It turns out that the film that restored dignity to the Batman franchise has the exact same story as a failed adaptation of a 1930s radio show. I’m talking about 2005’s Batman Begins and 1994’s underrated action film, The Shadow.
Think about it. A rich guy spends years in an Asian country learning skills to fight crime by hiding in the shadows. He then faces a villain with the same skills as him who threatens to destroy the city the hero protects. Plus, both of these films are inspired by radio shows and comics dating back to the 1930s and 1940s.
Let’s find out what similarities lurk in the heart of Batman Begins and The Shadow.
First, I’ll list all of the things these films have in common and then I’ll dive into them more.
- The hero spends seven years training in Asia.
- He has a secret identity.
- He changes his voice when he’s in disguise.
- The hero and villain received the same special training.
- The hero is good friends with the chief (or future chief) of police.
- The supporting cast is filled with famous actors who almost all give memorable performances.
- The hero disappears while someone is trying to talk to him.
- His true identity is discovered by the film’s love interest.
- He has a loyal servant.
- The villain tells the hero he “never learned” to do learn an essential skill, but the hero finally learns it in the end.
- The hero calls for help when he’s in danger of being killed.
- The villain’s plan is to destroy a metropolitan city, just as has been done centuries before.
Seven Years in Tibet
The hero disappears for seven years to learn mysterious arts in China before returning to his hometown in the United States. Lamont Cranston learns how to cloud people’s minds to disguise himself and appear invisible to his opponents. He then returns to New York City ready to fight crime. Bruce Wayne runs away and spends years gaining new skills, such as the ability to hide in the shadows and do other things that help him fight crime upon his return to Gotham City.
The hero hides his identity as a crime fighter behind a façade of a socialite. Cranston frequents a nightclub to give the appearance that he’s an aimless playboy with nothing better to do with his time. Wayne makes himself a joke by clubbing at night and making a scene whenever possible.
Friends with Police Chief
The hero is friends with the head of the police, or the man destined to become such. Cranston’s visits to the nightclub aren’t pointless. He goes there to informally meet with the police chief and learn inside information into police investigations, which helps him throw the chief off the trail of the Shadow. Wayne sneaks into Sergeant James Gordon’s office to form an alliance, and he periodically communicates valuable information to Gordon, which helps him make Lieutenant by the end of the film, on his way to Commissioner.
The hero uses a different voice when he’s in his alter ego. The Shadow sounds much different than Cranston’s voice, and Batman’s voice is throatier than Wayne’s.
The villain has the exact same training as the hero. Shiwan Khan, the last descendant of Genghis Khan, trained under the same master as Cranston. They’re so perfectly matched that when they try to shoot each other, their bullets actually collide. A man going by the name of Ducard has the same knowledge and skills as Wayne since they both supposedly trained under a master called Ra’s Al Ghul. They’re so perfectly matched that Batman is only able to emerge victorious after many back-and-forth attempts to outsmart each other.
Stellar Supporting Cast
These two movies’ supporting casts are a who’s who of famous actors. The Shadow has Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, Peter Boyle, and James Hong all turning in superb performances. Sir Ian McKellen is the only one whose talent is wasted in this film, playing a bumbling nuclear scientist. Batman Begins has Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Tom Wilkinson stealing the show in all of their scenes. The only one who doesn’t live up to expectations is Rutger Hauer, playing a bland business leader.
The hero has a habit of sneaking off in the middle of someone’s sentence. Cranston does it to the police chief and a woman named Margo Lane at the same time while Wayne does it to Gordon and a woman named Rachel Dawes at different times.
Love Interest Learns the Hero’s True Identity
A woman gets close enough to the hero to discern his true identity. Margo Lane (no relation to Lois Lane) is a gifted psychic who is overcome by the villain’s power, but she is brought back to her senses by the Shadow. She soon figures out that the Shadow and Cranston are one and the same. Rachel Dawes is an assistant to the district attorney and she gets poisoned by one of the villains and then saved by Batman. She later learns Batman is her childhood friend Bruce Wayne.
A loyal assistant helps the hero whenever called upon. A cabbie named Moe is the closest Cranston has to a confidante, and he drives the Shadow wherever he needs to go. Alfred Pennyworth acts as Wayne’s chauffer, butler, confidante, and much more.
Call for Help
Water almost proves the hero’s downfall until he calls for help. The Shadow tracks down one of Khan’s henchmen to an empty water tank. The henchman starts to fill the tank and spots the Shadow’s footprints in the water, shooting him. He then locks him in the tank and the Shadow psychically calls for help, which arrives in the nick of time. Batman tracks down the Scarecrow, but he leaves the window open and the rain pouring in alerts Scarecrow to Batman’s presence. He shoots Batman with a dose of scare toxin and lights him on fire. Batman barely escapes by calling Alfred and others to save him.
“You Never Learned”
The hero is berated by the villain for never learning a key lesson in his training. Khan takes Cranston to task for not learning to control a magical sword, but at the climax of the film, Cranston finally figures it out and uses it to beat Khan. Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul mocks Wayne for not learning to mind his surroundings during a fight. However, Wayne turns that criticism back on him during the film’s climax when he finds a way to defeat the villain’s plan.
The Evil Plan
With the aid of a weapon of mass destruction, the villain plans to wipe a large city off the map. Khan intends to detonate a nuclear bomb in the heart of New York City to assert his dominance as the successor to the conqueror, Genghis Khan. His plan is thwarted when the Shadow takes him on while the Shadow’s friends disarm the bomb. Al Ghul’s plan is to destroy Gotham City with scare toxin. He hints that he’s been destroying cities for two millennia. His plan is thwarted when Batman fights him head-on while his friends inoculate the city’s inhabitants to the toxin and prevent a device from causing citywide destruction.
It’s fitting that the Dark Knight should have so much in common with the Shadow. Batman Begins and The Shadow were made by innovative filmmakers (Christopher Nolan and Russell Mulcahy, respectively) who had proven themselves as unique visionaries with their debut films: Memento and Highlander, respectively.
It’s not a slight against Batman Begins to say that its plot closely resembles The Shadow’s. In my opinion, The Shadow is one of the better movies in the comic-book genre and its ending is nothing short of pure genius. Batman Begins is a good film, too. It set a lot of groundwork for the even-better The Dark Knight, and it showed what Nolan could do with a big budget.
Did Nolan and David S. Goyer knowingly copy the plot of The Shadow for their innovative superhero movie? I don’t think so, but I suppose if anyone knows for sure, the Shadow knows.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Yeah, but what about the Phantom?
Who could forget about that cinematic masterpiece? Unfortunately, I don’t know if I’d have the stomach to sit through it again.
Nice take on two movies that I like.
In terms of influence…well, THE SHADOW–the radio drama and original “pulp” stories–were influences on Batman’s creator, Bob Kane. Batman, after all, was created in 1939, when the era of pulp magazines was in full swing.
That’s way cool. I like how ingenuity often feeds more ingenuity in others.
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Had to tweet this… finally someone who recognizes how awesome The Shadow was… I love that movie… and everything about it was perfect… I feel like if it had come out now when comic book heroes are a big thing it would’ve done better… but who knows… sometimes people just don’t recognize real greatness…
Thank you! Some movies really don’t get the respect they deserve. That movie was ahead of its time in terms of its style and mode of storytelling. It felt uneven to ’90s audiences, but today it fits right in with superhero origin stories and such.
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Las películas de Batman han sido magnificas, sin embargo creo que Batman Inicia ha sido mi preferida.
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