Steven’s return to an emphasis on red and yellow set design in his latest undertaking jumped out at me right away. If you check out my remarks on his early films, you will note he tended to hit hard on the Technicolor pairing of ruby slippers and yellow brick road hues featured in Wizard of Oz. Here, the introduction to downtown Brooklyn lingers on red and yellow signage. Note the red and yellow paint on the artistic spy’s desk. As the movie progresses, you will see red and yellow wallpaper in the Donovans’ house as well as a faded version in the dumpy apartment in East Berlin. Courtrooms and embassies, both stateside and abroad, are resplendent with crimson and gold. Add to the list the neon motel sign where the pilots are recruited. Even the climactic phone booth provides a glowing backdrop for our hero with its eye-catching palate.
A playful WOO reference by insurance lawyer/negotiator Donovan crops up at the beginning when he uses the example of a tornado destroying someone’s house rather than the more typical scenario of fire or flood.When James Donovan first encounters Rudolf Abel, Spielberg silhouettes Tom Hanks against the blaring light of windows in the background. It happens again in court and in Vogel’s office. If you’ve explored my website, you know that the bright light which lured Dorothy into Munchkinland foreshadows danger lurking ahead for the protagonist.
When James Donovan first encounters Rudolf Abel, Spielberg silhouettes Tom Hanks against the blaring light of windows in the background. It happens again in court and in Vogel’s office. If you’ve explored my website, you know that the bright light which lured Dorothy into Munchkinland foreshadows danger lurking ahead for the protagonist.
The oft-used device of ascent and descent from normality to a whole other dimension of reality is touched on when Lt. Francis Gary Powers soars over then crashes down into Soviet territory. Steven makes the most of cyclonic motion with the spinning exploding chaos of the doomed aircraft. Note the camera sees it from above, much as we see Dorothy’s rooftop twirling downward.
Berlin, east and west, exhibits an air of hopelessness by use of subdued dreary colors, a Kansas air of greyness.
The Amblin’ bicycle makes its first cameo in East Berlin as Pryor attempts to execute an escape through the last portal of the famous wall. It pops up again—complete with Miss Gulch’s whimsical basket—as a means of delivering mail in the embassy.
In the embassy bike scene, listen for the bell ringing. AHA! This is the Glinda chime moment. Pay attention now; you are about to be treated to a crucial plot twister…Sure enough, immediately afterward, Donovan confides his bombshell to the hapless ambassador’s assistant: the deal must include ‘two for one’ or there will be no deal at all.
An interesting prop appears on Vogel’s desk; it is the same hourglass that we saw on Indiana Jones desk in Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, a smaller version than the Wicked Witch’s sand sifter that terrified Dorothy.
Through a train window, James Donovan is assaulted by the horrific sight of refugees being gunned down as they try to scale the wall. He relives this memory at home in Brooklyn when from a subway window he sees a gang of boys leaping a chin link fence. Normal scenes surveyed through windows take on surreal undertones in Spielberg fare like Dorothy’s bedroom view of the world caught up in a tornado.
Check out how at the end James collapses diagonally across the bed. It is very reminiscent of Dorothy’s position after her bedroom window knocks her out. When he awakens, we are assured he will find himself safe at home again.
How and why does Steven Spielberg decide which projects he’s interest in taking on? Like Wizard of Oz, the story usually involves the theme of someone wanting or needing to return home again. Certainly that is the case for these three ‘spies’. ‘Is home really safe?’ —another question Steven likes to play around with comes up again in this film. The Donavan household undergoes a lot of safety angst not only from cold war propaganda, but due to the community’s disapproval of James’ quest. Ah, yes, the quest, the lending of a helping hand to get someone home where he/she belongs comes straight out of Wizard of Oz.
Finally we meet again the trickster. Only through James Donavan’s clever manipulations will the main characters be able to attain their noble goals. To complicate this obvious theme, we even have layers of tricksters like the CIA agents’ insistence that James appear to be acting alone, like the Soviet and East German official’s similar insistence upon no traceable government involvement.
Hello, Cyclone! You will see a cow(or two) flying by mooing just like in Dorothy’s version and a boat—minus the fisherman. In fact, producer Spielberg’s tornado is chockfull of good stuff. I think I even spotted the insane tractor trailer from Duel! See War of the Worlds, Super 8, Poltergeist for more cyclonic ‘clinking, clanking, clattering collections of caligenous junk’.
The intro shows a defining moment in Jo’s childhood when a tornado unexpectedly strikes in the middle of the night. On her bed is a Toto-like terrier named Toby who, despite scampering at Toto-speed, almost doesn’t make it into the storm cellar. See The Adventures of Tintin. Also see War of the Worlds for another unsafe storm cellar!
