So, according to my calendar, one week after the vernal equinox announced the coming of Spring, we have the start of British Summertime (a contradiction in terms if I ever heard one). I never knew Spring was only a week long, but now that I do, it kind of makes sense.
To celebrate a Summer that isn’t a Summer, we have an intertitle that isn’t an intertitle. For Arthur Robison’s WARNING SHADOWS is title-free, apart from the opening credits. Above, we see how they signify the start of Act III. Now, a silent without intertitles is like a day without sunshine to me — even THE LAST LAUGH has one. But, on the other hand, the fewer the titles, the more effective the cinematic storytelling — or the simpler the story.
WARNING SHADOWS actually has a rather sophisticated narrative, disguised as a straightforward one. The “nocturnal hallucination” structure goes well beyond the usual “it-was-all-a-dream” bookends in terms of ambiguity, resonance and meta-narrative allusiveness. The sinister shadow-puppeteer, at once Hoffmannesque and reminiscent of the creepy cobbler in THE RED SHOES, is an obvious stand-in for the filmmaker himself, presenting a cautionary fable with such artistry that we all mistake it for reality.
The film is subtitled “A NOCTURNAL HALLUCINATION” — and they don’t mean this bit!
Robison seems an interesting guy — an American who became an archetypal German expressionist filmmaker, with both this and the sound version of THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE starring Anton Walbrook. Also a British version of THE INFORMER with Lars Hanson an unlikely Irishman. Further study is warranted. Here, he has the services of designer Albin Grau and cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner, both from NOSFERATU.
In WARNING SHADOWS, a tousled Fritz Kortner is tormented by homicidal jealousy regarding his wife, with her Grecian costume and strange, funnel-shaped hairdo. The arrival of a grimacing shadow-puppeteer leads to an extended revenge phantasie, making this the German expressionist version of UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (itself a screwball Othello). Fritz Rasp (the newly-restored Thin Man of METROPOLIS) plays a snide footman, his centre-parting extending right down to the back of his neck, a striking look in a film marked by tonsorial eccentricity from the off.
We also get Rudolph Klein-Rogge, and Alexander Granach (Knock, the Renfield character from NOSFER) is “the Shadowplayer” — a unique performance attained mainly by thrusting his arse out in an insolent fashion. I may have to make him my avatar.
The cast is frozen in time in this Last Supper pose/composition, so that Granach can project an instructive shadowplay inside their dreaming minds — a metaphor for the cinema itself?
Verdict: grotesque beauty. Not a horror movie, really, so Denis Gifford’s featuring two stills from it in his Pictorial History of Horror Movies is sheer perversity, of the kind we love him for. This may have been the last GOOD film in his book left for me to see…
Buy Kino’s DVD and rescue me from penury: Warning Shadows – A Nocturnal Hallucination