By the time of publishing, this film is currently available to stream on Netflix US.
Time changes everything. Watching The Man with One Red Shoe in the 1980s, when it was originally released, was a very different experience than watching it today. Of course any movie from the 80s is bound to feature big hair, shoulder pads and a synth-pop score. And that’s okay. That WAS the 1980s. But what you also sometimes find with films from an earlier decade is that the comedy just doesn’t hold up well over time. And that’s sadly the case with The Man with One Red Shoe.
First, let’s address the plot. The conflict of the film is based on a feud between two CIA officials who try to propel their careers forward by bringing down the other. Dabney Coleman and Charles Durning play the rivals, both leaning into their expected roles as comedic heavies. Durning’s character is in hot water for his apparent involvement in a smuggling operation. Knowing his home has been bugged, he makes it seem as if there is someone out there who will clear his name. Coleman’s character wants to seal the fate of his rival, and becomes obsessed with finding the supposed witness and keeping him from testifying. Caught in the cross-fire of the men’s bickering is Tom Hanks, who plays Richard Drew, a violinist who is completely oblivious to the complicated political intrigue he has become a part of. He, of course, knows nothing about the CIA or any smuggling operation. He’s just a musician with problems of his own, mainly stemming from the fact he’s having an affair with his best friend’s (Jim Belushi) wife, played by Carrie Fisher. The comedy ramps up as a beautiful spy named Maddy (Lori Singer) tries to seduce Drew, but ends up developing real feelings for him.
It’s a complicated plot, and it has the potential to be a really funny farce. Unfortunately, the film comes off flat. The cast is terrific, though some of these young actors were just starting to get traction in their careers. Tom Hanks, for example, was still a relatively unknown actor, best known for his breakthrough role in the film Splash a year before, and his role on the sitcom Bosom Buddies. But a film starring Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Andrew Herrmann, Carrie Fisher, and Jim Belushi should be better than this film is. It’s not that there aren’t funny moments. And the plot is convoluted enough to at least hold your attention. But there’s something about the pacing and the way the film is edited that just seems to be lacking. It might just be the changing tastes and sophistication of movie-goers today vs. the 1980s. However, the film wasn’t well received when it was released, either. The score, the cinematography, and the general storytelling just don’t live up to their potential. But despite that, you can tell that Tom Hanks was destined for stardom, even in this early film. There’s some glint of the comic timing he became famous for, and he is able, at times, to overcome the generally bland material.
The Man with One Red Shoe was actually an adaptation of a French farce titled The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe. Director Stan Dragoti has been more or less forgotten today, though he did achieve attention in the 80s for his direction of the genuinely funny Mr. Mom (1983) starring Michael Keaton, and the vampire spoof Love at First Bite released in 1979. But Dragoti wasn’t able to find a clear focus for this film, and he failed to “find the funny.” There’s too much attention paid to the ridiculous plot twists and the political intrigue. Yet the film also misses the mark in terms of any sort of astute political commentary on Reagan-era, Cold War politics.
The verdict? Check out this film for a nostalgic look at Hanks’ early work, or perhaps to laugh at the very 80s-inspired fashion choices and score. Otherwise, I’d suggest skipping The Man with One Red Shoe and instead go back and watch some genuinely solid Hanks comedies from the 80s, such as Big (1988) or Punchline (1988). Heck, Turner & Hooch (1989) is a much better film than The Man with One Red Shoe.