One Red Shoe: Objectively Bad or Guiltily Pleasing?

21 Jul

A friend of mine, someone I respect immensely, recently made the point that an entire genre of movies, such as frothy old-school musicals, could be written off as “objectively bad.” Think about that. Such a movie that by virtually any standard could be uniformly declared irredeemable.

Hmmm….

Is there really a such thing as an objectively bad movie? I’m sure each of knows a likely candidate with no unanimous choice among us. After all, one viewer’s “objectively bad” film is another viewer’s guilty pleasure.

This image, as far as I can tell, is fan generated rather than a creation of 20th Century Fox though the red shoe with what appears to be a fuse doubling as a shoelace was the focal point of the original marketing campaign. If only the initial effort had been this clever, what with the violin, the crosshairs, the bullet, and the treble clef. As noted, there are two indisputable–objective, even–truths regarding The Man with One Red Shoe. The first is that the film was based on popular French import from the 1970s, that is, The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe. The second is that TMWORS was almost universally panned. If memory serves, the then reviewer for the Dallas Observer wrote a generally enthusiastic piece as did, I think I recall, a critic for the trade mag, Film Journal. To almost everyone else, it registered as a stinker. What’s interesting to me is how the 1985 Americanized remake could fare so poorly, considering the popularity of the original–remember, a sequel followed–and how closely the revamp adheres to the original’s blueprint, and that includes incredibly specific plot points and seemingly superficial details, everything from malfunctioning toilet, to a character who spouts soap bubbles, a buffoonish best friend, an unwelcome surprise in a refrigerator, and the backless dress that one character sports in a key scene. One thought is that the remake’s fidelity to the original was too literal for some critics’ taste, rendering it redundant. I know I felt the same about 1996’s The Bird Cage, funny, yes, but not so different from the French La Cage Aux Folles, hardly at all. What was even the point? That’s one consideration. But I still don’t understand all the hate. Check out the trailer for the original’s DVD release: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5reZQqqv_mA (IMAGE: http://www.freakingnews.com/The-Man-With-One-Red-Shoe-Pictogram-Movie-Poster-Pictures-111321.asp)

Meanwhile, what about a movie I pegged as one my favorite guilty pleasures from the 1980s when I wrote my first post for this blog?

When Tom Hanks starred in 1985’s The Man with One Red Shoe, he appeared unstoppable. After bopping around for a few years with a ho-hum résumé that included sitcoms (such as short-lived Bosom Buddies and a recurring role in Family Ties), a high-profile, if problematic,  mini-series (Mazes and Monsters), and an early slasher flick (He Knows You’re Alone), Hanks scored a big screen hit with Splash, an escapist romantic comedy in which he starred opposite luscious Daryl Hannah as a mermaid adrift, so to speak, in modern-day Manhattan.  The Ron Howard film, the first to carry Disney’s “boutique” Touchstone banner, garnered enthusiastic reviews and generated healthy box-office receipts in the spring of 1984, earning a place among the year’s top 10 box office hits. From there, Hanks enjoyed a second, albeit lesser, success with the summer release of the raunchy, yet likeable, Bachelor Party, technically filmed before Splash but advantageously released in the wake of its luster. While hardly in the same league as Splash, Bachelor Party, produced for a relative pittance (about 4 mil), beat the odds in the Summer of Ghostbusters to turn a healthy profit (38 mil, per the IMDb); we played the bachelor romp for several weeks at my old haunt, the UA Prestonwood Creek 5 where, again, it held its own against Billy Murray and Dan Aykroyd’s big budget supernatural comedy.

With two top 20 hits in one year, per Box Office Mojo, Hanks looked to his next triumph–as he should have.

