Shadows and Fog

Shadows and Fog is a 1991 American black-and-white comedy film directed by Woody Allen and based on his one-act play Death (1975). It stars Allen, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, Kathy Bates, David Ogden Stiers, Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin, John Cusack, Madonna, and Kenneth Mars. It was filmed on a 26,000-square-foot (2,400 m2) set at Kaufman Astoria Studios, which was the biggest set ever built in New York. It was also Allen's last film for Orion Pictures.

Shadows and Fog is an homage to German Expressionist filmmakers Fritz Lang, G. W. Pabst and F. W. Murnau in its visual presentation, and to the writer Franz Kafka in theme. Critical reception of the work was lukewarm.

Kleinman is awakened from his sleep by a vigilante mob, which claims to be looking for a serial killer and therefore to be needing his help. Kleinman's landlady gives him a bag containing pepper. Irmy and her boyfriend Paul, a pair of circus performers, quarrel about getting married and having a baby. Paul leaves and goes to another tent where he has sex with Marie, another artist. Seeing this, Irmy runs to the city and enters a brothel. A student named Jack, besotted by Irmy, offers her increasingly large sums to have sex with him. She finally succumbs when the sum reaches $700.

Kleinman visits a coroner's house and has a glass of sherry with him. But after he leaves, the coroner is murdered by the killer. Kleinman comes to the police station to protest a local family's eviction. There, the police talk about the coroner's murder, saying that they have a clue about the killer in the fingerprints on the sherry glass. A panicked Kleinman meets Irmy in the police station, who had been arrested at the brothel for prostitution. She protests against the police calling her "whore,” and in the confusion Kleinman confiscates the evidence. Irmy is allowed to leave the police station after a $50 fine, and she meets Kleinman outside. Together they start exploring the city, seeing its different scenes — a man peeping into a woman's room, a starving mother and child, a church — and decide to go back.

Paul arrives in the city looking for Irmy. He goes into a bar where Jack is having a drink. The student reflects on the wonderful experience he had with "a sword-swallower,” shocking Paul. Kleinman and Irmy return to his place to stay but are refused entry by his fiancee. They go to the pier but are ambushed by the vigilante mob who find the sherry glass in Kleinman's pocket. Thinking him to be the killer, they decide to lynch Irmy and Kleinman, but the latter uses the pepper spray and they escape.

Meanwhile, Irmy and Paul meet, and at first Paul is ready to kill Irmy for sleeping with another man. They break off their fight when they find the starving woman murdered, and the baby lying on the ground. They decide to keep the child and return to the circus. Kleinman comes to the brothel searching for Irmy but is unable to find her. From his rival at work, he learns about the circus leaving the town and decides to follow it. At the circus, Kleinman meets the magician Armstead, whom he greatly admires. The murderer arrives and tries to kill them but is thwarted by Armstead. Kleinman becomes Armstead's assistant on the circus and Irmy and Paul continue their careers as circus performers, while raising their newfound child.

After its premiere in 1991, Shadows and Fog opened to wide release on March 20, 1992 in 288 North American cinemas. In its first three days, it grossed $1,111,314 ($3,858 per screen). It finished its run with $2,735,731.

Its production budget has been estimated at $14 million.

Shadows and Fog received a mixed response from critics and holds a 52% positive "Rotten" rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes from 27 reviews. The critical consensus reads: "Shadows and Fog recreates the chiaroscuro aesthetic of German Expressionism, but Woody Allen's rambling screenplay retreads the director's neurotic obsessions with derivative results."

Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave the film modest praise, writing,"Like 'Zelig,' 'Shadows and Fog' is a pastiche of references to the works of others, but it's a brazen, irrepressible original in the way it uses those references." He added, "A note of caution: 'Shadows and Fog' operates on its own wavelength. It is different. It should not be anticipated in the manner of other Allen films. It's unpredictable, with its own tone and rhythm, even though, like all of the director's work, it's a mixture of the sincere, the sardonic and the classically sappy." Variety similarly wrote, "Exquisitely shot in black & white, Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog is a sweet homage to German expressionist filmmaking and a nod to the content of socially responsible tales since narrative film began. Allen's fans will regard this as a nice try that falls short."

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There's nothing particularly objectionable about Woody Allen's "Shadows and Fog." That's part of the problem. This black-and-white seriocomedy, set in the 1920s, is an amiable ramble through some of Allen's favorite themes and European film movements. It has a small army of guest stars and a fair offering of Allen jokes. But it's also flat and peakless. It doesn't conclude so much as stop. There's nothing to take home but your feet.

In 2016 film critics Robbie Collin and Tim Robey ranked Shadows and Fog as one of the worst movies by Woody Allen.

Recalling the film's critical and commercial failure in his 2020 memoir, Apropos of Nothing, Allen joked that “the filming of Shadows and Fog went off without a hitch except for the movie.” Allen also states in his memoir that he "knew the film was destined for commercial doom," but made the movie regardless, disdaining artistic fear he says would yield "safe middle-of-the-road projects," and, summarizing the finished product, added: "It's not a bad idea but you have to be in the mood for it, and marketing tests showed it did not appeal to homo sapiens."