The Man With One Red Shoe (1985)

Director: Stan Dragotti
Starring: Tom Hanks, Lori Singer, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Carrie Fisher, James Belushi, Edward Herrmann
Original Music: Michael Masser (love theme) Thomas Newman
Non-Original Music: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (from “Scheherazade”)
Based on the French film ‘Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire’ (The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe).

The Man With One Red Shoe is a comedy spy film from the 1980’s based on a French film from the 1970’s. It is pleasant enough, but there aren’t any real belly laughs.

The film opens on the docks in Morocco and a CIA agent is having his car lifted onto a boat for transportation to the USA. Secreted in the tyres of the car is a large amount of cocaine. Watching off to the side, as events unfold is Cooper (Dabney Coleman). Cooper is also a CIA agent, but he is not on the same side as the agent on the dock. I guess that doesn’t really make sense – how can they both be in the CIA, but be on different sides? It appears that there are two factions in the CIA. One is under the control of the Director, Ross (Charles Durning), and the other is controlled by Cooper. Cooper wants Ross’ job and will stoop to any means to get it. In Morocco he arranges for the cocaine carrying car to be released from the crane as it is being swung towards the ship. The car falls down onto the dock, and the tyres pop, sending a cloud of cocaine powder into the air.

The mission is a failure and an embarrassment to the United States. Everybody is after Ross’ head. A Senate enquiry is set up to hear the evidence against Ross.

Ross knows it is Cooper who has set him up and plans to retaliate. But rather than stoop to dirty tricks, he knows Cooper has his home bugged and will act on any information he overhears. Ross tells his aide, Brown (Edward Hermann) that a special witness is flying in to Washington to testify at the Senate hearing. This is a load of bunk, of course. But Cooper doesn’t know that and sends a team of operatives to the airport to await the arrival of the mysterious ‘secret witness’.

At Ross’ behest, Brown goes to the airport. He has to select a person at random to be the ‘special witness’. It doesn’t matter who, just as long as Cooper believes. Brown chooses Richard Drew (Tom Hanks), simply because he is wearing odd shoes. One of them happens to be red. It so happens that one of Drew’s friends, Morris (James Belushi) has played a practical joke on him and stolen the opposing pairs of two sets of shoes, leaving Drew with only the odd couple.

Brown approaches Drew and briefly talks to him. Nothing special, but enough for Cooper’s agents who are watching to suspect that Drew is the witness. Cooper’s men then instigate a vigorous and compressive surveillance regime. Every movement, Drew makes is analysed. In fact, Drew is a talented violin player, who travels around the world with a symphony orchestra. His globe trotting, in the eyes of the espionage fraternity, only makes him seem more suspicious.

Cooper’s number one agent is Maddy (Lori Singer). Maddy, apart from being a competent field operative is Cooper’s ‘honey pot trap’. She is sent to seduce Drew and find out all his secrets. It is interesting to notice the differences between the French and American film in their attitudes towards sex and spying. Here’s a snippet of a syndicated article that appeared in The Video Age, June, 1986. In it, Richard Harrington talks to Pete Emmett, the publicist from The Man With One Red Shoe.

Red Shoe follows the basic spy jinks of Black Shoe in having a gorgeous femme fatale (Lori Singer) dog the hero. “The character is a female CIA agent in the French film also,” say Pete Emmett, the film’s publicist. The bad guys, led by Dabney Coleman, “tell her to go to bed with (Hanks) to get information and she does. French audiences expect that. American audience demand that she fall in love with him first. It’s a love story now, where there was none of that in the original.”

I must admit, reading that quote makes me cringe. It is a spy film after all, and we expect a bit of naughtiness. We knew that James Bond didn’t love Fiona Volpe in Thunderball, and I doubt that Matt Helm wanted to sincerely get to know The Slaygirls either. But here, the writers and producers felt that audiences couldn’t handle a relationship, where intimacy was just ‘part of the job’.

Other supporting cast members include James Belushi as Morris, and Carrie Fisher as Paula. They play a married couple, who are also fellow musicians in the orchestra with Drew. But to complicate things, Paula has had an extra marital affair with Drew, and now Morris is starting to get suspicious.

I really wanted to like The Man With One Red Shoe, but it just isn’t that funny. Maybe it’s a translation thing. The original French humour may not have translated well. Or maybe it was just a sense of timing. The original The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe was made in the early 70’s. By the mid 80’s, audiences were used to more throw away one-line gags, by the likes of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase. Whatever the reason, The Man With One Red Shoe fails as a comedy, and as a spy films there’s not much here that we haven’t seen before. But having said that, Tom Hanks is a very personable actor with a large fan base, and those fans may find this a pleasant way to pass 104 minutes.

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