When Stan Dragoti signed on to direct 1985’s The Man with One Red Shoe,  he also had reason to be optimistic.  Seguing from commercials to feature films in the late 1970s, he helmed Love at First Bite (1979). The raucous vampire spoof starred debonair George Hamilton as Count Dracula, recently transplanted to NYC and in heady pursuit of stunning Susan St. James. While hardly uniformly praised by critics, Love at First Bite nonetheless had many admirers among the press, and moviegoers responded favorably as evidenced by robust ticket sales. So far, so good. In 1983, Dragoti scored another hit with Mr. Mom, starring Michael Keaton and Terri Garr. As its title suggests, the two leads portray a married couple who deal with the early 80s economic crunch by flipping the breadwinner role.  Stay-at-home wife and mom (Garr), armed with a degree in advertising, returns to the workforce after her husband (Keaton) loses his engineering job at an automobile plant. He then becomes the stay-at-home dad but has a heck-of-a-time making the adjustment, thereby setting gags-a-plenty in motion as only wily Keaton can. Barely a year after his breakout role in Night Shift, Keaton, much like Hanks, was on a roll; likewise, Garr was also hot, hot, hot at the time, fresh on the heels of her Oscar nominated supporting turn in Tootsie. Oh, and Mr. Mom benefitted from the expertise of National Lampoon contributor John Hughes, still a year away from directing the likes of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. In 1983, Hughes earned screenwriting credits for both Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation, but I digress.

After Mr. Mom‘s favorable showing, Dragoti seemed well-situated for more success.

Next up, producer Victor Drai. The Moroccan-born, Paris based, business man produced 1984’s The Woman  in Red, a modestly successful Americanized take on the award winning French farce Pardon Mon Affaire. Directed and co-written by Gene Wilder, who also starred, and featuring Drai’s then wife, actress-model Kelly Le Brock, The Woman in Red eked only middling business in many markets but nevertheless generated a hit soundtrack full of gorgeous tunes by Stevie Wonder (joined on duets by Dionne Warwicke), winning an Oscar for jingle-friendly “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

Drai turned his sights on another popular French entry, a spy comedy wordily titled The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe. He would be joined in the retitled The Man with One Red Shoe by hotshots Stan Dragoti and Tom Hanks.

A lot of critics and moviegoers would no doubt knock The Man with One Red Shoe as “objectively bad.”

I object.

Don’t misunderstand. The Man with One Red Shoe suffered an objectively humiliating fate upon its release in the summer of ’85 (dominated by Back to the Future, Rambo, and Cocoon). Generally slammed by critics, the public stayed away in droves even with Hanks’ recently cemented star power. Hanks’ stock recovered just a few short weeks later with the mildly successful Volunteers, the making of which served as his introduction to wife Rita Wilson. Clearly, Hanks rebounded from the disappointment of The Man with One Red Shoe, but what about the film itself?

I saw the movie four times, maybe five, during its miniscule-run that summer. First, I caught a free advance screening; then at least once, maybe twice, at a theatre in my neighborhood (NOT the one where I worked), and then again, I shamelessly admit: twice in one day when it hit the local discount ($1.00) house.

I enjoy it that much. I laughed myself into sweet silly oblivion.

As noted, The Man with One Red Shoe is based on a popular French film from the 70s, The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, a movie with such a following that it spawned a sequel. If that isn’t enough to ring a bell,  think about this: The Man with One Red Shoe plays as a big-screen installment of Mad magazine’s recurring “Spy vs. Spy” strip (per Antonio Prohías) as directed by The Pink Panther‘s Blake Edwards.  To Edwards’ fans, the comparison to TMWORS approaches heresy; to those who aren’t necessarily amused by Edwards’ brand of comedy, the comparison doesn’t help.

