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Shadows and Fog

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Shadows and Fog

Shadows and Fog
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Charles Joffe (executive)
Jack Rollins (executive)
Written by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen
Kathy Bates
John Cusack
Mia Farrow
Jodie Foster
Fred Gwynne
Julie Kavner
John Malkovich
Kenneth Mars
Kate Nelligan
Donald Pleasence
Wallace Shawn
Kurtwood Smith
Josef Sommer
David Ogden Stiers
Lily Tomlin
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Carlo Di Palma
Edited by Susan E. Morse
Distributed by Orion Pictures (US)
Columbia Tri-Star (Europe)
Release dates
  • December 5, 1991 (1991-12-05)[1]
Running time
85 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $14 million
Box office $2,735,731

Shadows and Fog is a 1991 American black-and-white comedy thriller film directed by Woody Allen and based on his one-act play Death. It stars Allen, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Madonna, and Kenneth Mars. It was filmed on a 26,000-square-foot (2,400 m2) set at Kaufman Astoria Studios, which holds the distinction of being the biggest set ever built in New York. It was also his 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.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Reception 3
    • Box office 3.1
    • Critical response 3.2
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Kleinman (Allen) is awakened from a deep sleep by a vigilante mob. They claim to be looking for a serial killer who strangles his victims and to need his help. Before he leaves, his landlady who wants to marry him gives him a small paper bag with pepper in it.

Irmy (Farrow) and her boyfriend Paul (Malkovich), performers at a circus, are having a dispute about getting married and having a baby. Paul leaves and goes to another tent where Marie, a tightrope artist (Madonna) waits for him. They begin to have sex, but Irmy catches them and runs away to the city. There she meets a prostitute (Lily Tomlin) who brings her to a house of ill repute, where she is comforted by other prostitutes (Jodie Foster and Kathy Bates). Then, a student named Jack (John Cusack) comes into the whorehouse and is immediately bewitched by Irmy; he insists on having sex with her, paying $700.

On the street, Kleinman walks aimlessly around the city. He stops at a coroner's house, where the doctor (Donald Pleasence) explains that his role in the hunt is purely scientific. They each have a glass of sherry. After Kleinman leaves, the doctor is murdered by the Strangler.

Kleinman seeing a local family being evicted as 'undesirables' goes to the police station to try to stop the eviction. Whilst there a police officer arrives with news of the coroner's death and saying that there is a clue – a glass with fingerprints on it. Kleinman panics realizing that his fingerprints are on the glass. Irmy is there as well, because she has been taken to the police station when the police raided the whorehouse. Insisting she is a whore and needs a license, they fine her and allow her to leave. Irmy protests her innocence and in the confusion Kleinman is able to steal the glass which has his fingerprints on it. Kleinman leaves and startled by Irmy engages her in conversation and they walk into the night together. A vigilante shows Kleinman an alley where they think the killer might be. Irmy and Kleinman enter the alley warily, and they find that the person is Kleinman's boss Mr. Paulsen, peeping in a window at a lady. Mr. Paulsen angrily accuses him of incompetence. Ashamed, Kleinman and Irmy move on into the night.

Paul arrives in the city, looking for Irmy. He goes into a bar, where Jack, the student who had sex with Irmy, is having a drink. The student reflects on the wonderful experience he had with "a sword-swallower". Paul is shocked, although Jack does not know why.

Back on the street, Irmy tells Kleinman that she doesn't want the money and asks him to give the $650 to charity in a church. He does, finding two men compiling a list of names. When he gives them the money, they gratefully erase his name from the list. Outside, at the steps of the church, they see a starving mother with a child, and the two run away from parent and child. After some thought, Irmy decides she wants to give half of the money to the woman and asks Kleinman to go back to the church to get it back. Reluctantly, he returns and asks for half the money, and the two men reinstate his name to the list.

Kleinman tries to get Irmy a place to stay by asking his fiancée, but she refuses to let them in. At a pier, they look out at the night, and the feeling is very romantic, until the vigilante mob ambushes them. It turns out that everyone has a "plan." Then, Spiro the Clairvoyant, a man who smells people like a psychic bloodhound, starts to sniff Kleinman. He says that Kleinman "has something in his pocket," and the sherry glass is revealed. Angry, and believing he is the killer, the mob prepares to lynch him. Kleinman blows pepper in their faces and escapes. He tries to find a safe haven in the house of his first ex-fiancée, Alma (Julie Kavner), whom he left standing at the altar while he had a dalliance with her sister. He apologizes, but she throws him out, shouting, "Get out and die!"

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 that Irmy and Kleinman had met earlier, murdered, and the baby lying on the ground. They decide to keep the child and return to the circus, which is preparing to leave the city.

Ahead of the mob, Kleinman arrives at the whorehouse where he meets and has an existential conversation with Jack. When he is unable to express his views, a whore (Foster) coaxes him into a back room where he fails to perform, blaming existential angst. The mob arrives, asking after Kleinman. He escapes via the roof, after which he meets and is taunted by his rival (Wallace Shawn) for promotion at work who reveals Irmy has gone back to the circus. Kleinman follows her there.

At the circus, Kleinman meets the magician Armstead (Kenneth Mars), whom he greatly admires. The Strangler arrives, and is about to kill both of them when the magician mesmerizes him with a mirror trick and chains him up. While Kleinman and Armstead are congratulating each other, the Strangler somehow escapes. The angry mob arrives on the scene, and, thwarted, gives up for the night. The movie ends with Kleinman accepting Armstead's invitation to become his assistant, and Irmy and Paul continuing their careers as circus performers while raising their new-found child. As Armstead and Kleinman prepare to leave, the magician sums it all up by saying, "They need illusions like they need the air." And with a gesture, the two disappear in a mirror and a puff of smoke.



Box office

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.[2]

Its production budget has been estimated at $14 million.[2]

Critical response

Shadows and Fog received a mixed response from critics and holds a 52% positive "Rotten" rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[3]

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."[4] 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."[5]

Desson Thomson

of The Washington Post wrote:

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.[6]


  1. ^ "Shadows and Fog"Release dates for . Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Shadows and Fog (1992)".  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "'"Review: 'Shadows and Fog.  
  6. ^  

External links

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