Woody Allen/1991/USA/85 mins
Available on Blu-Ray
One of Allen’s more overlooked films and based on his 1975 play Death, Shadows and Fog is an interesting foray into German Expressionism even if it does contain the director’s trademark neurotic humour. Allen stars as Kleinman, a meek clerk who is woken by a gang of vigilantes. They are on the hunt for a serial killer who strangles his victims, and they need his help. Despite wanting no part in the situation other than a decent night’s sleep, Kleinman is forced into a night-long series of farcical situations where he is alternately accused of being unaware of the ever-changing vigilante plans and of being the killer himself. Amongst all of this, he meets Irmy (Mia Farrow), a circus sword-swallower whose clown boyfriend Paul (John Malkovich) is having an affair with tightrope artist Marie (Madonna).
The Expressionist influence on Shadows can most clearly be seen in Carlo Di Palma’s monochrome cinematography, which provides an atmospheric throwback to films such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) and M (1931). This is especially evident in De Palma’s use of shadows, which are used to great effect during a tense sequence involving the killer, and Donald Pleasance as a cynical doctor and fellow vigilante.
As Kleinman, Allen uses his usual neurotic archetype to great effect, placing the character as a man out of place in the grim, unnamed urban environment and thriller narrative he finds himself in. Similarly, Farrow plays Irmy as another outsider, with the character stranded in a strange town after leaving her husband and initially appearing out of place in a brothel she stays in. The rest of the cast also provide first-rate comic performances – notable examples are John Cusack as a philosophical student who falls in love with Irmy enough to spend $700 for a night with her and Kenneth Mars as an eccentric magician who helps Kleinman using his stage tricks. Shadows and Fog is an interesting experiment for Allen – it’s a sham he hasn’t made another film like it.