores brim with the sense of fun heard in The Shadow. It's a pity the film wasn't a success as Goldsmith's wonderful, full-blooded effort could clearly have gone on to enjoy greater heights of popularity. In terms of straightforward appeal however, it's one of the composer's most purely enjoyable, boasting a terrific main theme, typically accomplished electronic writing and some thunderous action music, all of which is underpinned with a rare kind of bouncy fun that's a joy to behold.