As the extremely withdrawn Don Johnston is dumped by his latest woman, he receives an anonymous letter from a former lover informing him that he has a son who may be looking for him. A freelance sleuth neighbor moves Don to embark on a cross-country search for his old flames in search of answers.
A small and insignificant bookkeeper, Kleinman, is awoken one night by his neighbors who wants his help to track down a strangler who has been killing people all over town. The citizens form vigilance committees, but when Kleinman has dressed, his neighbors have disappeared. Meanwhile a circus has come to town. Irmy and Paul are two of the artists. After a fight, Irmy leaves the circus in the middle of the night. Eventually she meets Kleinman, scared and alone. Written by
I made the big mistake of avoiding this for years based on all the garbage I'd heard slammed against it, and as a result it was one of the last Woody Allen movies I got around to seeing. Well, it was worth waiting for, as it turned out to be a real treat. This is one of Allen's strangest works, probably his signature stab at a horror spoof. The black and white moody photography is compelling, modeled after the dark German expressionistic films of Murnau and Fritz Lang, as well as a hearkening back to those delightful old horror and Sherlock Holmes films from Universal Studios.
The action is set in an un-named village in an unknown time and place, but it's patterned after the early 20th Century, with a hint of Germany or even London. True to form, Allen plays a dweeb who is awoken at midnight by an angry mob demanding that he assist them in tracking down a Jack-the-Ripper-like serial murderer who's prowling the streets. He half-heartedly gets dressed and ventures out into the moonlit fog, unsure of just what's expected from him while he manages a few good one-liner's in his apprehension ("they say the killer has the strength of 10 men; I have the strength of one small boy -- with polio").
There are guest stars galore, some of whom have very small parts but are fun to watch anyway. A traveling circus in town consists of a female sword swallower (Mia Farrow) and her clown husband (John Malkovich) who is having an affair with the Strongman's pretty wife (Madonna). When Farrow catches the two of them in a caravan together, she storms out alone into the dark and is taken in by a street walker (Lily Tomlin) who lets her unwind inside her brothel with the rest of the whores (two of which are played by Kathy Bates and Jodie Foster). Some of the finest moments in the film come within the whorehouse, complimented by philosophical discussion and interesting camera-work. It's there that a wealthy young patron (John Cusack) fancies Mia and coaxes her into bed for one night. Her ultimate guilt over the encounter leads her back into the dense fog, until she meets up (predictably) with Woody. Also in small roles are Donald Pleasence in good form as a mad coroner who wants to analyze the essence of the killer's "evil" (possibly playing on his involvement in the HALLOWEEN films) and a wasted turn by Fred Gwynne (don't blink or you'll miss him) as one of the villagers.
SHADOWS AND FOG is flawed to be sure (there are a lot of loose ends remaining untied for one thing) but it's visually appealing and rich in atmosphere and the language of the night. I enjoyed it. *** out of ****
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