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.
Mia Farrow and boyfriend John Malkovich are part of a traveling circus that has pitched its tent near an unnamed European town where rival bands of vigilantes roam the nighttime streets in search of a marauding strangler. When Farrow catches Malkovich cheating on her with the strongman’s wife (Madonna in a murky cameo), she walks out into the fog where she is befriended by streetwalker Lily Tomlin.
Helmer throws in some Kafka (Allen’s persecuted character is never sure what he’s supposed to do), some evil (there’s a killer on the loose, casting shadows in the fog), a spunky counterbalancing force (Mia Farrow) and a little magic.
Tomlin is good, and Julie Kavner also scores as a former Allen paramour. John Cusack hits all the right notes as a college student who cajoles Farrow into selling herself just once. Several top thesps, including Jodie Foster and Kathy Bates, have been caught in surprisingly ordinary (and brief) perfs.