Cloak & Dagger (1984) – A Review

Cloak & Dagger 1984 movie
Dabney Coleman and Henry Thomas
in Cloak & Dagger

Bullets whizzing around. Switchblades flicking open. Bad guys trying to kill our twelve-year-old hero. Shocking jump scares. Blood spurting. Scary old people with missing fingers. Threats of shooting a kid in the knee caps. Dead bodies piling up. Even a rat gets shot.

Parental guidance suggested.

Ah the good old PG-rated movies of the 80’s. A PG-rated film could have some edge to it back then. Little kids could excitedly enjoy some intense, violent aspects in films without ever thinking twice about it.

Oh yeah that ‘parental guidance’ thing – no one paid much mind to it. Parents weren’t too concerned with that, or at least mine weren’t. In 1985 the new PG-13 rating would be born and would eventually make ‘PG’ rated films practically extinct. But at the time, yeah kids go enjoy the nice little movie with the kid from E.T.

Wait a second, did you say a rat gets shot???

Cloak & Dagger was one of those flicks that combined a lot of my favorite stuff in my adolescent age into one cool movie that I ended up watching countless times. Video games, role playing, spy stuff, walkie talkies and a kid getting into a pretty cool adventure. Mom I’ll take out the garbage later ok? I’m going to watch Cloak & Dagger for the seventeenth time!

Davey Osbourne (Henry Thomas) is a game-loving, fantasy-playing kid in Antonio Texas. His mother has died and now it’s just him and his father. Unfortunately Hal Osbourne (Dabney Coleman) is too preoccupied with his military job to spend much time with Davey and becomes a distant figure.

To replace his absent father Davey fantasizes of hanging out with his hero from his favorite espionage game Cloak & Dagger – Jack Flack (also Coleman). Jack helps Davey out in his imaginary adventures, assisting Davey to navigate pretend obstacles and schooling him in shooting at bad guys with a water gun. But these pretend games are getting kind of boring. If only Davey could play a real spy game that wasn’t pretend!

Henry Thomas Cloak and Dagger 1984 spy movie
Atari product placement at its finest

Davey gets his wish when a dying man hands him a video game cartridge containing government secrets and these dangerous bad guys led by Dr. Rice (Michael Murphy) are more than willing to kill him to get it back. Even if his father doesn’t believe him Davey has his friend Kim (Christina Nigra) to lend support and of course Jack Flack right by his side offering his expertise of how to outwit these baddies.

Typically when one thinks of a kid-spy movie they might envision silly gadgets, cartoonish bad guys, over-the-top action sequences and the kid running around like a smaller version of Roger Moore. That’s not what Cloak & Dagger is. This isn’t a companion piece to Agent Cody Banks. This is more like the kid version of Three Days of the Condor.

This is a much more real presentation of a kid-spy movie. The premise might be extraordinary, but pretty much everything that follows plays much more realistic than you might expect. Tension-filled scenes of Davey running from the bad guys in his house, a parking deck, at the park, even a spy drop at the Alamo and they’re all pretty well done.

Now thinking about it, Cloak & Dagger and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure were I think my first introductions to the Alamo.

Because of it being a little kid trying to survive the threat of three grown men gunning for him and having him only to rely on his smarts (along with Jack Flack’s advice) makes you root for Davey all the more rather than if they gave him suction cup-sneakers or a jet-pack or something outrageous like that.

This is just Davey running through crowds asking adults for help who pay no attention to this silly game the kid is playing. All Davey’s running around is accompanied by a pretty good score too.

The gimmick of Jack Flack tagging along with Davey might sound like trouble, but Coleman is really engaging in the role and I really start to like this guy.

At this point Coleman was pegged as playing unlikable characters like the boss from 9 to 5, here he’s the complete opposite. I have no idea how they decided to cast him in this part. He’s certainly not the first person I would think of to play an imaginary spy hero, but he’s pretty good in this.

