Opinion by A. C. Miller
If you’ve ever seen a Woody Allen film, you know his style of humor. He usually portrays someone down on his luck in some mundane, obscure, or self-inflicting way. And, while doing so, he uses a bumbling wit that furthers the character’s spiral. Usually, it plays out efficiently and makes for a great flick, but sometimes it stumbles. Shadows and Fog, based on Allen’s own Kafka-esque play “Death,” stumbles into a fall.
Allen is bookkeeper Kleinman, who, through a series of misunderstandings, becomes the prime suspect in a murder case. All while the real murderer stays on the loose killing unsuspecting victims with a piano wire. Honestly, the humor doesn’t land. Even with its stellar cast (with a few great cameos including Jodie Foster and Madonna) can’t salvage the paranoid plotline. The only thing that saves Shadows and Fog is Carlo di Palma’s cinematography.
Since the aim is to encapsulate Kafka, Brecht and German Expressionism a la Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau in the 1920’s and early 30’s, in this one aspect, it’s a success,
Since Allen’s protagonist is his usual paranoid nebbish, and Mia Farrow the down-on-her-luck victim of abuse (played to much better affect in The Purple Rose of Cairo), something new is needed. The shadows and fog that di Palma focuses on enhance the story, and highlight a truly beautiful set, reminiscent of the likes of M (Lang, ’31), and most British Film Noirs.
And without George DeTitta, Jr. and Amy Marshall in charge of set decoration, this film would have been at the mercy of an otherwise derivative narrative. Gene Siskel rated it as one of the worst films of 1992.
Throughout Shadows and Fog, Allen remains entrenched in his tried and true formulas, almost a throwback to his superior works like Love and Death and Sleeper, where his anachronistic persona breaks the fourth wall with asides and references that are more Bob Hope than a cog in the wheel from his time.
Throughout Kleinman’s harrowing journey, there’s rarely anyone else around when he is pursued by the killer, which is probably the most humorous part of this film. I’m sure we’ve all seen a handful of black and white movies in which someone is running from a killer, but they’re seemingly alone while doing so; almost as if midnight in any city was a designated curfew even if the person being sought after was the suspect’s first victim.
While Shadows and Fog gets an excellent limited edition Blu-Ray restoration from Twilight Time, it isn’t enough to relieve the weak script. Though it’s worth checking out for any cinephile looking for beautifully crisp black and white imagery.
Honestly, I’m a big fan of Woody Allen. I’ve seen dozens of his films, but just because some are good, that doesn’t mean all are. So, whether you’re a big fan of the German Expressionist movement, you’re a massive Woody Allen fan, Mia Farrow is your spirit animal, or you just love cameos by Madonna, Shadows and Fog should be on your radar. However, if you’re truly looking for a humorous, well-told, compelling comedic mystery, it might be best to look elsewhere.