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Shining Through (1992)
Shining Through is a 1992 British-American World War II film drama, directed and written by David Seltzer and starring Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith, with Liam Neeson, Joely Richardson and John Gielgud in supporting roles. Although based on the novel of the same name by Susan Isaacs, the film's plot is considerably different. The original music score was composed by Michael Kamen. The film's tagline is: "He needed to trust her with his secret. She had to trust him with her life." In 1940, Linda Voss (Melanie Griffith), a young woman of Irish/German Jewish parentage, begins a new job as a secretary with a New York law firm. Because she can speak German fluently, she becomes assistant/translator to Ed Leland (Michael Douglas), a humourless attorney. Linda gradually comes to suspect that Ed hides dark secrets. She is proved right when, after America officially joins forces with the Allies, he emerges as a colonel in the OSS. She accompanies him to confidential meetings in New York and Washington D.C., and before long, they become lovers. When he is suddenly posted away, she is left alone and devastated.
The movie revolves around baby-voiced Griffith posing as a domestic (from Düsseldorf, no less) for a high-ranking Nazi (Liam Neeson), tending to his kids while picking up information on the sly. That's not a bad idea, but it becomes a terrible idea since Griffith makes no attempt at a German accent. You keep wondering how the Nazis were able to make a sandwich. They maintained a military juggernaut? Thank God they were so oblivious.
Well, Griffith's character, Linda Voss, is anything but. She's opinioned, speaks fluent German, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of war movies. During WWII, that lands her a job working for international lawyer, Ed Leland (Michael Douglas), who is actually an Army colonel and spy. The two fall in love and get separated when he's called for duty, but reunite in Washington, D.C.
Leland and his crew have a problem. They need a spy to infiltrate the home of a Nazi officer. Ideas are offered, but Linda -- isn't she, like, the secretary? -- shoots them down. The only person who can get that kind of access is a domestic who can live in the house, she reasons. She nominates herself for the job, convincing Leland to let her go by having him taste her German baked goods. So, with no spy experience, no accent, and her Grandma's strudel recipe, Linda is on a plane to Germany, along with any of the movie's credibility.
It's nice to know if that we're ever at war with Italy again, the good folks at Patsy's in midtown Manhattan can be recruited to help.
Part of the reason she's able to succeed is that no is the least bit suspicious. As mentioned before, the complete lack of an accent doesn't raise a red flag. No one checks her papers. Voss drags her boss' children two hours for fish in Berlin, and everyone thinks that's normal. Directorial intervention also saves Voss. Seltzer shows her poring through her boss' war documents as he's heading downstairs for her. Suddenly, she's escaped. In the other key scene, when a compromised Voss finds out an alleged ally's true identity, he does everything but show a well-thumbed copy of Mein Kampf.
If you think this review reveals too much of the plot. Simply watch the first two minutes, when an older Voss is being interviewed for a BBC special. The movie is over before it ever really begins.
Shining Through fails as an espionage thriller, but also as a romance. There's zero chemistry between Douglas and Griffith. He's stuck in stern and parental mode, and Griffith can't muster enough charisma for us to believe that he's falling for her, which Annette Bening did so well in The American President. Aside from having no sparks, meaning the movie matters even less, their relationship adds 40 minutes to a movie that's in dire need of a speedy pace.
And not even the best apple strudel in the world can help with that.