Jack is a much more subdued presence in the movie than what could have easily happened with him. He provides some humor and his appearances and mentoring of Davey never pushes the film into that silly spy-kid territory.

Cloak and Dagger 1984 Dabney Coleman Henry Thomas
Coleman and Thomas take cover

Along with E.T., here Thomas shows he was one of those rare non-annoying child actors. He’s really good. I can believe him as being just a regular kid fairly easily. There was something very natural about him in E.T. and here.

Watching it years later I still dig it and it brings me back to those lazy Saturday afternoons watching it on HBO. There are some pretty hefty leaps of logic that pop up and you have to just accept some convenient coincidences, but it’s still entertaining.

I’m betting if this was made today a lot of things would be really toned down. We would see a much more Disney-fied, family friendly flick. I couldn’t imagine they would try to get away with some of the jump scares and violence in a movie targeted towards kids nowadays. They would almost certainly drop the rat getting shot.

If Cloak & Dagger were done today it would never get that PG rating. But it was a different time back in 1984.


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17 Responses

  1. spaceodds says:

    I've never seen this, but you caught my interest. Kid spy films have simply never worked for me, and the reason is because once you've seen the adult incarnation, you sneer at the adolescent version. The spy genre is my favorite, and as a kid I watched them all, the Jack Ryan films, the old 70s serious spy shows such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and of course the Bond films. Also I've been meaning to ask you, have you seen the 2011 films Tinker Tailor Solder Spy with Gary Oldman?

    The kid spy films have always been sneered upon, Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks may have turned a profit, but for every one of those films you have a disaster waiting in the wings like Stormbreaker (which was based on one of the Alex Ryder novels, and was supposed to have kicked off a franchise, but it thankfully flopped) and then you have films like Deception, which had a teen protagonist (played by the laughable Taylor Lautner) in a 'serious' spy world and like Stormbreaker, it flopped big time.

    In regards to the ratings. I could be wrong but didn't the PG-13 rating come about due to the excess in Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom? Its ironic how the PG-13 rating made the original PG extinct, but it was a slow process. I remember the next few Bond films were also PG rated, but then License To Kill comes along and it pushes Bond to the PG-13 arena.

    Here in the U.K. the 80s and 90s were the dark days of strict puritan films ratings (or certificates as we call them) It was only with the retirement of the American TV director James Ferman in 2000 who headed the BBFC (the UK's equivalent to the MPAA) that the U.K. became lenient and very relaxed in its film ratings.

    It was thanks to Batman in 1989 that the UK created the 12 rating, however even then not many films got the rating and it wasn't until 2002 with the release of The Bourne Identity that we had our PG-13 moment with the 12A rating which made our PG rare. Pretty much every second film released these days has a 12A rating and when released on home entertainment it either has a 12 or 15 rating. However these days the idea of which film gets which rating is pretty much controlled by the studio since commerce has become the new bylaw in censorship. The lower the rating, the more accessible it becomes, thus generating more profits for the studios.

  2. I believe it was because of both Temple of Doom and Gremlins that ignited PG-13. The violence in both those flicks made folks uncomfortable knowing kids were going to watch them. I think even Spielberg had something to do with suggesting a new film rating.

    I still haven't seen Tinker Tailor. I never bothered watching any of those kid spy films (except Cody Banks because I've always had a crush on Angie Harmon). They just always seem like silly cartoon movies with gadgets and are just light adventures. When I happened upon Cloak I was surprised to reminded how dark it is. The only lightness comes from the presence of Jack Flack and he's not that overdone. It's not a great a movie, the story with the government plans in the game cartridge is nothing special but I still found it entertaining. Maybe I'm being a bit clouded by nostalgic affection for it. It could be up your alley – you might dig it. Not once in the movie does he have to put on a little tuxedo too! ;o)

