This was a pretty fun homage to old German expressionist black and white films, such as Fritz Lang’s M and his older pictures from the silent era. The serial strangler is mostly just a a convenient back drop to get Allen to wander in the foggy streets all night long, clueless to what his role in the vigilante mob is suppose to be. The movie does manage to wrap up the serial killer subplot very nicely in the big climax, so even if it at times feels very superfluous to what is happening on screen,the strangler does play an important role beyond just kick starting the plot.
While Shadows and Fog doesn’t tell a particularly compelling or thrilling story in itself, it does do what Woody does best: funny dialog with well timed comedy. What really makes this movie worth watching is the beautiful black and white aesthetics, and the Kafkaesque labyrinth to which Allen’s character gets sucked into. Apparently they actually built an absolutely humongous set for the shooting of the movie, which even to this day is still the biggest set ever constructed in New York, and it really does show. The sets are absolutely gorgeous, and really enrich the era that the movie emulates. There is also an insane amount of cameos in the movie, it’s crazy. You get faces like William H. Macy, Madonna, Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly pop up at random times, I really couldn’t believe it.
The only real fault the movie has is that the strangler himself, when you finally see him, just isn’t that menacing looking and that kills his threatening presence to certain degree. It’s not a huge issue, the climax still works wonderfully despite that, it just ends up taking a bit of the edge off. And it’s a comedy, so is it even that important?