Is it me or does Jo’s old farmhouse sport that ‘air of grayness’? Re-occurs when Bill prepares ‘Dorothy’ in the hailstorm; there is a shot up the curving, hilly road with fence-posts. The color washes away to black and white and—for a moment—viewer is back in Kansas. The absence of color hints things may get a bit hopeless. See E.T. the Extraterrestrial, War Horse, Schindler’s List, Twister, Joe Vs. the Volcano, Twilight Zone the Movie Kick the can Episode, Poltergeist.
The telemetrical prototype is named ‘Dorothy’.
Looked to me like the footbridge Jo and Bill cower under during first tornado was identical to Victor Fleming’s old fave in WOO and GWTW. See A.I. for more detail on similar sets.
At the drive-in, Bill’s new girlfriend is in her room when a gust suddenly blows the window curtain inward. This is a classic Spielberg sign that life is about to radically change for her as it did for Dorothy after the bedroom window knocked her out cold. Sure enough, Melissa breaks up with Bill moments later. See Empire of the Sun, Catch Me if You Can, Hook, Twilight Zone the Movie Kick the can Episode, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
We glimpse Judy Garland on the TV at Aunt Meg’s house before the F-5 hits.
Aunt Meg’s artwork consists of giant whirligigs that chime conspicuously to warn us the Big One is coming. When Jo gets the idea of how to make the measuring devices inside ‘Dorothy’ fly, we hear chimes. Chimes sound again when the pinwheels fly up inside the twister. WOO always forewarned us of Glinda’s approaching magic with chimes. See Always, A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
At one point, in F-5 you will see an exact replica of Gales’ farmhouse roll by on its side—an amusing twist on the classic shot of its rooftop from above shown in WOO and other Spielberg films. See Minority Report, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Close Encounters.
The main characters dash on foot through a field of sunflowers…a sure sign they will prevail over trials ahead. Certainly the WOO companions did after surviving the poppies. Fields test characters and generally mark turning points in Steven’s works. See Always, Saving Private Ryan, The Color Purple, Lost World Jurassic Park.
Interesting references to Sugarland Express: the entourage of rival black SUV’s that dog Bill’s company echo back to that long line of cop cars.
Also a repeat of the red and yellow color scheme can be found at the drive-in. See Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,Schindler’s List, Jaws, 1941, Joe vs. the Volcano, Inner Space, Jurassic Park, Used Cars, Sugarland Express, Poltergeistfor other homages to the red and yellow commercial for Technicolor devised by WOO.
Also Jo and Bill defy Lou Jean’s opinion that ‘it don’t do no good runnin from a tornado‘ by doing exactly that! See Minority Report, War Horse, WOO for references to “Run, Toto, run”.
Despite the utter destruction wreaked by the F-5, the conclusion shows a family’s home unscathed. The haven untouched. Sanctuary. See See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, The Color Purple, Munich, Poltergeist, The Terminal for safety of home.
The Nazis brandishing eagle topped staffs and banners are like the witch’s guards with their lances parading in front of her castle gate.
The pet monkey all dressed up reminds you of witch’s flying monkey troops in costume. This little beast proves equally untrustworthy; he betrays Marion’s hiding place and leads to her capture. For more flying monkeys, see Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Minority Report, The Lost World of Jurassic Park, The Adventures of TinTin
Marion is trapped inside a basket like Toto.
The weird spirits inside the Ark of the Covenant appear in smoke and are sort of human, sort of scary, like Oz’s head in great hall. See Lincoln
The cover of the Ark—when it finally falls back on top to trap the spirits inside— twirls down exactly like Dorothy’s spinning house did when it fell from sky. Check out camera angles from above.
Nazis get melted after looking at the power inside ark— evil departs world— witch melts in WOO. See Lost World of Jurassic Park
In this film as in Super 8, Indy infiltrates enemy territory by appropriating an enemy uniform, the WOO trick to get Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow through witch’s gates. Note how a hat flies up during struggle; clothes did this in WOO too. See Catch Me if You Can, Super 8
Indy ducks out of soldier’s marching line. Super 8 dad does same… as do WOO companions after getting over drawbridge.
Indy reminds me of Scarecrow in the scene where he crawls under moving truck and is dragged. His body is as delightfully indestructible as the pratfalling straw man’s. Spielberg jokes about this afterward in the ‘what part of you doesn’t hurt?’ scene. Remember Dorothy asking Scarecrow about his injuries after she gets him down off the post? And how Scarecrow bounces back after being ripped apart by monkeys? Apparently Indy’s aches and pains aren’t as bad as he makes out, since he and Marion end up doing more than sleeping together. Young Indy is presumably conceived?