Year Released: 1992
Directed by: David Seltzer
Starring: Melanie Griffith, Michael Douglas, Liam Neeson, Joely Richardson, John Gielgud
(R. 132 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Drama, Action and Adventure, Romance
"He needed to trust her with his secret. She had to trust him with her life." Tagline from Shining Through
Wedged in between his Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992) sexcapades, this 1992 little sleeper of a film starring Michael Douglas is nothing of the sort. He’s basically a stand up guy here, a lawyer so humorless his colleagues nickname him the pallbearer.
He’s also a spy, but certainly not in the serial seducer James Bond tradition, although the Harvard man does fall for his working class secretary, but keeps her at arm’s length once World War II breaks out.
Nor is he like Michael Caine’s Cockney Harry Palmer of The Ipcress File, the anti-James Bond, who even with his cockney accent and horn-rimmed glasses is every bit as sexy as his better-known rival.
Though this spy thriller was made in 1992, it is infused with the romantic idealism and vibrant Technicolor we associate with the 1940s and 1950s. So don’t expect any gritty realism or artistic lighting. There are none of the muted greys, shadows gliding past us without revealing their true significance, that John le Carré gave us in Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy. Nor is it a slap in the face to the glamorized intrigue of the spy world, an unflinching portrait of moral compromise that slowly eats away at a man’s soul like le Carré’s other work classic work, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
Maybe because our mainland was never bombed or occupied as was most of Europe, Shining Through is uniquely American in its moral clarity and upbeat optimism. How can it be anything else with Melanie Griffin bringing back all her Working Girl (1988) chutzpah to her role as Linda Voss, Leland’s half Jewish secretary? During her job interview, Leland asks her to stand up and turn around. Thinking that an excuse to observe her feminine charms, she refuses.
But when Leland assures her it is merely a memory test he gives all potential employees, asking them to recall what they had just seen on his desk, Linda responds in her own way. Seated and with eyes wide open she tells him exactly what is on the wall behind her – as well giving a witty assessment of the two men interviewing her:
Pictures of sailboats and polo ponies; fancy books and diplomas; stuffed fish on the wall; calendar set to the wrong date; bookcases that need dusting; carpets that need cleaning; and a couple of guys from Harvard who are surprised that a girl who needs a job won't be treated like a slave.
Griffith’s Linda Voss has the same pluck and almost squeaky-voiced determination of Jean Arthur, while Douglas recalls the real life exploits of Arthur’s frequent co-star, Jimmie Stewart, a two Star General who participated in several missions into Nazi occupied Europe, flying his B-24 in the lead position of his group in order to inspire his troops.
Undaunted by the inherent danger, Linda volunteers to go behind enemy lines to procure some secret documents, propelled by her stubborn courage and an ability to speak German – albeit like a butcher’s wife.
The inimitable John Gieguld is her dour German handler, Sunflower, as inappropriately named as fellow spy George Smiley. Sunflower deplores her accent and locks Linda up in a basement cubicle, “until he can decide what to do with her,” recalling all that loveable-snobbish disdain he put in his Oscar winning role as Dudley Moore’s butler Hobson in Arthur (1981).
A very young looking Liam Neesom plays the Nazi widower who employs her to watch his young children. We squirm as she takes them on a bus ride to the seamy parts of Berlin while she looks for her Jewish cousins purportedly in hiding there. The “trip to the zoo” almost turns tragic when Allied bombs descend upon them, but it features one of the best shots of the film as an escaped zebra runs through the smoke and carnage, capturing the chaos. Linda is so beautiful and charming, though, all this recklessness merits is mild disapproval from her employer, as well as an invitation to the opera!
Joely Richardson, who would become Neeson’s sister-in-law 2 years later, shines as Sunflower’s niece, a German socialite also working as an Allied agent. Blond and beautiful, she is as bubbly as champagne and injects a devil may care frivolity into the dangerous mission.
With now we need all the frivolity we can get, so why stream this sleeper and indulge in some genuine American escapism for a while. It beats driving through the traffic to see what is playing at the cinema right now.
Linda lands her unlikely mission behind enemy lines with a combination of personality and passion, as well as the cooking skills taught to her by her German grandmother
Spy Ed Leland and his colleagues abruptly need to replace a murdered agent in Berlin at very short notice. Despite knowing little about intelligence work — only what she's seen in movies — Linda volunteers and Ed allows himself to be persuaded by her fluent German and passion to contribute to the war effort, not to mention her skills in reproducing German-based dishes, as proven by her banging on his front door in the middle of the night and getting him to taste her "German Kompot."
Try this popular drink to sustain you up as you watch this fine little film. A little cinnamon schnapps added to it is a nice addition, too.
German Kompot Drink
¾ cup of prunes (dried plums)
½ cup of dried cranberry
2 cinnamon sticks
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Juice of ½ orange
Find large pot and fill it with water (about 2 quarts). Cut all fresh fruit and put them in the pot. When you bring it to boil, decrease the heat and add dried fruit, cinnamon sticks, vanilla extract, sugar, and at the end of cooking add orange juice. It should be done in 15-20 minutes when the fruit is soft enough. Serve it hot.