In the 15 years since he cemented his reputation with the Oscar-winning ANNIE HALL, Woody Allen has made films ranging from the sublime to the downright embarassing. He has also shown a regrettable predilection for stylistic perfection over emotional intensity (THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO,
Allen's self-avowed personal favorite, is a prime example). Though generally perceived as a failure, SHADOWS AND FOG was still one of the more interesting releases of 1992.
Allen's 21st feature (not including WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY?) is set in an unnamed Eastern European town and shot in an expressionist style, apparently in homage to the great German films of the 1920s, with Kurt Weill music behind the whole film. Kleinman (Allen), a timid clerk who hopes for nothing
more in life than a promotion, is visited by a group of vigilantes who want his help in tracking down a serial killer. Kleinman doesn't understand how he can help, or what they want him to do, but they still expect him to do it.
At a nearby circus, sword swallower Irmy (Mia Farrow) leaves her noncommittal lover, the clown (John Malkovich), after finding him in bed with acrobat Marie (Madonna). She comes to the town and is rescued from the dangerous streets by a prostitute (Lily Tomlin) who takes her to a brothel; there,
Irmy shyly befriends the other prostitutes (including Kathy Bates and Jodie Foster). Some customers come in, including the student Jack (John Cusack), who demands to take Irmy to bed. She refuses, but he keeps bidding higher until she finally agrees--and finds to her surprise that she is capable
of enjoying sex.
Meanwhile, Kleinman visits the doctor (Donald Pleasence) who is examining the bodies of the murderer's victims. After he leaves, the doctor is murdered by the killer. The police investigate, find a glass that Kleinman had used, and take it away for fingerprinting. When an innocent friend of
Kleinman's is arrested for the murders, Kleinman goes to the police station to lend him support, and sees the glass. At the same time, Irmy is brought in for whoring without a license and, in the confusion, Kleinman steals the glass. He and Irmy leave and confront someone who they think is the
killer, but who turns out to be Kleinman's boss, a Peeping Tom. Feeling guilty at having accepted money for sex, Irmy gives some of her earnings to a poor woman on the street with a baby.
The vigilantes come across Kleinman, find the glass on his person, and accuse him of the murders; he flees. The clown, who has been looking for Irmy--and has learned from Jack of her infidelity--catches up with her. As they argue, they find the body of the poor woman, and rescue her baby. The
clown doesn't want it at first, but soon becomes enamored of it and wants another. Kleinman flees to the brothel but, when it's searched by the police, speeds off to the circus. There, Irmy is stalked by the real killer but saved by Kleinman, who in turn is saved by a magician who uses magic
tricks to trap the murderer. Kleinman, seeing the power of illusion over reality, decides to join the circus as an apprentice to the magician.
Allen fans will notice several familiar elements in SHADOWS AND FOG, including the influence of Bergman (particularly THE MAGICIAN and SAWDUST AND TINSEL); the philosophical exchanges between unlikely individuals; and the casting of Mia Farrow as a woman who befriends the Allen character after
being abused by her partner. Allen has assembled a celebrity-studded cast, though not all his choices work: Madonna seems out of place, and her seduction of Malkovich is unerotic and unbelievable. There are some stylistic lapses, too, notably the insistent, distracting panning of the camera during
the conversation between Farrow and the prostitutes.
While Allen's desire to tackle Big Moral Issues has resulted in some interesting work, SHADOWS AND FOG works on an almost exclusively cerebral level. It's hard not to wish he would return to the more emotionally involving--and funnier--territory of ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN. Allen has stated in an
interview with the Los Angeles Times that he believes he's never made a truly great film. SHADOWS AND FOG takes him no closer to that goal. (Violence, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: In the 15 years since he cemented his reputation with the Oscar-winning ANNIE HALL, Woody Allen has made films ranging from the sublime to the downright embarassing. He has also shown a regrettable predilection for stylistic perfection over emotional inten… (more)