The Essentials- #101
Shadows and Fog
I have loved Woody Allen for as long as I can remember, and he has a very similar style film by film. They almost always take place in New York City. They always deal in the world of love, cheating, lies and divorce. They sometimes even slide into all four of those arenas in each film. There is also a thin cut piece of existentialism in each of his films as well. Sometimes, he likes to detach himself from the themes that made him so popular. Sometimes he goes outside his own box. He has done so with "Shadows and Fog."
In the movie, Woody Allen plays Max Kleinman, a bookkeeper who is sprung out of his bed to join a search party. There is a serial strangler on the lose in his small, unnamed town. Max Kleinman is the usual Woody Allen character. He's skittish, he's weak, he has low self-esteem and he is constantly unsure of himself. He feels compelled, and in the lack of a better word bullied, into joining the search party to find this strangler.
Mia Farrow, who starred in several movies with Allen, plays a sword swallower for the local circus. She is in love with one of the clowns (John Malkovich), for whom she finds out is having an affair with someone else in the circus, played by Madonna. Disgusted and angry, the sword swallower flees the circus, runs into the night, the same night that the serial strangler is on the loose. She meets Kleinman and assists him in finding the serial strangler before he gets his hands on anybody else.
So yes, there are several usual Woody Allen tropes in this movie. But what makes it good is how confident it is in its material. I love the German expressionist style of the movie, which makes it stand out over other Woody Allen films. It is also one of the more fun concepts Woody Allen has ever played with. While lots of characters walk around and talk about life, that isn't the ONLY thing they do. There is some action, there is some humor, and Woody Allen successfully plays with it and gets as much from it as he can. Over the backdrop of lovely black-and-white, this movie soars.
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were always good together, and I think this is one of my more favorite duos they created. John Malkovich is good in this. In fact, this is one of the better casts Allen has ever assembled. There is good work by Madonna, Jodi Foster, Kathy Bates, John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Lily Tomlin, Kurtwood Smith, Kenneth Mars, William H. Macy,and John C. Reilly. They all do incredible work, soaking up the fun concept Allen has brought them together for.
If you like fun little mysteries this time of year, then you will want to check out Woody Allen's goofy caper.