Review: The Man With One Red Shoe (Dragoti, 1985)

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Companion review for Top 10 Tom Hanks Films 1984 – 1989

The Man With One Red Shoe (Stan Dragoti, USA, 1985)
Dir. Stan Dragoti; starring Tom Hanks, Dabney Coleman

Before Tom Hanks got Oscar-happy after Philadelphia and he moved into much more dramatic roles, he was like an 1980’s version of Groucho Marx, just stripped of that singular originality and as superficial as the period.

Certainly, his direction change wasn’t unwelcome because as an actor in the nineties he’s delivered some of the most iconic films of the period, excelling with some truly great directors with his roles in Forrest Gump, The Polar Express, Cast Away, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Road To Perdition, and The Ladykillers. Yet his eighties output was a joy to watch for so many, and he proved on many an occasion that he was an assured comic actor. It was just a shame that the films he was working on weren’t always built on the best of foundations. The Man With One Red Shoe is one of those films, but it’s the type of hollow fluff that tastes like candy floss and goes down a treat.

Based on the French original entitled The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe, the American remake all but extinguishes the social comment, happily allowing the quite complicated plot create many an absurd moment, relying on the resulting humour to cover-up the inadequacies of a story that would have brain surgeons struggling to follow. Basically, the CIA have some upper-crust head honcho trying to further his career, and Tom Hanks becomes the pawn to play with after operatives begin tracking him when he gets off a plane. Totally oblivious to their presence Hanks’ character goes about his everyday life without realising the government are following his every move. Soon enough things get even more complicated when he falls in love with one of the female CIA agents, while an affair he had with his best friend’s wife becomes local news.

It’s easy to compare the film with others Hanks made in the period – it has the madcap feel of Dragnet but doesn’t share the unique oddness of the Aykroyd/Hanks vehicle; it has the feel-good nature and stand-out characters of Volunteers, but it doesn’t have the ingenuity of The ‘burbs or Hanks on top form like Big and The Money Pit. It’s one of those films Hanks made that is destined to be forgotten, shifted to the back of the pile and forever a midnight movie on some backwater television channel.

Admittedly, it is quite convoluted and while it does have some laughs the characters don’t have the depth to make you care, and the film can become quite boring at times. It isn’t one of the best roles Hanks has played and he doesn’t always look comfortable, perhaps realising that it just isn’t up to the standard of his two previous films in 1984 – Splash and Bachelor Party. But he’s still lovable in the role. The idea of government agents tracking someone who has no clue to their actions is an interesting one, but while the interaction of these elements make for some of the better comedic moments, director Stan Dragoti doesn’t handle the tone of the film very well, not melding the spy-like drama with the straightforward situation comedy giving it a bits and pieces feel. The ‘parts’ might be there, but the ‘whole’ isn’t.

The Man With One Red Shoe has its problems but like most of Hanks’ output it’s still likeable enough to sit through. His traits as a comedy performer come through in some lovely dry moments like when he finds out his toothpaste has been switched with shampoo and he starts blowing bubbles, and when he tries to dissuade sex away from Carrie Fisher whose fetish for animalistic Tarzan and Jane role-play is very funny. Then there’s the fact the whole sex debacle was recorded on surveillance tapes and Fisher’s husband James Belushi just so happens to hear it and thinks his wife is having sex in the back of an ambulance, because the CIA are using the vehicle as cover for the their presence.

Of course, the scene everyone talks about is the one everyone remembers, when beautiful Lori Singer gets her head stuck in Hanks’ zipper when she’s supposed to be questioning him in a room with two-way mirrors, her entire team watching on.

The Man With One Red Shoe is light entertainment – convoluted, contrived, and disjointed light entertainment but entertainment all the same. If it wasn’t for yet another lovable Tom Hanks performance and some choice comedic moments it wouldn’t be worth the celluloid it’s printed on, but thankfully, it has just that.

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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