Some funny timing: Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the release of The Phantom, the adaptation of the old comic strip hero created by Lee Falk. Falk was a prodigious talent who also worked as a theater director and novelist; as a comic-strip creator he also founded the long-running strip Mandrake the Magician, about a guy who used his magic powers (hypnosis, invisibility, levitation) to fight crime. Created in 1934, Mandrake is sometimes billed as the first superhero. (He arrived about four years before Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1.) And 20 years after The Phantom movie, Mandrake will follow his colleague to the screen.

The Tracking Board reports that Sacha Baron Cohen, currently appearing in theaters around the country in Alice Through the Looking Glass, will star as Mandrake in a big-screen adaptation of Falk’s strip directed by Etan Cohen (Get Hard). Mandrake was previously the star of his own Columbia serial way back in 1939, and in the ’50s there was a Mandrake TV pilot, though the show was never picked up for series. Kids of my generation might also remember the short-lived Defenders of the Earth cartoon, which teamed Mandrake with other old pulp and comic strip heroes like the Phantom and Flash Gordon. But some 80 years after his debut, Cohen’s (and Baron Cohen’s) film will be the first Mandrake feature in movie theaters. Talk about a long con.

According to The Tracking Board, this is just the latest in a long line of attempted Mandrake movies, with directors like Chuck Russell and Mimi Leder attached to direct scripts by writers ranging from Peter Magill, to David Levien and Brian Koppelman. With Cohen and Baron Cohen involved you immediately get a sense of what this thing will be; Mandrake will slam evil, of course, but only in the course of a lot of comedy.


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