WARNING SHADOWS (Schatten – Eine n├Ąchtliche Halluzination)

(director/writer: Arthur Robison; screenwriter: Rudolf Schneider; cinematographer: Fritz Arno Wagner; editor: Rudolph Schneider/Arthur Robison; music: Ernst Riege/Donald Sosin; cast: Alexander Granach (Shadowplayer), Lilli Herder (Dienstmaedchen), Fritz Kortner (The Count), Ruth Weyher (His wife), Gustav von Wangenheim (Her lover), Fritz Rasp (Diener), Eugen Rex (A servant); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; Kino Video; 1923-silent-Germany-with English subtitles)

“An influential minor classic silent German expressionist film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An influential minor classic silent German expressionist film (can’t hold a candle to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari) about the effects of psychological horror; it’s directed by the American-born working in Germany filmmaker Arthur Robison (“The Informer”-1929) and is supposedly his most noteworthy film. This is a nicely packaged restored edition released by Kino Video. German film historian Lotte Eisner in her book “The Haunted Screen” glowingly reports that Robison “handles phantoms with the same mastery as his strange illusionist.” The cinematography was superbly handled by Fritz Arno Wagner, who is renown for being Fritz Lang’s photographer in such films as M and with F.W. Murnau in Nosferatu.

It’s a pure visual treat, as it does without intertitles (except for the opening credits) and pines to set a German Romantic mood in the eighteenth-century.

A wealthy country German baron (Fritz Kortner) and his attractive but narcissistic wife (Ruth Weyher) hold a dinner party for four single male guests and a traveling illusionist appears to perform a shadowy puppet show to entertain the guests. The jealous baron is enraged as his flirtatious flimsily clad wife seems to welcome the advances of all of the guests. The puppet show puts everyone in an hallucinatory trance and passions overtake social conventions. The puppet master steals the shadows of those in the household and through reflections and silhouettes played on the wall puts on a show where reality is not what it appears to be, as it previews the bloody horrors of things to come. The mesmerist aims to have a laugh at the expense of the upper-crusts and to briefly upset their sense of order. It ends fairy-tale like happy, with a stage curtain coming down, as the suitors all depart to leave the couple in peace and the illusionist departs riding on a stolen farm pig.

There’s a calling out for someone like a Dr. Freud to come forth to explain the rich psychological territory the silent narrative ventured into, but left us mostly in the dark searching for possible deeper answers that were not revealed or adequately delved into. It successfully sets a chilling chiaroscuro world that abounds in shadows and darkening mysteries of the mind. And if that’s enough to rock your boat, then the film remains mildly diverting as an entertaining intellectual exercise and as a mind-boggling curio. Others can just give love to those beautifully detailed eighteenth-century costumes featured.

Warning Shadows Poster