“Shining Through” is an espionage movie set in WWII Germany. It is based on the novel by Susan Isaacs, but I have been informed that the plot is vastly different. I’ll take the Internet’s word for that since, as you will deduce, I am very unlikely to read the book. The movie was written and directed by David Seltzer. He must be very proud because it cleaned up at the Razzies, winning for Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Actress (Melanie Griffith). It was nominated for Screenplay and Actor (Michael Douglas) – he was robbed! In a why bother move, it was filmed mostly in Berlin and Potsdam. You know, for authenticity!
The movie opens decades after the war with Linda Voss (Griffith) being interviewed for a documentary about (I guess) great women spies of WWII. I wonder if she will survive her mission deep into Nazi Germany. Flashback to 1940. Linda gets a job as a translator for an attorney named Leland (Douglas). She speaks fluent German because her father was a German Jew. In fact, she still has relatives hiding in Berlin. Linda has seen enough war movies (she’s a buff!) to figure out Leland is a spy. She often refers to war movies like “The Fighting 69th” starring Cary Grant. (A movie not starring Grant and not about spying, but don’t bother Seltzer with that.)
|I speak German, can I please be a spy?|
Opposites attract as Linda is feisty and Leland is foresty (he acts like a tree). Romantic music tells us it’s bedtime. Guys, try to make it this far into the movie and not just to win a Klondike bar. (Hint: this is one of only thirteen movies where Griffith shows her Melanies. I am serious about research.) When war breaks out Leland shows up in his OSS uniform and there is a Casablanca-like parting at an airport. Linda is jilted for her country. Six months later, Leland reappears on the arms of a bimbo at a dance Linda is moping at. AWKWARD. She uses a woman’s ultimate weapon (tears) to get him to admit he was in love with her. She accepts that admission although it is given while being eye-water tortured (and this guy is a spy?). He rehires her because he does not want to see that weapon deployed again.
|Casablanca, it ain't!|
The Germans are developing a bomb that can fly by itself. It will carry women’s tears. Just kidding. Someone needs to steal the plans. Is there anyone available that speaks German, but has no spy experience? Seems like a job for super-spy Leland, but he doesn’t speak German. Drat! The feisty Linda twists his arm and gets the gig. She is hooked up with an agent called “Sunflower” (John Geilgud) who is skeptical because he has a brain. He puts her in contact with a vivacious, overfriendly (oh, oh) German girl named Margrete (Joely Richardson) who is anti-Nazi for no discernible reason.
|a hot, blonde Nazi in a red dress with a gun|
Linda gets a position as the main cook in the target Nazi’s home and her first job is a major dinner party for a Nazi bigwig. Add not knowing how to cook to her not knowing how to spy resume. She spills soup on the guest of honor Col. Dietrich (Liam Neeson). (In Nazi Germany, the main chef was required to also serve the meal apparently.) She is sacked, but lucky for her Dietrich is one of those creepy Nazi’s that likes incompetent people to spill soup on them. He hires her as the nanny for his precious children. She can’t contact Leland to tell him about her big steaming pile of luck, but he finds out when he sees her in the crowd of a German newsreel. (No she is not flashing her Melanies, alas.)
Linda takes the two kids to the zoo, but has the ulterior motive of finding her relatives. The kids won’t mention a little side trip to a scary deserted room, will they? Linda’s discovery that her relatives are no longer in hiding (for a bad reason) is followed by a run through a bombing raid featuring a runaway zebra. Cinematic art! When they return home, she is not shot in the head by Dietrich. This gives her time to locate the secret room where Dietrich keeps his super-secret flying bomb plans. It’s so secret he hides the key above the door. Being an ace spy, she finds the key and photographs the plans and almost gets caught, of course.
Dietrich takes her to the opera dressed like his dead wife. Leland had never taken her to the opera. It’s unclear what that is supposed to mean. She is accidentally ratted out by Margrete’s mother. Back at the mansion she sees Dietrich with a gun and decides his incredible credulity has finally snapped. She flees in her gown, hops on the zebra and goes to her BFF Margrete’s house. Sorry, no zebra. She runs the ten miles.
Margrete is a Nazi double agent! And she had been so nice. Cheater! She stalks Linda, who not having gone to spy school, is very poor at hiding. Wait, she must have seen Joel Chandler in the famous wind mill scene in “Foreign Correspondent”. Anyway, she gets shot twice in the stomach before she miraculously kills Margrete. Is that the Gestapo banging at the door? Linda escapes (actually falls) down the laundry chute after throwing her purse out the window to make the bad guys think she fled. It's easy to fool the Gestapo.
Meanwhile, the intrepid Leland has arrived in Berlin disguised as a Nazi officer and hoping like hell no one expects him to speak German. (Who has time to learn a language while a war is going on?!) He finds her with the laundry and in a “Weekend at Bernie’s” homage takes her to the train station and puts her on a train to Switzerland. Did I mention she has two bullets in the stomach? At the border check point, the I-have-a-neck-wound-so-I-can't-talk gesturing Leland has to open fire on skeptical guards and then carries Linda over the border line while being shot in the back twice. Action - finally checked off. They both die of their mortal injuries. Sad, but realistic. But wait, how was she able to do the interview? Well, it must be tough recalling the death of her lover. But wait, who is that handsomely grey man with her two children? As I’m sure you already know, the microfilm she brought back hidden in her glove resulted in the bombing of Peenemunde and victory for the Allies in WWII.
|I'll shoot anyone who tries to keep me in this movie|
RACHELLE: The movie was far-fetched from the beginning with over the top acting from all the actors—a major disappointment because I like Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith. The plot required you to suspend all logical, realistic belief and thinking. The music was too dramatic throughout the movie. I always like happy endings, but when Michael Douglas looks like he has been riddled with bullets, once again reality is suspended to achieve that happy ending.
KEVIN: I remember the critical drubbing the movie took when it came out and the plot synopsis also did not make me keen to see it. It seemed far-fetched that Melanie Griffith could go behind enemy lines to win the war. Plus I knew it was a romance so it managed to slip past me for twenty years. This blog has caused me to give some movies a second chance. I have found invariably that my first impressions of movies I either avoided or did not like were correct the first time around. This movie starts with a ridiculous premise and piles on implausibilities. Although it could potentially have been entertaining, it would have taken a lot to overcome the unbelievable plot. Nothing that happens in the movie could have occurred. For instance, the German border with Switzerland was closed during the war so Linda and Leland could not have gotten into Germany by train. Worse, there are parts that make no sense.
Perhaps if the acting had been stellar. It is far from it. Griffith never comes close to making her character anything but a joke. In fact, the movie would have worked better as a comedy. But the big problem is Douglas. He sleep-walks through the film. There is no chemistry between the two. Barzman’s script deserves a lot of the blame. Tampering with the book was probably not a good idea. The flashback decision was a poor one because it reduced the suspense of the ending. Throwing in the Holocaust references was cheap, but had the positive effect of enlightening Griffith about that tragedy. Unbelievably, the 41 year old actress was not familiar with the plight of European Jews before making the movie! I guess I should excuse her because I thought I knew a lot about WWII but I did not know the raid on Peenemunde was due to a female non-spy smuggling microfilm and two bullets into Switzerland by train.
RACHELLE = D-
KEVIN = F