As the movie world moves relentlessly along, it seems easier to forget the great innovators who reside in the earlier years of cinematic history. Nevertheless, it’s the haunting visage of a grieving mother at the end of M (1931) which invades the mind more than many modern thrillers. The memeification of Netflix’s Lost In Space‘s “sexy” robot is quaint when we consider Metropolis almost creating the trope on its lonesome. Now entering 2020, even the work of the 70s feels near ancient, and while one shouldn’t necessarily expect the younger 20-something cinephiles to be showing complete devotion to films and filmmakers which are now a whole lifetime past them, it’s a sobering moment to see film fans barely show any interest in these eras in their conversations. This writer may sound like a broken record to some of his closest companions… yet even that term seems fraught and dated.
It’s kind of a shame that much of Cloak and Dagger is merely just functional. Fine. Just OK. This second world war espionage film involving Gary Cooper as an academic physicist drawn into a mission to thwart the Nazi’s nuclear research promises much but delivers only adequately.
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It is a mild disappointment when put into consideration the films which Lang is better known for. A workman-like piece that does enough to get the job done but fades faster than its own ending credits. It’s never bad. There’s fluid camera movement throughout as well as kinetic fight sequences. But the film stumbles as it pulls punches on its lead character. Possibly a sign of the times, but Gary Cooper’s character creates more interest when in the film’s earlier stages when he’s found to be cumbersome. This is when the film suggests that a teacher-cum-secret agent could really cause an issue for the allied cause.
However, the film never truly follows through. Based on a non-fiction book by writers Corey Ford and Alastair MacBain, there’s a nagging feeling that reading up on the Office of Strategic Services would be far more interesting than the film which was eventually made. A pivotal plot moment holds an element of shock but never weighs heavy upon the characters afterwards. It’s a film that doesn’t really want to get its hands dirty, despite holding elements that allow it to be more than the sum of its parts. An early exchange has Cooper’s character muse upon the evil of men and nuclear power; an element that echoes some of what makes Metropolis so alluring. That our misunderstanding and/or ignorance of science can be a hindrance to man is such an intriguing point of discussion, it’s saddening that the film veers into Casablanca-lite territory, but with the latter film’s charm.
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I cannot lie. It’s difficult to appreciate what’s going on here when the filmmaker has made two bona fide worldies of cinema history. This is a simple entertainment in comparison. Nothing found within Cloak and Dagger is bad, it’s just dry. It won’t get the young ones flocking. But when entries in your body of work are so astonishing that you had to flee from Hitler as he wanted you to helm propaganda pictures, you’re allowed to let one or two things fly under the radar.
Disc-wise Cloak and Dagger isn’t the strongest transfer going. Nor does the disc hold a massive glut of extras. A video essay from David Cairns and audio commentary from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas provides knowledge; while radio plays of Cloak and Dagger are available to provide an element of entertaining distraction, much like the film itself. There’s enough here to while away a Saturday afternoon, despite how downbeat this review may appear.
Cloak and Dagger is released on Dual Format (DVD & Blu-ray) on 27th January as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema collection.