Universal Pictures initially released Cloak & Dagger as a double featured with The Last Starfighter on July 13, 1984. This was during the Summer Olympics, which were being held in Los Angeles that year, and Universal hoped that kids who didn’t care about the Olympics would go see these two films. I was one of them. Richard Franklin directed film starring Henry Thomas, Dabney Coleman, and Michael Murphy. Rated PG.
Cloak & Dagger is about a lonely 11-year-old boy named Davey Osborne (Henry Thomas) who recently lost his mother. His father, Hal (Dabney Coleman), doesn’t spend time with him because he’s busy at work. Davey has an imaginary friend named Jack Flack (also Dabney Coleman)—who just so happens to be a secret agent. One day when Davey accidentally finds an Atari 2600 cartridge with secret government plans on it, he quickly learns a spies are after him and they will do anything possible to get that cartridge. Davey has to rely on his wits and imaginary friend to save his hide… that is until his dad shows up to be the real hero.
This is a great action/adventure type film that Hollywood churned out in the 1980s. While it doesn’t have the humor and charm of something like The Goonies, the HBO Loop saw to it that the film’s etched in my mind to this day.
This is one of two films Henry Thomas made in 1984, the other being Misunderstood with Gene Hackman. They are the first he made after a little film in 1982 called E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I always liked Henry’s early films, and he does a good job in this one too. What is striking watching this film as an adult is how violent the criminals are towards Davey. It seems excessive considering this was marketed as a family film. At one point, the spies toss Davey into the back of a car when his friend lays dead next to him from a gunshot wound. Sure it’s PG death and blood, but still not something Disney would put out for kids back then.
Dabney Coleman is a favorite of mine from the 1970s and ‘80s. He mostly plays the secret agent Jack Flack in this one, he appears as Davey’s dad at the beginning and end of the film. What’s different in Dabney’s performance this time around is that he’s the good guy. I found it odd back in the day. I find it just as odd today. Dabney is still playing Dabney, he just turns the asshole down 1000 in this one. His Jack Flack is the right mix of cocky and caring.
The villains in this film are what set Cloak & Dagger apart from other ‘80s kid action films. They are written tough and played tough. In The Goonies, the Fratellis were quite comical—only Mama Fratelli could be menacing. In this film, there’s very little of that. The criminals aren’t dumb and when they shoot to kill, they kill.
While the overall plot is your typical ’80s kids in-over-their-head type film, it’s still a fun film. The video game elements of the film and Henry Thomas are what I was interested in as a kid. As an adult, that’s still there, but I now find the spies more interesting for being so different from the other kids films of this era. At 101 minutes long—the sweet spot for film times for me—Cloak & Dagger is the perfect length. Dabney Coleman is great as always. The ending is a bit sappy and predictable, but hey’s it’s still a kids film at heart. While it’s not always easy to find this film to buy nowadays, it’s streaming. Check this one out some Saturday.
I give this film 2.5 stars out of 5.