Simply, Charles Durning plays CIA head honcho while Dabney Coleman, operating on a lower rung, itches to get ahead. Back and forth they go, trying to one-up the other in order to secure the top spot once and for all.  Durning, his back against the wall yet again, conspires with right-hand man, Edward Herrmann, to set a trap that will trick Coleman into incriminating himself–along with his team of operatives.  Hanks’ violinist functions as the proverbial pawn to bait the trap. He’s completely innocent but attracts Herrmann’s attention during an airport stakeout due to his  (Hanks’) mismatched shoes, the result of a practical joke sprung by his friend and fellow symphony member, Jim Belushi. With Herman’s manipulations, Coleman need only believe that Hanks looms as a threat before going rogue, leaving a trail of self-incriminating destruction.

The Man with One Red Shoe is slickly produced with first-rate cinematography, art-direction, and music, along with a an ace supporting cast. Plenty to recommend as far as all that, but it also contains three of the funniest sequences I’ve ever seen, comparable, again, to anything Blake Edwards devised for the Pink Panther movies, starring Peter Sellers as bumbling Inspector Clouseau–or even, later, in Victor/Victoria.  A friend of mine from the movie days agreed that the three specific sequences were indeed funny but also argued that they were the only things in the movie that were funny, and that was a problem.

I object.

Early in the movie, Hanks suffers a tooth mishap, the result of another prank, and schedules an appointment with a dentist that goes horribly wrong thanks to cold feet and the machinations of second and third tier stooges. The whole sequence plays out with little or no dialogue, thereby underscoring the notion that film is a visual medium. As funny as the gag is, some critics carp that it’s part of the film’s mean streak, but is it any meaner than, say, any other slapstick routine? Those who aren’t fans of slapstick will likely say yes–or argue that the comparison is beside the point. The rest of us will roll with it, relieved at our good fortune to be watching safely from a distance. Full disclosure: I visited the dentist earlier in the week.

While Hanks is away, presumably at the dentist, more members of Coleman’s crew invade the violinist’s historic Georgetown apartment, pretty much destroying it in a futile attempt to find evidence of presumed covert activity. The problem is that Hanks returns sooner than expected, requiring a hasty cleanup. This results in a plumbing mess that challenges Hanks when performing routine hygiene.  Mostly silent, as well, the bit benefits from well-timed sound and visual effects, along with Hanks’s physical dexterity, and Dragoti’s smart staging. He parks the camera and allows the action to unfold without a lot of fuss. Perfection.

The third such sequence is set in the lavish apartment of this movie’s Bond-girl equivalent, played adroitly by marvelous Lori Singer. She works for Coleman under the guise of a D.C. tour-guide and plots to capture Hanks’s attention. After a night at the symphony, they end up at her place and enjoy a cozy moment, a little too cozy for Hanks who makes all the wrong moves, humiliating Singer in the process. She recovers, luckily, and gives the gag its coda.

Besides such talents as Hanks, Durning, Coleman, Herrmann, and Belushi, The Man with One Red Shoe features David Ogden Stiers as a frustrated symphony conductor and David Landers (affectionately remembered as “Squiggy” from Laverne & Shirley), an agent tasked with an unenviable assignment, along with Irving Metzman, Gerrit Graham, and Tom Noonan, reliable actors likely better remembered by face rather than name. On the other hand,  Carrie Fisher needs no introduction though she’s cast in the thankless–idiotic–role of Belushi’s flirtatious wife. She’s slumming and appears to know it. Bless her.

Back to the one and only Singer, a Corpus Christi native. She dead-pans her way through the role of a cunning, well-versed, and irresistible spy. I think her performance is a canny hoot, but that’s almost beside the point, given her impeccable bone structure, long, full-bodied sandy-blonde hair, and lean, limber frame.  Nearing 5’11”,  she’s a perfect match for Hanks, at 6 ft, and looks runway ready whether making a handoff clad in black with luxe shades,  snooping in a white smock, sprinting in teeny running shorts, or playing seductress in a slinky evening gown.  For better or worse, she recalls Hanks’s Splash co-star Daryl Hannah and no doubt scores of moviegoers took her to be Hannah (or were otherwise disappointed that she wasn’t), but Singer appears to be having much more fun than she did in 1984’s Footloose, as the much-feared preacher’s headstrong teenage daughter. Oh, she had her moments in the latter, but she also seemed a tad miscast as a high-schooler–even though she first caught audiences’ attention while in her 20s and playing a teen-aged musician in the TV adaptation of Fame. By the end of ’85 she would earn strong notices and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Alan Rudolph’s rain-swept Trouble in Mind.

