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SHADOWS AND FOG (director/writer: Woody Allen; cinematographer: Robert Greenhut; editor: Susan E. Morse; cast: Woody Allen (Max Kleinman), Mia Farrow (Irmy), John Malkovich (Paul), Donald Pleasence (The Doctor), Lily Tomlin (Prostitute), Kathy Bates (Prostitute), Kenneth Mars (Armstead, Magician), Michael Kirby (The Killer), Julie Kavner (Alma), Madonna (Marie), Charles Cragin (Spiro the Clairvoyant), John Cusack (Student Jack), Jodie Foster (Prostitute), Fred Gwynne (Hacker’s Follower), Wallace Shawn (Simon Carr), David Ogden Stiers (Hacker), Eszter Balint (Woman with Baby), Philip Bosco (Mr. Paulsen), Anne Lange (Prostitute), Charles Cragin (Spiro), William H. Macy (Cop with Spiro), Camille Saviola (Landlady), Kate Nelligan (Eve, Max’s girlfriend); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Robert Greenhut; MGM/UA Video; 1992)
“Has few laughs.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Woody Allen (“Bananas”/”Annie Hall”/”Sleeper”) directs and stars in an arty experimental Bergman type of comedy, trying to land on Kafka turf, that has few laughs and makes few points. It uses to no avail cameos from many stars. It’s shot in black and white in a New York studio with sets meant to resemble a Central European city during the Twenties, that has the German-expressionist look of say Fritz Lang’s M; but that style, though deliciously served up, never registers with any purpose.

Nebbish bookkeeper Max Kleinman (Woody Allen) is forced by a vigilante neighborhood association to walk the scary foggy cobbled streets lit late at night by gas lamps in order to act as bait for the serial Jack the Ripper-style killer (Michael Kirby), who is terrorizing the city. Meanwhile traveling circus sword-swallower Irmy (Mia Farrow) has run away from her womanizing clown boyfriend, Paul (John Malkovich), after she catches him with Marie (Madonna), the brazen sexy trapeze artist married to the strongman. Irmy spends a night in the brothel, brought there by a prostitute (Lily Tomlin) she met on the street. Once there she accepts a lovesick student’s (John Cusack) payment of $700 to have sex with him and discovers sex can be fun.

Meanwhile Kleinman goes to visit an obsessed madman coroner (Donald Pleasence) who believes he can find a physical cause to the killer’s evil, but the doctor is killed and the frightened Kleinman flees the crime scene. In the course of trying to clear his name and escape from a lynch mob, Kleinman encounters in the brothel the now guilt-ridden and kvetching Irmy. They team up to solve their separate problems, as she asks him to recover half the money already donated to the Catholic church.

Nothing comes together to make a whole picture, as the script goes nowhere and wastes a talented cast. The only thing that seems sound is that it captures in the shadows and fog the right atmosphere for an old-fashioned horror story. Otherwise, Allen’s homage to European arty filmmakers gets lost in the darkness. But the music of Kurt Weill prevails throughout, adding to the period atmosphere.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”