This review is part of the A Play of Light and Shadow: Horror in Silent Cinema Series
Movie Review – Warning Shadows (1923)
Warning Shadows (1923), known in German as Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination (“Shadows – a Nocturnal Hallucination”), is a work which uses the characteristics of the German Expressionist movement as an interesting, and seemingly inevitable, tool for storytelling. Directed by American-born but German-raised Arthur Robison, the tale is about a flirtatious wife who adores the fawning attention she receives from four foppish dinner guests while her husband’s jealousy steadily brews. Into this mix an uninvited guest arrives, a disheveled and likely mad shadow-player who borrows the diners’ shadows to use with a kind of magic, revealing the tragic consequences that will come if they continue as they have been – a literal ‘foreshadow’. The shadow-player is performed by Alexander Granach, who played the memorable Renfield-type character in Nosferatu (1922) the year before, and again presents the screen with an eccentric, memorable performance.
That there are no inter-titles makes the narrative difficult to follow at times, and the film is experimental in many ways and uses Expressionistic elements in its approach. The costumes and hairstyles are exaggerated in the stylistic manner of the times and shadows are employed throughout the film as a way to expose a truth which light, ironically, hides. The shadows are used cleverly and add to the dream-like quality of the film.
However, there are times when the film seems to get too artistic for its own good, at the cost of storytelling. The narrative tends to ramble and the generalized acting can be a distraction, especially after eighty minutes of continually watching the husband’s anguished jealousy play painfully on his face. The sets, too, are surprisingly unremarkable.
Warning Shadows is a film which attempts something novel and unique. Silent films are themselves a play of light and shadows, and here the art form appears to appropriately comment upon itself. Unfortunately, the final product has not aged as well as some of its contemporaries.