The look of The Man with One Red Shoe is very much in step with music videos of the early to mid 1980s (think Duran Duran), sharp, graphic, with bold colors and dramatic shadows. TV’s Miami Vice comes to mind, as does Risky Business. Or perfume commercials. Cinematographer Richard H. Kline’s considerable filmography includes Oscars nods for 1976’s King Kong remake and 1967’s lavish Camelot.  Kudos, as well, to a production design team led by Dean Edward Mintzer (art direction) and Anne D. McCulley (set decoration). Everything works. The sleekly impersonal-high tech vibe of Coleman’s deep, dark sinister spy lab contrasts with Hank’s more traditional, if tiny, living space, per its hardwood floors, white walls, “antique” furnishings, family photos, and crown molding; however, the centerpiece of the film’s décor is Singer’s art-filled peachy-pink hued apartment with its magnificent chandelier.  The whole thing looks expensive and of the moment, meaning it would not have appeared out of place in any interior design mag of the era. Of course, Singer’s pad is also strategically constructed using two-way glass, providing a convenient wrap-around observation post for Coleman and the rest of the crew to monitor Singer and Hank’s every move. Mintzer ‘s credits include 9 to 5, Disney’s original TRON, and an Emmy and one additional nod for TV’s Homefront (in the early 90s) as well as a third nod for The Flash. He also worked frequently on Charmed. McCulley shared one of Mintzer’s Homefront nods and earned a total of 5 Emmy nominations, co-winning, along with Jan Scott, for the highly acclaimed Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (starring Jane Alexander and Edward Hermann).

That’s the good news. Most of it.

If there is an objectively weak link in The Man with One Red Shoe, I would point to Hanks.  Oh, he’s ripe with boyish charm and a lush head of hair, to be sure, but the problem is that he’s just not used imaginatively. Keep in mind that Hanks’ Richard Drew is oblivious to the spy games going on all around him. He’s the straight man in the bunch, and he’s not even given many chances to react with bewildered double-takes.  Again, this isn’t his fault. It’s a conceptual misstep. Audiences in 1985 wanted and expected Hanks to be the funny guy–and if not funny, per se, then at least more dynamic. Still, his performance as already noted isn’t a complete washout, as in the scene when he struggles with plumbing or another instance in which he composes a few bars of music, improvising with a fogged-up mirror in the absence of sheet music. Smart, resourceful actor, but possibly miscast in this specific instance even with his redemptive moments. If the movie works–and I think it does–it does so in spite of Hanks, not because of him.

That noted, the second objectively weak link in the production has to be the way 20th Century Fox promoted it, mainly sans Hanks.  I don’t know all the behind-the-scenes gambits that factored into how the marketing campaign was put into motion, but I know early posters and ads prominently featured a giant red shoe similar to the one Hanks sports in the airport sequence, the lace of which looked almost like a fuse. Yes, it was eye-catching given that b&w was the norm for newsprint ads at the time, but so what?  Sure, Hanks’ name appeared on the poster, but so what? How can a poster sell a movie to paying audiences with an ad portrays nothing more concrete about the finished film than what can be deduced from reading the title, which itself is both wordy and vague, generic. After all, the movie isn’t about a shoe. By the time Hanks’ mug appeared in the promo materials, it was too little, too late; plus, there was nothing exciting about it: Hanks photographed from the waist up, smiling at the camera and looking vaguely eccentric—a word Singer uses to describe his character–thanks to his suspenders. Again, how does this do anything to help sell the movie other than remind audiences that Hanks is a nice guy.  Also, the trailer positions the movie as a loud rollicking comedy loaded with pratfalls, but the tone is misleading even though the pratfalls are real. Once again keep in mind that the same studio, Fox, marketed the heck out of Hanks in Bachelor Party only a year earlier, and in the same season as The Man with One Red Shoe rallied audiences to take a chance on Cocoon, a lite sci-fi concoction  heavily populated by actors in the 60-70 age bracket, not the usual summer bait. But Cocoon thrived.

