Shining Through (1992) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Shining Through was the Pearl Harbor or Alexander of its day, a mega-budget, star-studded extravaganza which underperformed at the box office. I suppose this flick must have lost a bundle of greenbacks, but it really kicked ass at the Razzies!

What else can you say about a film in which Melanie Griffith single-handedly defeats Nazi Germany?

Some scenes in this film are absolutely bewildering. Here is an example:

Melanie is an American who has been snuck behind enemy lines because she can speak German with a lower-class Berliner accent. Her contact in Berlin trains her to be the cook in the household of an important Nazi, and sets her up to oversee an important dinner. Melanie bungles the dinner completely. She serves the cucumber soup hot and the doves completely raw.

Now guess what happens as a result of this dinner? You will never imagine.

First, although Melanie's German contact obviously sent her in to this assignment totally misprepared, Mel never suspects that she was set up, and continues to trust the German woman.

Second, after Mel is fired as a chef by the minor Nazi official, the highest-ranking Nazi at the dinner party (Liam Neeson) immediately sees that she's masquerading as a cook, but does not assume that she is a spy pretending to be a cook. Instead, he assumes she is a nanny pretending to be a cook, so he hires her for his own household, thus giving her immediate access to every bit of info about the top-secret V-2 operation that he has been overseeing.

Say what????

None of that made even the tiniest bit of sense.

I have read many comments by reviewers and IMDb members who carped about the historical inaccuracy of this film. I'm sure they all had good points, although many of the comments involved nitpicking about hair styles and military insignia, and all that was over my head. I assume they were correct, based on the following things I could see for my own eyes:

  • Obviously, Michael Douglas, as the head of the German Bureau of OSS, could not keep taking the train from Zurich to Berlin and popping into Berlin whenever he felt like it. What could he use as a cover story? He couldn't even speak German.


  • The most entertaining detail I noticed was the location pf Peenemuende on a map. The director managed to locate it in the wrong place by taking a real map of someplace or another (is it even in Germany?) and inserting Peenemuende in a random spot by using some cheap white-out then typing over the map with a completely different style of font (see the picture to the left, which is an actual capture from the film.) This link shows the real location of Peenemuende. As you probably can determine if you understand German, it is located at the mouth of the Peene River, which flows into the Baltic sea. The creators of Shining Through made absolutely no attempt to do even the tiniest bit of research on the subject.

The acknowledged inaccuracy of this film, however, is not what made it fail. It might still have been a blockbuster without historical accuracy, as The English Patient proved. The real deal-breaker was the film's own internal inconsistency - the plot is implausible and illogical, and people's actions never produce the consequences that they would produce in human society or in any part of the physical universe.

I cited one example. Here's another:

In the film's final scene, Michael Douglas has to get a wounded Melanie over the border from Germany to Switzerland. He is carrying her. The Germans are shooting at them from behind. They are at a train station, and the official border is simply marked by a white stripe painted on the concrete, just as if it were the goal line at Notre Dame. Michael is hit twice, falls both times, gets up, carries her again. With a final last-ditch effort, he stretches forward and "breaks the plane" of the border with Mel's body. At this point, the neutral Swiss referee signals a touchdown, the Germans walk away dejectedly, and Michael's friends do some end zone celebrations on the Swiss side. They win! The war movie becomes a sports movie!

Oh, sure, the Germans would certainly have given up on important escaping spies who were carrying critical microfilm - as long as they barely crossed a white line representing the Swiss border! Those Nazis were famous throughout the world for their respectful treatment of international borders.

Let's assume for a moment that the situation had taken place in our universe instead of in a football movie, and that the Germans had not given up, and had captured the spies, thus violating four inches of Swiss sovereignty. What powerful Swiss reprisals would they have faced for creating such an international incident? Perhaps Switzerland would have declared war on them? Raised the tariffs on cuckoo clocks? Mixed in some Ex-Lax with the chocolates exported to Germany?

