Shining Through Review

Alexander Larman has reviewed the Region 2 release of Shining Through. A film that is a working definition of ‘So bad it’s good’, although with ‘good’ as a highly relative term in this case, Fox’s DVD presentation is good technically but lacking in extras.

The Film

The Golden Razzies, the ceremony designed to honour the worst film of the year, tend to be right in their assessments of truly awful films; such cinematic dross as Ghosts Can’t Do it, Striptease, and Burn, Hollywood, Burn. Of course, they do occasionally get it hideously wrong, as with Stanley Kubrick’s nomination for worst director with The Shining, but their assesments tend to be fairly sound. Therefore, it is with little surprise that I learnt that Shining Through managed to win worst director, worst film, worst actress and worst screenplay in 1993, with Michael Douglas losing worst actor to Razzie perennial Sylvester Stallone. To say that Shining Through is merely bad, though, is to miss the point, as this is one of the most gloriously stupid films ever made by a major studio.

The basic plot is hilariously unlikely. For amusement’s sake, here is the bare bones of it; America’s best spymaster, Ed Leland (Douglas), a man with a firm jaw and an even firmer sense of moral rectitude, has decided that a Nazi should be spied on, seemingly for no other reason than that it passes the time, and presumably keeps him in hair dye. Therefore, as he fails to speak any German at all, he decides that his secretary, Linda Voss (Griffith) should be sent to Germany to act as the Nazi’s housekeeper, given her superb pastry baking skills. The minor matter of any other espionage skills goes unnoticed, and indeed seems of little interest to Leland, given that he is, unsurprisingly, having a passionate love affair with Voss, an affair characterised by dialogue like ‘I knew it was Tuesday when Ed and I said goodbye because the next day was Wednesday.’

There are so many things wrong with the film that it’s hard to know where to start. The first one is probably Melanie Griffith’s casting. In the sort of role that Meryl Streep (or Cate Blanchett today) might have partially rescued from the abysmal script, Griffith is hopelessly at sea, seemingly unable to express any other emotion than surprise or petulance, occasionally in a combination of the two, thus showing her range. Griffith is fine in light comic roles, such as Working Girl and even de Palma’s Body Double, but she appears utterly stranded in even a role like this, with her ludicrously little-girl-lost delivery adding even more hilarity to lines like ‘What’s a war for, if not to hold onto what we love?’ Her performance makes the oeuvre of Bo Derek look like beautiful examples of range and timing, and so overshadows Douglas’ wooden performance that it goes without saying that he is very, very weak indeed, as is Joely Richardson, complete with abysmal German accent. Only Liam Neeson, pre-stardom, manages to give anything like a decent performance, in a kind of dry run for his far superior performance as Oskar Schindler the following year as the ‘good’ Nazi captain.

However, it’s the appalling script that really sabotages the film beyond repair, both in terms of plotting and dialogue. The finest example of the film’s stupidity comes towards the end of the film (spoilers coming up, for all you masochists out there). Douglas has come to Germany to rescue Griffith, presumably because he’s got a feeling that she’s in trouble. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, he doesn’t speak a word of German. However, Baldrick-like, he has a cunning plan; he will affix a bandage round his neck and hold up a sign saying ‘Wounded war veteran. Cannot speak’. Unfortunately, when he is actually asked to produce his papers, he has forgotten his sign, and ends up gesticulating manically at his neck, while miraculously managing to understand the questions he is being asked, despite of course not speaking any German at all. In the end, it’s hardly surprising that he gives up and starts shooting people, despite carrying a sleeping Griffith over his shoulder. And, no, I am not making any of this up.

In a sense, it’s a pity that the film is so poor, as the production values are superb, with some good sets and good cinematography by Jan de Bont (who really should have watched this a few more times before making Speed 2 and The Haunting as a cautionary tale). However, it can’t really be recommended on any level than as a film to be enjoyed, preferably while drunk, on the level of ‘so awful, it’s good’. Whether you’d want to spend £20 for the privilege of seeing Griffith and Douglas in possibly the worst old age make-up ever put on film, amongst other horrors, is another matter. Of course, I enjoyed the sheer stupidity of it all immensely, and was never really bored; that said, I could also attempt to mount a defense of Kevin Costner’s The Postman if you asked me to.

The Picture

The transfer is a moderately nice 2.35:1 anamorphic effort from Fox, with a print in good condition, as you would expect from a comparatively recent film, and no sign of scratches or other damage. However, the transfer did frequently look rather dark and colourless, with very muted colours, as well as some murky blacks, which make the various nighttime scenes rather hard to see clearly. Not a bad transfer, but not one to shout from the rooftops about either.

The Sound

A rather good 5.1 mix is provided, which does a nice job of accentuating Michael Kamen’s OTT score as well as making the ‘action scenes’ seem more immediate, with some good use of surround effects at times, and some nice subwoofer moments. Obviously, this isn’t Saving Private Ryan, but this is still a pretty pleasing effort, especially for such an undistinguished film, with a clear sound range and constantly audible dialogue and effects.

The Extras

As usual with truly awful films, it’s a relief to see that there isn’t a great deal of material that needs to be assessed. The featurette runs an impressive 4 minutes, and is the usual trite rubbish; the interviews run slightly longer, and are unintentionally amusing, as the cast and director appear to think that they have made a great film, apart from Douglas, who looks embarrassed throughout. The trailer, meanwhile, is cursed with one of the most awful pieces of music in its first half that I’ve ever heard, which makes it sound like some sort of Dynasty/Barbara Steele crossbreed. Actually….


If you’re a true devotee of dire films, and you genuinely enjoy spending money on rubbish, then you might get some pleasure out of purchasing this. However, oddly enough, I’d recommend the disc to anyone as a rental, as it’s funnier than many alleged comedies. Still, the most telling criticism of it is that I’m watching a DVD of Dad’s Army to review at the moment, which manages to paint a far truer and more accurate picture of WW2 than this does, as well as being rather funnier. Of course, this is the film with the classic line ‘No, my breasts stand up naturally’, as delivered by Griffith at a key dramatic moment. QED.

Alexander Larman

Updated: Sep 15, 2001

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