Judge Neil Dorsett once wore one red shoe...just one red shoe.
"Did ya see that? I wonder what goes on in there! Boy, that's the trouble with surveillance, you never get to see nothin'."
Sometimes when you fish for red herring you wind up hooking the Lusitania and pulling so hard on it that you wind up herniating yourself and spending the next month on painkillers, which fail to dull the humiliation.
The Man With One Red Shoe is an interesting sort of hybrid movie: a spy-thriller comedy at the expense of the spies, but which contains a complete plot on their terms. It has a dry sort of wit that allows it to present the parodic gags with no fanfare and allow the storytelling elements to almost totally contain them. On the other hand, the performances are inconsistent with each other and the comedic elements occasionally break the mood, and the score is a little off the vibe. Throw in the fact that this is a remake of a successful French comedy (The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, 1972) and the word that springs to mind is "hodgepodge." Or perhaps more appropriately, smorgasbord. An assembly of substances which combine together to make various light snacks, but which cannot be combined into a substantive single meal. However, a smorgasbord does require a stable surface, and The Man with One Red Shoe does have a substantively plotted and clever script beneath the slightly jumbled stackings of its top.
Facts of the Case
There is a feud of factions within the CIA; so much so that it seems almost to be two separate organizations with the right hand unaware of what the left hand is doing. The Senate, concerned about this, convenes an investigative committee following the bungling of a drug-related assassination in Morocco by one side of the CIA; the one headed by would-be leader of it all, Gordon Cooper ('80s mature comedy king Dabney Coleman). The Senate Committee, unaware of the split in the agency, is pretty much taking the entire force to task over the incident, and Cooper hopes to use the confusion to oust the current leader, portrayed by the great Charles Durning (Home for the Holidays). Durning has an idea, which he communicates to an his top lieutenant, Brown (Edward Herrmann) while simultaneously playing to the comedically placed bugs in his home. Brown is to lead surveillance to the airport, where he will fake a contact with a random stranger as a decoy to Cooper's team, which includes the curvaceous Maddy (Lori Singer, Short Cuts). Brown is indecisive over whom to pick as the "contact," and has no answers to his men's repeated questions over who they're looking for. Finally, an escalator reveals a young man (Tom Hanks) who, presumably out of his own quirky oddness, has chosen to wear mismatched shoes, one of them a bright, singing red (the French original explained this situation as the result of a practical joke). Brown, seeing this as an easy way to fake a "red carnation so you know it's me," as it were—as well as a way to overemphatically reiterate the title—bumps into the violin-toting Hanks and sends the enemy team off on their goose chase, with the still-uninformed home team (Gerrit Graham and Tom Noonan) in tow. Hijinks, as they say, ensue. The determined forces of the agency succeed only in outing Drew's trivial personal scandals—notably, his dwindling affair with the wife (Carrie Fisher) of his churlish best friend (Jim Belushi). Since they're all players in the same orchestra, this scandal leads to one of the movie's better set pieces, with the two men waging musical war during a Schubert performance. The agents disassemble Drew's home and reassemble it—badly. And inevitably, as one of the spies gleefully awaits, there is violence, which means there are bodies to hide. Also inevitably, the beautiful seductress agent assigned to Drew begins to fall for his innocence as Cooper's team struggles desperately to figure out the "codes" in the violinist's strange personal life.
The Man with One Red Shoe is an unusual movie in that it's often quite witty but rarely very funny. Rather than producing belly laughs, the film settles for a sort of continuous low chuckle. Part of this is due to the lackadaisical '80s light jazz score. This isn't to say the movie doesn't get off a good one every now and then: Singer's delivery of the line "Typical childhood" over slides of the young Drew crying miserably at his birthday parties, the physical comedy of Hanks working his entirely rerouted bathroom, David Lander stuck by himself in a sewer with nothing to do. If there's an overall problem, it's that the cast lacks cohesion in their approach—not surprising in a movie where actors play scenes three at a time at best. Coleman and Singer are taking a deadpan approach, Belushi is just doing his thing (and winds up with the only "trailer moment" in the movie; it's annoying), Hanks is trying to juggle between the deadpan and the manic with Fisher in basically the same boat, Noonan is in this complete dark comedy world, Durning is really only interacting with his set, Lander's completely alone in the sewer, and Herrmann, probably making the wisest choice, plays his role completely straight underneath a silly hat.
Of course, as a remake this film has something of a headwind as far as construction is concerned. And it's a remake of the nobler, now considerably rarer breed. Think about it; isn't "Remade in 1985 as ____" a little less exploitive than just "remade in 1985?" A situation where it's not a reliance on a familiar title or license for exploitation, but a remake made on the presumption that the story would be appealing to a different audience. So with the structure pretty firmly in place, Red Shoe is largely about professional delivery of pre-existing material, and on that level it seems to go fairly well. I've only seen clips of The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, and quite some time ago, so I can't really comment on the movie's value as a remake beyond the general comment expressed above, but it does seem that many of the gags, especially Hanks in the bathroom, have the flavor of out-and-out recreations. As noted, the gags are more apt to bring a smile than a laugh, and the overall movie, despite a rather biting satirical hand, just has a very mellow flavor.
The movie is presented in a fine 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer, and a panned and scanned waste of time on the flip side. The stereo track provides a nice mix of the film's sound and score, which has a nice punchy sound to its heavy use of the high-range keyboard. The score, as noted, is repetitive and a bit lame, so I guess it's kind of a win-lose situation there. The menus incorporate the appealing poster image, an acrylic abstract of the red shoe with one of its shoelaces burning as if it were a bomb fuse. They also are gracefully silent and still, which is good. The movie's theatrical trailer is provided as the sole extra, unless you want to count the smattering of promotional trailers for other Fox flicks with Tom Hanks in 'em.
Overall, while The Man With One Red Shoe is not an especially good movie, it's not a particularly bad one either; it's just sort of average. For a light 92 minutes you could do a lot worse (or better). Though it lacks wholeness, the movie is still densely plotted for a comedy and has appealing performances from Coleman, Herrmann, Singer, Fisher, and the still young and hungry Hanks. It's a Twinkie, but hey, once in a while a Twinkie is called for. If you're in the mood for a light '80s movie with an adult contemporary flavor, and you've already seen Roxanne, you might as well check it out.
The Man with One Red Shoe is found to be guilty of being a red herring and thus is released into the sea to swim with its elusive brethren.
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