warning shadows | arthur robison | rudolf schneider | fritz kortner | ruth weyher | gustav von wangenheim | drama | fantasy | mystery | romance | germany | silent film | eugen rex | max gulstorff | ferdinand von alten | alexander granach | witch | witchcraft | ritual | german expressionism
Film: Warning Shadows (Schatten - Eine nächtliche Halluzination)
Director: Arthur Robison
Writers: Arthur Robison and Rudolf Schneider
Starring: Fritz Kortner, Ruth Weyher and Gustav von Wangenheim
This is a movie that I learned about when searching through Letterboxd for movies from 1923 for my Centennial Club. These tend to be a bit difficult to find if they’re not the bigger titles from that decade. I did find this on YouTube as it appears that there might be a restoration out there. Other than the year it came out and the year it came out, I came into this one blind.
Synopsis: a wealthy man invites the local wealthy bachelors over for a puppet show about men who covet another man’s wife. The puppeteer is a witch and gives the men nightmares about what could happen if they date the lady of the house.
Since I came in with limited knowledge, it is funny that I tried to watch this movie late at night and couldn’t get into it. I restarted it a couple nights later and it made a bit more sense. The version that I watched was set up like the original German version where there are no title cards. This makes it easier since there’s no reading. It also makes it more difficult as you must pay attention to each scene and figure out what they’re conveying through body language.
I did pick up on the fact that we have this traveling entertainer, Alexander Granach. He sees the house that belongs to Fritz Kortner and his wife Ruth Weyher. We see that he’s madly in love with her, where she might not reciprocate. The husband has invited someone credited as youth, Gustav von Wangenehim. There are also three gentlemen that are invited: Eugen Rex, Max Gülstorff and Ferdinand von Alten.
What I didn’t realize is that the traveling entertainer was invited. It seems more like him forcing his way inside from what I saw. It is from there that he catches the interest of the group and puts on a show. It is quite amazing what he can do with his hands and puppets. He uses shadows to do different things, hence the name. It takes a dark turn though when everyone falls asleep.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap as there isn’t a lot to the story. Even though this movie is now 100 years old, I don’t gain anything by revealing where it goes. What I do have to say is that I’m not always the biggest fan of what they do here. Since this movie is so early into cinema, it won’t be anything that I hold against it. I do think that this is an interesting way to present the events of what we get here.
Now if you couldn’t tell from the synopsis and what I’ve laid out, this is a cautionary tale to not covet your neighbor’s wife. Ruth doesn’t seem to love her husband as much as he loves her. I got that before the show began. Where things end up is interesting. I’m assuming that what they saw made her change her ways. Gustav is a youth that she has interest in. That doesn’t show itself until the traveling entertainer arrives if memory serves. This is still an idea though that is relevant today with different things both in the horror genre and not.
Something else that I didn’t necessarily know was that the traveling entertainer was a ‘witch’. That seems to be a term they’re using here since he does something that is supernatural. Everyone falls asleep, but I wasn’t sure if it was his show that caused that or if was a drink that everyone had. Regardless, I did find it interesting that his early in cinema we are seeing a meta-approach. The show that he is doing with the shadow puppets is literally telling the same story as what we are getting just on a smaller scale. I did find that to be an interesting approach, especially since meta became so popular in the 2000s and beyond.
What carries this though is the acting. Since we don’t have dialogue or title cards, it is all on their shoulders. What is interesting as well is that they don’t go over the top. The performances are grounded. I figured out what needed to be conveyed just from their facial expressions and body language. Kortner is good as this ‘older’ man who is married and I’d say that Weyher is good as his wife. What is interesting is that her and von Wangenheim are what cause all the issues here. He is also good as this ‘younger’ man. I also like Rex, Gülstorff and von Alten as the guests to the party. I should give credit to Granach as well as Fritz Rasp, Karl Platen and Lilli Herder. This last trio are the servants/maid. The acting here is good.
Then all that is left would be with the filmmaking. I’d say that this cinematography is fine. We get a lot of stationary camera shots, but that is just due to when it was made. What we got there looked good. I had no issues. What impressed me though were the shadow puppets. I’m guessing some of this are in camera effects. Regardless, I liked it. It is something you do as a kid so seeing how advanced the traveling entertainer is with it is fun. Other than that, the soundtrack fit for what was needed. It is hard to tell if this was originally synced with it. There are sound effects to match what is happening on screen which is a good touch for a silent film.
In conclusion, this is a solid piece of early cinema. I like this cautionary tale that goes back to the bible. There aren’t title cards or dialogue so I credit the acting to carry this movie. I got most of what was happening here just through their facial expressions and their body language. That isn’t easy to do. There is a story element that I’m not overly fond of anymore. It works in the confines here of when this was made though. This is well-made just in general from the cinematography to the soundtrack. Won’t be for everyone. I can only recommend this to those out to see the early history of the film or the horror genre.
My Rating: 7 out of 10