One of my favorite film adventures of the 80's, LADYHAWKE still serves up plenty of legendary magic.
In 1985, Matthew Broderick was just past "WarGames" and one year away from exploding with "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". He seems impossibly young as pickpocket Gaston, escaping through the drains of the dungeon of Aquila long before Andy Dufresne took the same path out of Shawshank.
Gaston has the evil Bishop (John Wood) and his right hand man Marquet (Ken Hutchinson) hot on his trail. No one likes when someone escapes from their impenetrable dungeon.
Gaston's adventure is just beginning. When Gaston is surrounded by the Bishop's guard, Captain Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer) saves his life and he begins traveling the countryside with Navarre and the huge hawk that never leaves their side. Navarre has been hunted by the Bishop's men for two years, ever since he escaped the city with Lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer). The Bishop apparently didn't have any vow of celibacy, as his desire for Isabeau drove him mad.
Enraged, he called on dark forces to curse the couple to never be together. Navarre is a fierce wolf by day and the moment the sun sets, Isabeau becomes that loyal hawk.
It's a well-told legend and a great set up. Two lovers that can never be together, working with a career petty thief to evade a legion of soldiers.
Insert the terrific Leo McKern (Bugenhagen in the first two "Omen" films) as Imperius, the Bishop's former confidant who's had a vision on how to break the curse and Alfred Molina (Raiders of the Lost Ark; Spider-man 2) as the most vile horse-backed hit man since Mongo and you've got pure 80's adventure.
Director Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon) delivers plenty of laughs, romance and fun, along with surprisingly violent showdowns.
Hauer (Blade Runner, The Hitcher) is in fine form and Pfieffer is both mysterious and stunning. Hauer took on the role at the last minute when Kurt Russell dropped out. I like Russell a lot, but Hauer is a MUCH better choice. Broderick rises above a pretty grating first half to emerge as a likeable and unlikely hero.
The music score was very controversial at the time. Composed by Andrew Powell, it's a modern rock score that strongly echoes Powell's time with The Alan Parsons Project. I like the APP as much as the next guy, but the music IS a very strange background to all the medieval action. When he slips into more of an orchestral, synth style it plays pretty well, but it's pretty jarring at times. Powell only scored one other minor film after this, his debut permanently scarring his future.
The film barely made its money back in theaters, but became a much bigger hit in the early days of VHS and Blockbuster.
If you're feeling nostalgic for an old-fashioned Friday rental at the video store, revisit LADYHAWKE, it earns an enjoyable B.