Oh, and about that Man with One Red Shoe trailer.  The music in the promo is not even close to Thomas Newman’s actual score. Okay, that’s not uncommon. Movie trailers frequently recycle previous themes as a matter of expediency. Maybe the actual score is incomplete at the time the trailer is being produced. Okay. Also, a familiar score works as short-hand for the target audience. In this case, the music in the trailer is kind of chirpy with corny sound effects added to play up the comedy, and that’s pretty much an insult to Newman, he of Hollywood’s legendary clan of composers, per Alfred Newman of the legendary 20th Century Fox fanfare and over 40 Oscars nods (9 wins), along with two time Academy honoree Randy Newman (with more than a dozen nods), among others  This Newman had already been working in movies and TV before he signed on to compose the score for this film, the one component that seems beyond reproach. Objectively.

How to describe the score? While the film is neither a true caper nor an outright spy thriller, the musical antecedents suggest the retro-cool of Henry Manicini’s Pink Panther theme or Monty Norman’s original riff for the James Bond pictures, but there’s also something of the moment, the electronic “switched-on” thrills of the early to mid 1980s, that brings to mind the excitement of Vladimir Cosma’s award winning contributions to Diva or Tangerine Dream’s score for Risky Business (Bob Seger notwithstanding). This is not to say that Newman’s score is derivative, per se but, again, easy comparisons for the sake of context.

That noted, Newman cannot take credit for the film’s love theme, a violin serenade Hanks’ character composes, with a nod to Rimsky-Kosrsakov’s Scheherazade, and subsequently performs for Singer’s temptress. That piece is officially credited to Michael Masser, who is otherwise slighted in the opening credits.  Meanwhile, the music that plays during the closing credits seamlessly incorporates Newman’s theme with Masser’s melody, augmented by exotic jungle sounds (in keeping with a running gag about Tarzan-Jane role play), just a marvelous sonic experience. Btw, Masser previously shared an Oscar nod with no less than Gerry Goffin for co-composing the theme from Mahogany (1975) and co-wrote, as well, “Greatest Love of All” (with Linda Creed), which originally appeared in Muhammad Ali’s The Greatest before becoming a monster hit for Whitney Houston.

It’s a shame that Newman–and Masser–didn’t get more recognition for this score in its time, but I understand that the movie could hardly be described as a significant achievement–naysayers would dub it “objectively bad”–and therefore less likely to generate awards buss, yet what is even worse is that, by multiple accounts, a soundtrack was never released, which is a little odd considering that in the 1980s, releasing a soundtrack was part of the movie marketing gig though, to be fair, the most successful soundtracks were more likely to follow the template of say, The Big Chill (1983), Flashdance (1983), most any John Hughes film (per The Breakfast Club), or the aforementioned Woman in Red, chock-a-block-full of radio-friendly pop tunes rather than a traditional score. Still again, the absence of a soundtrack release only reaffirms what a poor job Fox did in promoting its own film.

As noted, Hanks rebounded, slightly,  from the failure of The Man with One Red Shoe only weeks later with Volunteers though he was still a few years away from a flat-out smash, per 1988’s Big. We know what beckoned after that: superstardom and back-to-back Oscars for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994) among heaps of hits and wild acclaim.  Bigger and better things also awaited composer Newman. He earned a pair of Oscar nods for 1994’s Little Women and The Shawshank Redemption and since gone on to earn nominations galore–14–though has yet to take home his own trophy despite contributions to such heavyweights as American Beauty, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Skyfall.  His Little Women, btw, is one example of a score that gets recycled in trailers for other movies.

