Local bookkeeper Kleinman, is woken one night by his neighbours who enlist him in their vigilante group searching for the town strangler. While out searching, Kleinman meets Irmy, who has run away from the circus after catching her Clown husband in the arms of Marie.
A strangler who casts a silhouette exactly like Max Schreck's Nosferatu stalks the fog-shrouded streets of an unspecified, central European-looking town in the 1920s as Woody Allen's Kleinman another archetypically anxious and bewildered schlep is rudely awakened and conscripted by a vigilante group hunting the serial killer.
Meanwhile, Mia Farrow's circus artiste Irmy walks out on her clown (John Malkovich) after catching him in flagrante with fellow trouper Madonna. Their paths inexorably cross as Kurt Weill music insistently plays amid a welter of visual and verbal references to German Expressionism, Bergman, Kafka and the existential mysteries of life.
Rendered in suitably moody, grainy black-and-white, this comic drama is by turns sly, witty and tiresome, a cinema buff's in-joke restating the familiar Allen preoccupations of man's inability to control events or to comprehend the nature of evil in an avalanche of homage gags and "100 Arty Cinematic Moments" recreations. A catastrophic failure at the US box office, this suffered from a delayed release in Britain, coming after the later and superior Husbands And Wives, though it does at least provide a diverting game of Spot The Allusion And The Star, notably Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates and Lily Tomlin.
At best its slight plot reserves its pleasures for the more elitist wing of Allen devotees.