    • Yep, you are exactly right: TEMPLE OF DOOM & GREMLINS both inspired PG-13, the first one to be given a PG-13 certificate was DREAMSCAPE, however the first to be released with an official PG-13 rating was RED DAWN. Spielberg obviously had a lot of influence back then, even over the MPAA. Personally, I think it's much ado about nothing and Hap nailed it when he said that PG films have lost their edge now. Hell, there are films that got PG back in the day that have been re-rated as PG-13 by the MPAA such as BANANAS and THE CHINA SYNDROME, even VEGAS VACATION. The MPAA are compromised of mainly right-wing, religious-minded folk (not saying I'm part of the left, because I'm actually largely apolitical, and think the left-right/lib-cons/Rep-Dem war is a joke) who think cunnilingus alone warrants an NC-17 rating; read up on what they did to BLUE VALENTINE which was not only ignorant but extremely misogynistic.

    • spaceodds says:

      Christopher Kulik: I agree with your viewpoint. I find it disturbing that the MPAA can give an R rating to something sickening (and idiotic) like torture porn movies, but when it comes to films like Blue Valentine, and Shame which have sexual scenes and content they immediately get nervous and slap the film with an NC-17! Sex is a part of life, and its far less disturbing then limbs being cut off and blood spewing across the screen.

      I find it ironic that after 23 odd years since the introduction of the NC-17, it is still noted as the kiss of death since some theater chains and video outlets refuse to market or show such films.

      Here in the UK, the BBFC used to so strict and conservative, but ever since 2000, the ratings board have done an abrupt face and have become far more open and relaxed. In the UK a film can be released with an 18 rating (which is the equivalent of R and NC-17) and it can be shown pretty much at any theater and be available for purchase at any video store. Take for instance Blue Valentine, that film got a very modest 15 rating with no cuts whatsoever. However what's funny is the fact that these days the BBFC have been having a battle between 12A and 15 (i.e. PG-13 or R) films such as The Hunger Games and Taken 2 that have become news worthy due to the studios themselves trimming of a few seconds so that they can get a lower rating and more profits. It used to be censorship for "decency", now its just censorship for commerce.

    • Capt Nemo says:

      Space…Chris…I can't go with you guys on this.

      I also don't believe the MPAA is "conservative" or "religiousminded."

      Keep some perspective here. We're talking about Hollywood,CA after all. You really think they would put an entity like that in charge? Tinseltown would run them out of town on a rail into the ocean.

      Remember, these guys were created so that the government wouldn't start policing the industry. A dog and pony show to pretend Hollywood could police itself.

      Now they're just a bunch of sad people who are now trying to justify their own existence and keep their jobs. I'm sure a few palms get greased when the big studios want to release there latest moneymaker and it has a few inconvient scenes. But a few lesser films get kicked in the butt because the don't have the prestige to keep the censors at bay.

      But that's what happens when you give people a little bit of power. They tend to use it. And they decide who are the winners or losers.

      Not the audience.

    • There was a doc about the MPAA awhile back called This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It explores who the members are, the significance of what their decision of a rating can mean for a film, how seemingly arbitrary their decisions can be and the very strange appeals process filmmakers have to go through when arguing against what the MPAA decided to slap their film with. It's a very one-sided kind of flick, but very interesting.
      I'd recommend checking it out if you haven't heard of it.
      Here's the trailer:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTL3XMDwY0c

    • spaceodds says:

      I watched that doc a few months ago. Very insightful. I also remember reading an anecdote written by the late Michael Winner. When he submitted his first cut of Death Wish 3 (not a great film, and also it was advertised as 3 and not III because it was claimed that some patrons can't read the basic Roman numerals. Don't know if that's true)

      Anyhow when Winner submitted his first cut to the MPAA, the board gave it an X rating due to the violence and body count. Winner argued that Rambo: First Blood Part II had a higher body count then Death Wish 3. The response he got from the MPAA was that the people getting killed in Rambo were Vietnamese as opposed to Death Wish 3 where all the killed patrons were Americans.

      If this is the mentality of the MPAA, then quite frankly they're a racist, sexist joke.

