Directed by Arthur Robison [Other horror films: Nächte des Grauens (1917), Der Student von Prag (1935)]
Known most commonly as Warning Shadows, this German classic, originally titled Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination (what a mouthful that is), is a somewhat difficult movie to talk about. On one hand, I deeply appreciate and like the idea of what director Arthur Robison was going for, but on the other hand, past a certain point, I can’t help but think that the movies drags.
It’s not a lengthy film, at only an hour and 23 minutes. But most silent films have intertitles (in order to get dialogue across to the audience), and Robison decided to opt out of using those. Which means without paying attention to the characters and their relationships with each other, given there is zero dialogue given throughout the film, you’ll most likely feel lost.
Which is, in theory, a neat idea, and really lends to the film’s expressionist and often moody feeling. But after forty minutes, it’s a bit much.
The plot, in which a shadow-player’s (think a magician of sorts who focuses on manipulating light and shadows) arrival at a dinner party exasperate the already struggling relationship between a baron and his flirtatious wife, is decently fun, although I do think there’s a few too many characters afoot. The route the film takes is an interesting one, and while I do think it drags, I’d say the story works out pretty well.
This is true, in part, due to many factors. Most of the actors and actresses do well at expressing themselves without the use of intertitles, with Alexander Granach (also in the classic Nosferatu), Fritz Kortner, and Ruth Weyher standing out the most.
The color scheme for the version I saw was mostly a purple tint, which I thought went a long way in helping create the moody atmosphere of the flick. The score, too, added to the effect. While the score I heard wasn’t at all the original (an electronic portion showcasing that much), it went from dark and brooding to festive in all the right moments. Lastly, the visuals of the movie were pretty cool, which, given it’s an expressionist movie, you probably wouldn’t expect anything less.
Given all of these positive elements, though, I just can’t get beyond the fact that, after half the run-time, I found myself losing focus. In truth, I feel sort of ashamed of it, as this is one of those classic movies you really want to like and spread the word on, but I was struggling to care past a certain point. Because of that, despite the plenty of positive aspects, I’m giving it a bit below average.
That said, this is one of those films I recommend anyone check out, because I think that it’s the type of movie that most people would get a kick out of, at least to a certain extent.
One last note: Arthur Robison, the director, made 21 movies, most of them lost with time. The only other movie of note is a 1935 version of Der Student von Prag, the 1913 version being the first intact full-length horror film, which was previously reviewed. Just a little factoid.
Warning Shadows is worth a watch, but like I said, don’t be surprised if you find it a little sluggish.