I could keep writing these examples for hours, but I'll restrict myself to one more example:

At first, Melanie Griffith was held in contempt by the top agent inside Germany because of her fishmonger's accent, yet one day later, that same aristocratic man's aristocratic daughter introduced Mel to her even more aristocratic mom, and successfully passed Mel off as a Baroness whom she befriended in her student days at Pompous German University for the Terminally Stiff and Stuffy! Needless to say, Mel did not sound like a Baroness or even like a lower-class Berliner. To her credit, she did speak perfectly passable and understandable Hochdeutsch with a charming American accent, but it could not have passed for any kind of native speech, let alone a guttural urban dialect. Her drawled "r's" were distinctively American. Man, alive! No wonder those Germans lost the war. It's a marvel that they managed to lace up their jackboots without assistance.

I've led you to believe that the script is incomprehensibly dense, and I've understated my case. To be more accurate, the script is howlingly stupid.

The portion of this film which takes place in Germany degenerates into a logic-straining cheesefest, albeit with great production values. Think Pearl Harbor. In spite of that, I kind of enjoyed Shining Through. I have to admit it has some good moments -  even some great ones.

  • The first thirty minutes, which take place back in the States, are pretty good. Mel recreates her whole Working Girl schtick, in which she plays a very smart and sassy working class woman who is consistently underestimated by the Harvard boys at OSS because she comes from humble origins, looks like a major babe, and has a cartoon voice.

  • There is a scene in which Melanie Griffith is dragging two children through a bombing raid in Berlin, and it absolutely seems like the real thing.

  • The scene after the one described above shows a zebra prancing blithely among the humans in the ruins created by that bombing. (The nearby zoo was also bombed.) This was an extraordinarily effective image.

  • There are many scenes of nighttime Berlin during the blackout which were actually filmed on the quiet, deserted, unlit, nighttime streets of Berlin and Leipzig. These scenes have a spooky, ominous texture to them which is very impressive on film.

  • Speaking of impressive sights in Leipzig, the famous symmetrical Hauptbahnhof, the largest train station in Europe, filled in as a Berlin train station in this film. Oh, sure, the film wasn't supposed to be taking place in Leipzig, but that's unimportant. The building is a spectacular piece of early 20th century architecture which was rarely captured on film for sixty years, since it was part of Nazi Germany, then part of Communist East Germany. The station was particularly useful as a film location for this story, since the station and the area around the station changed very little from the time of WW2 until this film was made. That was one of the small benefits of the incompetence of East Germany! I was there about two years after this film was made, fifty years after this story was to have taken place, and it still hadn't changed much. I am inexplicably saddened by the fact that it is probably completely modernized now (2005) and the station is undoubtedly filled with food courts and souvenir stands.

  • In general, there is some impressive cinematography by Jan de Bont, who was the D.P. on many excellent movies directed by Paul Verhoeven and others (de Bont also did the first Die Hard film). Shortly after making Shining Through and Basic Instinct in 1992, de Bont left cinematography to become a director, and has never looked back.

  • Several scenes are intentionally copied from better wartime dramas like Notorious and Casablanca. I'm not sure if these ongoing homages should be listed as a positive or a negative element of Shining Through. Maybe a bit of both. If nothing else, it can be fun to play "spot the references" with your fellow film geeks. (Even the DVD box looks like Bogie and Bergman.)

To tell you the truth, after watching the first thirty minutes of this film and seeing some obvious positives, I was settling in for an enjoyable film experience. Unfortunately, the logic behind promoting Melanie from secretary to spy was absolutely crazed ("Ed, taste my strudel", was her persuasive demonstration of complete mastery of the German culture), and the portion behind enemy lines just doesn't make any sense at all.



  • there is a brief 1992 featurette on the making of Shining Through, and two different theatrical trailers
  • the transfer is good, not great, and is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 screens.
  • it's not such a bad deal for ten bucks!



Melanie Griffith shows her breasts from the side in a sex scene with Michael Douglas

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 2/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 27% positive. That score is misleading. It should be lower, because some of the "positive" reviews are not positive at all.

  • The film was nominated for five Razzies and won three of the most important ones: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actress.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $21 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. This movie is worth watching only for its visual appeal and a bit of star power. If you need historical accuracy or a plausible story, look elsewhere.

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