'Shadows and Fog': Clearly Woody Allen

October 23, 1992|By SCOTT HETTRICK | SCOTT HETTRICK,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

SHADOWS AND FOG

(Orion, 1992) Woody Allen. He cranks out films at about the same clip as Stephen King publishes horror novels. But unlike Mr. King, one never knows what to expect from Mr. Allen. Comedy? Stark drama? Black-and-white or color? Will Mr. Allen be on screen or not?

In fact, the most constant element of his 25 films has been the female lead, which one can almost always assume will be whomever Mr. Allen is dating or married to at the time. His former wife, Louise Lasser, co-starred in a couple of his earliest comedies, followed by Diane Keaton in a half-dozen of his finest efforts from 1972 to 1979, and lastly Mia Farrow, who has helped him churn out a new film each year for the past decade.

But even the most loyal Allen fans are relieved to see the Woodman make an appearance in his own films, because that signals at least a moderate dose of humor. Such is the case with "Shadows and Fog," a delightful cinematic diversion that has remarkably little to say about anything.

Mr. Allen plays Max Kleinman -- his standard nerdy worrywart character -- who is awakened from sleep by several of his acquaintances and told that he must participate in "the plan" to track down a serial strangler that has eluded police. But the vigilante group gives him no further instructions, leaving Kleinman to wander alone through the fog-shrouded streets of some 1920s European city. Mr. Allen's use of black-and-white photography is particularly visually alluring.

But all this is no more than a backdrop for Mr. Allen's customary parade of oddball characters, his ongoing questions about death and God, and his trademark self-deprecating humor. Wondering why his associates would leave him to face the night stalker by himself, he mutters, "They could never think that I'd be any match for a maniac who's supposed to have the strength of 10 men. I have the strength of one small boy . . . with polio."

You can hear his comedy lines in the dialogue of other characters, such as a circus clown (John Malkovich) who is about to have an affair with a trapeze artist (Madonna). "Are you sure your husband won't wake up? I've seen what he does to iron bars."

Ms. Farrow plays the clown's wife, a sword swallower who takes emotional refuge at a brothel and winds up having sex with a college lad (John Cusack) before she bumps into the wandering Kleinman and introduces him to her circus friends.

For an actor, snaring an appearance in an Allen film has become as prestigious as a cameo in a Robert Altman movie. Here are just a few you'll spot if you look quickly: Charles Ogden Stiers, Donald Pleasence, Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, Fred Gwynne, Julie Kavner, Lily Tomlin, Kate Nelligan and Kenneth Mars.

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