Netflix is not the first place to look for a wide selection of silent films, but they do have a few available for streaming, one being 1923’s Schatten, known in English as Warning Shadows – A Nocturnal Hallucination.
An opening title explains that the version available on Netflix (licensed by Transit Film – I believe this may be the same edition that is on DVD from Kino) “is based on a comparison of all existing copies” of the film, with particular attention paid to an original print with French intertitles and an American theatrical version from the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. Though the French version contained intertitles, this restoration does not, “in keeping with the original German version of the film, which premiered in October, 1923.”
The film, directed by Arthur Robison, follows a wealthy count (Fritz Kortner) and his wife who are giving a dinner party. This party is attended by no ordinary guests: the baron has invited four of his wife’s suitors to the manor, along with a shadowplayer (Alexander Granach).
The shadowplayer’s purpose is to save the count’s marriage. He gives each guest a vision, showing them the consequences that could come to them if they carry on with the count’s wife and his jealousy grows.
Warning Shadows is an appropriate title seeing as shadows play an incredibly large part in this film’s story, and in the cinematography. As you all probably know by now (since I always rave about them), I’m a total sucker for shadows, so I really enjoyed watching this film for the visual aspects alone. It’s a good example of German Expressionism, tints are used (lots of purple and yellow) and the costumes are pretty spectacular as well.
Despite the presence of the shadowplayer, Schatten at times plays like a domestic drama rather than a horror/thriller, unlike many of the other “greats” of German Expressionism.
Granach’s performance as the shadowplayer is still great. He does at times add a somewhat eerie mood to the film, but mostly adds a little bit of silliness and camp factor. Fritz Kortner gives a very good performance as well, and he does bring a few truly sinister moments to the film.
Watching a silent film with no intertitles is an interesting experience — another draw to watch the film for those with curious minds. This is the first silent film I’ve watched that doesn’t use them.
Much to my own surprise, I was not left horribly confused by the lack of intertitles. I had anticipated some trouble since I was not familiar with any of the actors involved in the film. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep the “who’s who” or the “what’s happening” straight without the help of intertitles, but it wasn’t too difficult. Don’t let it scare you away from the film!
I was expecting more in the way of spooks and thrills from Schatten, aka Warning Shadows. But the story is still quite interesting, and the final half hour in particular is great. The score: 3.5/5