German expressionist cinema was at its height in the 1920s, and few films embodied the movement as much as WARNING SHADOWS. Directed by Arthur Robison, this classic tale of psychological horror remains his best known work, celebrated for its outrageous visual style and notorious for its attempt to make a purely visual feature film (in other words, a film with no intertitles except, of course, the opening credits). A mysterious traveler and illusionist who performs shadow puppetry arrives to provide some entertainment at an otherwise routine dinner party. The host of the party is already mad with jealousy over the presence of his wife's four suitors, but when the puppet show begins, passions overtake reason and reality is not what it appears to be. Shadows, reflections and silhouettes are the dominant imagery, and the film boasts the extraordinary camerawork of Fritz Arno Wagner, the German cinematographer who is renowned for his work with Fritz Lang (SPIES) and F.W. Murnau (NOSFERATU). WARNING SHADOWS has long been considered a landmark work by champions of the German cinema. Lotte Eisner, in her book "The Haunted Screen," declared that director Robison "handles phantoms with the same mastery as his strange illusionist," while Siegfried Kracauer, in "From Caligari to Hitler," simply stated that WARNING SHADOWS "belongs among the masterpieces of the German screen."
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I know it's old but this thig keeps me looking.
One woman, four men who are trying to steal her from her husband, one miserable dinner party. It makes for great German Expressionism though, full of suggestive shadows and leading to a crazed third act in which a traveling illusionist induces a cautionary hallucination on the whole group that shows the violent outcome toward which they're all spiraling. It's a story uniquely suited to silent cinema. Feelings of love and jealousy are always evident through body language. Words are sometimes mere cheap decoration on the rich layer cake of such human drama. And this is a film that takes its silence seriously. That means NO TITLE CARDS. There are no words whatsoever here outside of the title sequence and character introductions. There's no dialogue, no written narration, no nothin'. To the film's lasting credit, it's very easy to follow. If you've ever had your own jealous moments, at least.
This is often labeled as a horror film, but I disagree. It's more of a melodrama gone mad.
This is a definitely a silent classic, a must-see film, but it must be admitted it is all style and little substance. (Camera work, sets, costumes, lighting, etc. should be means to the end of story telling and not ends in themselves as they seem to be here.) This is an experiment, a wonderful experiment, in film making, particularly in the use of shadow and while the plot may not really grab you, the images will linger in your mind.