YouTube Cinema: Cloak & Dagger (1984)

November 14, 2007

Jack Flack always escapes.

FROM JASON’S IMAGINARY COMMANDO FRIEND — What’s better than Dabney Coleman‘s razor-blade wrist-watch, self-retracting parachute, and a collapsible blow gun?

The answer: Elliott from E.T. and an Atari 5200 cartridge laden with top-secret schematics.

Randomly clicking around YouTube last night, I started stumbling across full-length movies that wonderful, blessed people had uploaded. Just a little more mouse action later, and I knew I’d hit the big time — and had to share. Look for YouTube Cinema to be a recurring feature on Quaedam.

The 11-part title that made me stop in my tracks and hunker down for an early morning watching was Cloak & Dagger, the 1984 Richard Franklin film from Universal Pictures.

It’s more than just another 80s adventure movie: It’s a learning experience. In 101 minutes, kids can learn how to solicit rides from strangers late at night, commit grand theft auto, shoot in self-defense, steal video games, and accuse people of child abandonment in an airport concourse.

When I first saw it at age 7, I didn’t quite care about the point of the movie. Instead, I converted parts of my basement and woods behind my house into an obstacle course, and darted around behind trees carrying out my own secret missions. It was the same collateral damage wreaked on parents who let their kids watch The Goonies, Labyrinth, Home Alone, War Games, and Explorers.


Davey Osborne, a.k.a. Henry Thomas — yes, Elliott from E.T. — is obsessed with Jack Flack, U.S. spy of video game and role-playing fame. Flack takes on a life of his own as Davey’s imaginary friend, and is played by Dabney Coleman, who also plays Davey’s father.

While fetching some Twinkies (I’m not making this up) for uber-geeky video game store clerk Morris (whom Andrew likened to Pedobear), Davey witnesses a murder and the victim hands him an Atari 5200 cartridge of the titular game Cloak & Dagger. Nobody believes Davey, though, because the victim’s body mysteriously disappears.

There’s an early question of Davey’s sanity. We learn he’s recently lost his mother and his father wants him to see a psychiatrist. It’s also clear that his obsession with war and espionage is making him cuckoo-bananas.

But it turns out the cartridge — which people constantly and infuriatingly refer to as a disc — holds classified information for the “invisible bomber.” Of course, the plane is easily identified as an SR-71 Blackbird by anybody who grew up in the 80s, but the point is that spies are willing to kill Davey and his whiny gal Friday sidekick to get it back.

From there, the rest of the film is a chase through Houston, which is transformed into a maze of stone bridges, tunnels, and canals and includes plot stop-offs at Japanese gardens, a riverboat tour, and the Alamo.

Just when you think everything might be sorted, missing digits come into play.

Is Jack real?

There is a legitimate question of whether Jack Flack might have some profound metaphysical property.

In several instances, he manipulates his environment — closing a car trunk, changing gears for Davey during a car chase, dragging Davey backward out of the car, then yanking him from a phone booth just before it’s leveled by a charging van. It would be interesting to see what is really happening from an impartial observer, like the surveillance camera footage of Tyler Durden beating himself in Fight Club.

There’s also ambiguity later in the film when Davey begins to decide to grow up: “I don’t want to play anymore!” he yells at Jack.

“Why do you kids always say that? You’re father said the same thing. After all those games of cowboys and Indians, you get tired of make-believe and break your toys,” Jack says.

I’m not sure if this is supposed to hint that Jack is a ghost or spirit of some type; if it was around before Davey was born (as his father’s imaginary friend), then maybe it is an extant entity and not a figment. Or maybe it’s the spirit of childhood imagination. Later in the same scene, as he lies dying on the pavement, Jack tells Davey, “You’re the best playmate I ever had.” It almost slips into It territory.

You can’t miss:

  • The longest walkie-talkie antennas in history.
  • Also, the biggest silencer ever attached to a gun.
  • The E.T. theme subtly worked into the score at touching moments.
  • Screens from the arcade version of C&D, which was never actually released on the 5200 (which was rare enough anyway. I never saw one in the wild, though I hunted for one at the Salvation Army and yard sales for years).
  • Norman Bates’ mom from Psycho (uncredited, but linked on IMDB).

A final word of comfort

Christina Nigra, who played Kim, left the acting business shortly after C&D, sparing the world some of the worst child acting ever to hit the screen. She starred only in a few episodes of Mr. Belvedere, Top of the Heap, and Out of This World before calling it quits in 1991.