    • CKulik says:

      Granted, my disgust for the MPAA gets the best of me sometimes, Capt Nemo. And you are absolutely right on how the independents get treated much differently than studio films and "This Film is Not Yet Rated" does examine that as well as its members, why they prefer to remain secret and their leniency towards violence rather than sex. It did mention its chair as being a registered Republican and the board tending to slap any picture with an NC-17 which contains same-sex relationships or anything they deem as "aberrational behavior." That all being said, the conservative label was a bit unfair; however it IS true that they bring in priests to refer to during the appeals process, and the Catholic priest is interviewed in the documentary.

      My absolute favorite story when it comes to the MPAA involves the classic film AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. Because of the steamy sex scene with Richard Gere & Debra Winger, the MPAA wanted to give it an X-rating because of one reason: they were intimidated by Winger's hips moving (this wasn't mentioned in THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, but it did emphasize that the MPAA has always had issues with pelvic thrusts); rather than cutting a single second, all director Taylor Hackford did was raise the frame by half an inch, and the MPAA accepted it. Of course, what makes this story all the more amazing is that producer Don Simpson reportedly told Winger at her audition, "There may be somebody else for the part. I need someone that's f*ckable…you are not f*ckable enough!"

      I think Kevin Smith said it best: "Unless you're seeing penetration, it's an R-rated movie. I don't care if people are miming sex, boobs flying, asses in the air, even showing shots of genitalia, whatever…as long as it doesn't show penetration, it's an R-rated movie." (BTW, you can view "This Film is Not Yet Rated" on YouTube; it is kind of one-sided and I don't think it goes far enough, though I also felt it was long overdue).

    • Capt Nemo says:

      I don't know how I feel about your statement about Rambo 2 versus Death Wish 3. Rambo went pretty far to lay most of the best kills on the white Russians as opposed to the Vietnamese. Similarly, Death Wish 3 had one of those street gangs in movies that have a multi-racial make up. Bet you didn't know that ghettos are equal opportunity employers. Both with the same purpose of laying most of the blame on whites so as not to get slapped with the title of racist themselves.

      I suspect in that instance. A citizen using his 2nd amendment rights taken to an extreme may have rubbed the Hollywood-types a little raw. Taking the law in to your own hands and shooting people down on the street is a far cry from a soldier shooting down another soldier in uniform.

      And Chris, if you are right about who the MPAA consults and who it has as it's head, those must be some real dipsh*t Republicans and priests. Ever see how GOP and Christians have been portrayed in the movies lately?

      Remember again, this is Hollywood, CA. They will not put themselves under the scrutiny of any organization that would conflict with their values. And further, if someone actually slap a movie with an R rating because it had a same sex couple in it, the news media would come at them full force to make them "re-evaluate" that decision.

      As for the Kevin Smith quote, I think that punches up another problem with rating movies. What do they really mean? What does an "R" mean anymore? If Kevin what to make everything an "R" then nothing is an "R". The rating system doesn't give you ANY idea what's in these movies.

      The MPAA is just as elitist, irrelevant, and obsolete as "The Razzies." Just GO AWAY!!

  3. Capt Nemo says:

    I have 2 nieces who are less than 10 years old who want to watch "Aliens" because I told them it was the only movie I knew where the hero was a little girl versus dangerous aliens.

    I think there is a market comprised of kids who want so see some kids put in some real dangerous scenarios. Not phony baloney Pierce Brosnan Bond style adventures. But serious-as-a-heart-attack adventures where the stakes are high and the danger is palpable.

    I think kids want to feel like they could handle a rough scenario if one would crop up.

    But I feel that if someone tried to do that nowadays they would be accused of warping children's little minds and made to feel that they are somehow "robbing them of their innocence."

    • CKulik says:

      Hey Capt, you should love this RLM analysis on a forgotten '90s cash grab called PLAYING DANGEROUS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGI-BKctOK8.

    • Capt Nemo says:

      I remember seeing that on HBO in the 90's.

