Early German cinema held a fascination for shadows and their doppelganger implications. Warning Shadows puts the idea to good use in an expressionist film that introduces a sinister puppeteer who shows an assortment of characters as they really are.
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Warning Shadows (1922)
Schatten: Eine Nachtliche Halluzination

Ruth Weyher in Warning Shadows (1922)

(Pan Film/Dafu) 97mins. (10 reels). BW. Silent. Germany.
Credits: Dir: Arthur Robison; Sc: Rudolf Schneider & Arthur Robison; Ph: Fritz Arno Wagner; Des: Albin Grau. From a story by Albin Grau.
Cast: Fritz Kortner, Alexander Granach, Ruth Weyher, Gustav von Wagenheim, Fritz Rasp, Ferdinand von Alten, Karl Platen, Lilli Herder, Eugen Rex, Max Guelstoff.


If only one film is chosen to epitomise German cinema's fascination with the artistic use of shadows, then WARNING SHADOWS must be the first choice of example.
The predilection for shadows, reflections and the theme of the doppelganger runs steadily through the majority of German releases during this era. This sense of dualism can be found in Der Student von Prag when Balduin is pursued by his own image; in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when the eminent doctor is also shown as a fairground barker; the split personality of the angelic master-criminal Dr. Mabuse der Spieler to the majestic rendition of Goethe's Faust by F.W. Murnau. Film provided a suitable medium to capture the qualities of this other worldliness, where shadows and reflections could take on a life of their own.

WARNING SHADOWS, or to give the film its original title SCHATTEN, benefitted from the photography of Fritz Arno Wagner (1889-1958), a past master at creating the right atmosphere for such offbeat dramas. Wagner began his career as a newsreel cameraman for Pathe Freres and worked extensively for UFA. Studios with such luminaries as F.W. Murnau on Nosferatu and contributing his skills to Fritz Lang's Der Mude Tod, Spione, M and Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse. His work on WARNING SHADOWS, however, furnished Wagner with a solid framework to which he could add to this new twist on the dualism theme.

Mesmerised by Warning Shadows (1922)At the home of a Count, (Fritz Kortner), and his captivating wife, (Ruth Weyher), several guests have gathered including two amorous Cavaliers. The Count's jealosuy grows as he witnesses the attentions of the guests towards his wife whose alluring dance and sensual dress leave little to the imagination. Soon the Shadowplayer, (Alexander Granach), arrives, a ruffle-haired, wild-eyed little man full of exuberance who sets up his shadow theatre and proceeds to perform a story of a love triangle. Mesmerised, the party become active participants when the Shadowplayer steals their shadows to perform in the play and allow the guests to act out the secret fantasies that their real lives supress. The guest's wild abandon continues as they make advances to the Countess until in a jealous rage the Count gathers his sharpest rapiers and orders the butlers to sieze his wife. Tied and bound, he hands each of the guests a sword and commands that they run her through. After the Countess' death the guests sieze the Count and throw him onto the cobbled street below.
Suddenly the screen dissolves and the Shadowplayer emerges to return the shadows to their rightful owners as they are sleeping.
As the sun's rays break through, the reunited Count and Countess watch as their guests and the Shadow Player leave the courtyard.

Fritz Kortner and guests slay Ruth Weyher in Warning Shadows (1922)Alexander Granach as the Shadow Player can also be seen as the possessed insect-eating lunatic in Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). Fellow cast member Gustav von Wagenheim seen here as one of the young suitors. Fritz Rasp appears as the butler, just one role of a career that spans most of the century.
Fritz Kortner was a distinguished actor who found no trouble in securing work in the theatre and in films throughout Europe and America after 1938.

The cast of WARNING SHADOWS, however, are "overshadowed" by the film's technical artistry.The techniques used here formed the basis of the modern psychotic thriller, setting the conventions for Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and the work of Mario Bava.
Unfortunately, the film has not survived the ravages of time particularly well with a good percentage of the footage missing and poor picture quality that at times can be quite confusing to watch. To be honest, we should be thankful for small mercies when you consider the low number of films that have survived at all for us to study and enjoy today.

For a copy of WARNING SHADOWS click here