One of the first films to be made with the help of former CIA officers was 1985’s The Man With One Red Shoe. This badly-written, weakly-executed action-comedy depict the Agency running surveillance on a musician played by Tom Hanks, who they believe is a CIA agent who is going to testify in a congressional hearing about Agency drug smuggling. In reality, he is a mild-mannered violinist who one faction within the CIA has tricked another faction into believing is an agent of the utmost importance.
The film sits between Three Days of the Condor and Enemy of the State, in that it portrays one man being relentlessly spied on and pursued by a government intelligence agency. The Man with One Red Shoe is nowhere near as good as those films, whatever the (likely paid-for) reviews of the DVD on amazon might say. Nonetheless it helped establish certain cinematic tropes which have become mainstays of CIA-assisted films in recent decades. The bad guys within the CIA are just a rogue faction. The use of surveillance vans, including a fake ambulance. The blonde, female agent with a good heart.
Documents in the CIA’s CREST database show that they were monitoring production of the film. Two transcripts of episodes of Morning Edition on WAMU-FM were produced for the Agency by Radio TV Reports Inc. – a firm the CIA used for decades to monitor media coverage. One transcript was of a segment based around an interview with Polly Dean, one of the former CIA officers who worked on the film after being recruited by Robert Cort – himself a former Agency officer.
POLLY DEAN: It is obviously a spoof. It is obviously a takeoff.
The central plot is so absurd that for anyone to give any credibility to it I think would be very unusual.
SCOTT SIMON: Polly Dean says there’s no way anybody could believe this espionage film was anything but satire, and she ought to know. Ms. Dean is an ex—CIA case officer, or agent, with 12 years service. Ms. Dean and another former CIA agent, Penny Engle, are technical advisers for a new film, “The Man With One Red Shoe,” that’s new shooting here in Washington.
They were recruited by another ex—CIA case officer, Rob ert Cort, who’s begun a second career as a producer at 20th Century Fox. The assignment for Dean and Engle is to help actress Lori Singer better understand the actual work of being a female spy.
SIMON: You two are technical advisers on a movie that’s going to show the zany, light-hearted, sort of lame-brained side of espionage work as it’s carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency.
SIMON: [Laughs]. I thought I was overstating it.
DEAN: Well, not as portrayed in the movie. Penny and I had a little difficulty at first in trying to point out that this was not realistic, whatever issue was being discussed at the moment, or whatever prop was being used. But we all came to the agreement very quickly that we would all assume that the CIA operated as it is portrayed in the movie and then went from there and tried — Penny and I tried to plug in what we helped would be contributing comments to help make it more realistic.
This doublespeak about whether the film is realistic or not is typical of how the CIA manages its public image. They both are and are not James Bonds simultaneously, they both do bad things because they’re necessary, and never do bad things because they’re bad. When ‘making it more realistic’ comes into conflict with ‘how do we want people to think of us?’, the latter usually wins out.