      It was cheap and it looked cheap. But I was shocked what they tried to achieve. It had some great moments; like when the terrorist leader learned that the kid had burned the thing he was trying to steal and having to deal with the fact the kid was smarter than him. But ultimately, I descended into b-movie badness. It also had a cop out ending, where the kid said he memorized what the terrorists were trying to steal. Rendering the whole story pointless.

      For my nieces, I was able to placate them with the anime "Gunsmith Cats." You can view the whole movie on Youtube. God Bless the internet.

  4. spaceodds says:

    Capt. Nemo: You are absolutely right. There are kids out there who do want to see a film with a real life and death scenario and can handle it. I mean in this day and age of franchises like Hunger Games, I believe some kids are more then ready to watch a film that is set in the present and grounded in reality and also deals with political intrigue like the spy genre could be. As I mentioned above I was watching Jack Ryan films when I was a kid because I found the scenarios filled with tension, excitement and they weren't sugar coated (so to speak)

  5. Hap, you are the BEAST!!! C&D was one of my absolute favorite films growing up, and it's amazing how such little impact it made except for those certain few that remember it. The director and screenwriter both came from Universal's PSYCHO II, and the studio basically recruited them remake this 1949 film called THE WINDOW (never seen it sadly), and screenwriter Tom Holland was obviously inspired by the then-new video game craze. What's interesting is I never was a gamer and yet loved the idea of the filmmakers using it as the secret-coded device that our young protagonist must shepherd as he's being chased by spies. My favorite scene remains (spoilers for those who care) is in the garage when Davey starts driving Michael Murphy's car…talk about satisfying a childhood fantasy! When Murphy yells at his football-listening henchman "Don't shoot at my car, what are you crazy?" when Davey has already smashed it to hell, it kills me with laughter every single time.

    Also, nice shout-out to Dabney Coleman, who's always been one of my favorite character actors and you are right: it's amazing to see him here after he played such assholes in 9 to 5 and Tootsie. Some more useless trivia: the film was set and shot in San Antonio, Texas largely because Thomas lived there at the time, and he was no doubt familiar with many of the places they shot at. Plus, while I never played the actual Atari game the movie is based on, much of what you see in the film was actually from the game…the studio attempted a cross-promotion but like the film, it just never caught on. Still, the game does still exist and you can even see it being played on YouTube. I tell kids today if they want to see a real SPY KIDS movie, then to check this one out. It's available on DVD, and while there are no bonus features, the movie plays again as soon as it ends, and I'm just fine with that. Thanks for the post Hap, made my day! 🙂 And remember: Jack Flack ALWAYS escapes….

  6. Capt Nemo says:

    For me, Dabney Coleman will always be Mr. Makittrick. The computer expert who convinces Washington to wire all of America's nuclear arsenal in to a central computer. His famous words on the matter: "You won't regret this!"

    Which lead to this hilarious bit:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGNBdjVO04Y

    "you're new defense system, sucks!"

    That kills me every time!

    It was great to see him still working. I recently saw him in the first season of "Boardwalk Empire" playing an old city boss named "The Commedore."

    • CKulik says:

      You know, I would love to interview Dabney Coleman some day, because the guy has had a terrific career all the way back from the 1970s (I reviewed online an above average movie-of-the-week called "Dying Room Only" in which he mysteriously disappears and his wife goes searching for him). In fact, I think he did deserve an Academy Award nomination for "9 to 5," a role he barely got; the studio didn't want him, and it was either Jane Fonda or Lily Tomlin who insisted he get the role. He didn't get a starring role until 1990's "Short Time," which I never saw unfortunately; still, as you say, he's still working well into his 80's which is awesome. 🙂

    • Wow, Short Time I haven't thought about that movie for awhile. I vaguely recall a pretty decent car chase with Coleman trying to get himself killed. I've had this one Coleman flick in my Netflix queue for over a year. It's called Pray TV and I only learned about it when I saw it at a dollar store. I keep bumping it down in my queue since I expect it to be pretty lousy, but all this Coleman Love is making me think it's time I actually check it out. :o)

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