Again, Singer generated plenty of awards buzz for Alan Rudolph’s Trouble in Mind and later stole a scene or two playing a cellist–she’s a former real-life child prodigy–in Robert Altman’s star-studded Short Cuts and briefly starred in TV’s VR5; meanwhile, reliable actors Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, and Edward Herrmann seemingly never lacked for work. For example, Herman also portrayed Susan Sarandon’s lawyer husband in the same summer’s saucy whodunit Compromising Positions, based on Susan Isaac’s best seller about adultery–and murder–among denizens of Long Island’s affluent Shorehaven crowd.

Dragoti and Drai weren’t around much longer. Dragoti directed only a few more films, bailing after 1991’s locally filmed football comedy Necessary Roughness, starring Scott Bakula. Drai fared a little better with the popular Weekend at Bernies comedies though before that he suffered the humiliating fate of producing another summer of ’85 flop, a silly reboot of The Bride of Frankenstein, simply called The Bride and starring Sting and Jennifer Beals.

Besides The Bride and the aforementioned Back to the Future, Rambo, and Cocoon as well as Volunteers and Compromising Positions, the summer of ’85 also saw the release of such hits as Prizzi’s Honor, The Goonies, Fright Night, and Fletch. The latter was a smashing star vehicle for Chevy Chase, a light mystery with laffs in which the SNL alum portrays the sleuthing reporter created by novelist Gregory McDonald. I don’t know how faithful the hit film was to McDonald’s source material, but it doesn’t matter. The movie was funny and a well-deserved crowd favorite with Chase reveling in comic opportunities as his reporter assumes one guise after another while piecing together his investigation. I saw Fletch a handful of times in theatres as well. I think we played it second run. My thought is, and has long been, that anyone who enjoyed Fletch should also consider giving The Man with One Red Shoe a chance. Objectively. At the very least, fans of Harold Faltermeyer’s scores for both Fletch and the celebrated Beverly Hills Cop might even dig Newman’s score of for the Hanks movie. Trust.

One more note. In this post I have made multiple references to Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva, one of my all-time favorite movies (since the first frame, back when I saw it at the Inwood way, way, back in the day), and Paul Brickman’s Risky Business, the flick that effectively launched Tom Cruise toward major stardom. In my mind, the films are connected. I’d already seen movies galore before I ever watched Diva that first time, but its mix of romance, cat-and-mouse thrills, a chase through the Paris metro, souped-up visuals, and a score that covered everything from opera (per La Wally by Alfredo Catalini) to new age-y Zen to pulsating electronica, blew my mind. Slightly more than a year later, I felt that Brickman’s film with its arty mix of dreamy, perfume ad imagery, forbidden sex, double/triple crosses, dark humor, trains, a cool chase sequence, and hypnotic score evoked a similar sensation, not to mention that both films’ plots turn on the romantic ideals and foolish whims of young men whose paths cross with pimps and/or sex traffickers.  The Man with One Red Shoe is definitely lighter and lesser, with a lesser train scenario, than those antecedents though it shares a similar sense of style, that is, romantic lyricism juxtaposed with the snap, crackle, punch of early MTV videos as punk gave way to New Wave. And, importantly, the music. Here’s the thing. After all this time, I learned over the course of researching this piece that famed composer Vladimir Cosma, whose superlatives include France’s César Award for Diva, coincidentally wrote the score for TMWORS’s original French incarnation, and the circle is complete.

Thanks for your consideration…please take a moment to follow the links….

 

Here is a link to a portion of Thomas Newman’s score for The Man with One Red Shoe:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYGqu_7U42o

Here is a link to a take on Masser’s love theme from The Man with One Shoe as arranged by Claudio Olachea:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9BYVdGiwT0

 

 

 

 

 

 

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