As I look back to contemplate different films for this segment, I am somewhat surprised how many of my favorite films from the past didn’t make any money. This might have been good to know for Studios back then. A form of test marketing. Does Martin like the movie? He does? Chuck it in the trash can, we’re going to take a bath on THIS film.

Fortunately the film we’re discussing this time didn’t take a huge loss, but it didn’t pay for itself either. At least at the box office. It fared much better on home video which is where I saw it the first time. It was a mix of sword, sorcery, young love, jealousy and betrayal. I offer up for your consideration, from Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, 1985’s LadyHawke.

Getting LadyHawke into the Air

Director Richard Donner of Superman fame had wanted to get this film made for a number of years. He had almost gotten it started a couple of times. However, it wasn’t until Warner Bros. and Fox green lit the project that he was able to start production.

Production Notes

At that time, Kurt Russell was supposed to be the lead along with Michelle Pfeiffer. But by the time rehearsals got underway, Russell had pulled out of the picture. They selected Rutger Hauer to replace him. The role of Phillipe Gaston, also known as the Mouse, was originally offered to Sean Penn or Dustin Hoffman. When neither accepted, they eventually cast Matthew Broderick in the role. So Donner had his cast, and was ready to tell his story.

The Plot

The film is set In medieval Europe. It begins as Phillipe Gaston (Matthew Broderick), a thief known locally as “The Mouse”, makes his escape from the Bishop of Aquila’s dungeon right before his scheduled execution. He eventually is recaptured at an inn by the Bishop’s guards, led by Captain Marquet. Just when it looks like the Mouse is going back to his trap, the bishops former captain, Etienne Navarre, shows up. He defeats Marquet and the guards and rides off with Phillipe. Meanwhile, Navarre’s hawk scatters the other guards along the way.

Am I Dreaming?

Later that evening, when Navarre is away, Phillipe is almost killed by a farmer. He is saved when an enormous black wolf appears and kills the man. At the same time, a beautiful but mysterious young woman appears and accompanies the wolf. When Phillipe asked the young lady if he was dreaming, she told him he was.

The next morning, Navarre reveals his intention to kill the Bishop. To accomplish his plan, he needs Phillipe to help him get inside Aquila. As much as he appreciated Navarre’s assistance, he had no desire to go back to a place he just escaped from. However, Navarre would not take no for an answer so he tied  Phillipe up for the night. Phillipe escapes by tricking the mysterious woman who has reappeared.

However, as has become his habit, he is soon recaptured by the Bishop’s guards. Navarre attempts a rescue but is ambushed. During the skirmish, Navarre and his hawk are each hit by a crossbow bolt. Although injured, he still manages to defeat the Bishop’s guards and save Phillipe. Another growing trend.

The Curse is Revealed

The wounded Navarre instructs Phillipe to take the dying hawk and his horse to his former bishop Imperius and his ruined castle for help. At first, Imperius believes that Phillipe has brought the hawk for supper (literally). Once he realized the situation, he locked the hawk in a room. However, a curious Phillipe picks the lock and finds the mysterious woman inside, her chest also struck with a bolt.

After tending to her wound, Imperius explains to Phillipe that she is Isabeau of Anjou. She and Navarre were cursed by the Bishop. This was the result of her rejecting the Bishop’s love and because their secret vows were leaked to the Bishop. Unfortunately he learned this from Imperius in a drunken confession. The Bishop’s Satanic curse turns Isabeau into a hawk by day and Navarre into a wolf by night. It is their fate that despite being always together, they are eternally apart.

A Day without a Night, A Night without a Day

The next morning, Navarre catches up to Phillipe. Imperius assures him that their curse can be broken. It would require that the couple face the Bishop in the flesh on “a day without a night and a night without a day”. Navarre, however is still bitter that Imperius betrayed their trust. He dismisses him as an old drunk, and continues his way to Aquila intent on simply killing the Bishop. Phillipe decides to go with Navarre and “Ladyhawke”. He tells Imperius to follow them.

A Mouse saves a Wolf

As for the Bishop, he recruits hunters to go after Navarre in his wolf form. Because of this, Isabeau has an encounter with Cezar the wolf trapper. In addition, Phillipe is injured while saving the transformed Navarre-wolf from freezing in an icy river. The next morning, after Navarre transforms back, he asks Phillipe for his family sword. Phillipe tells him that he lost the sword during the night. In a fit of rage, Navarre throws him to the ground and it reveals the deep scratches on his chest. Imperius tells Navarre that it happened when Phillipe saved his life.

Returning to Aquila

Because of his sacrifice, Phillipe succeeds in persuading the couple to break the curse. At night, Imperius and Isabeau smuggle the Navarre-wolf into Aquila. Meanwhile, Phillipe dives into the sewers to get inside the cathedral. Using the same route he used to escape the place.

Once inside and unable to see any divine sign, Navarre decides to revert to his original plan to kill the Bishop. Before he does, he asks Imperius to euthanize the hawk should the cathedral bells ring. That would indicate that he has failed.

Meanwhile, Phillipe infiltrates the cathedral and unlocks the huge doors. Navarre rides in and duels once again with Captain Marquee. During the bout, Phillipe slides Navarre his supposedly lost family sword. As the fight continues, Navarre sees a solar eclipse through a high window and realizes the curse really can be broken. The literal night without a day, day without a night.

Dealing with the Bishop

He attempts to alert Imperius but is unable to keep the guards from ringing the bell. Assuming that Imperius has followed his request and killed Isabeau, he continues his fight and eventually kills Marquet. That leaves the Bishop. But just as Navarre is about to kill the him, Isabeau enters the cathedral. Together they face the Bishop and the curse is broken. Realizing what has happened, the  unhinged Bishop tries to kill Isabeau, saying if he cannot have her, no one will. He is stopped by Navarre’s sword instead. The film ends as Isabeau and Navarre are finally able to embrace, thanks to Imperius and the Mouse.

Critical Reviews

LadyHawke was released on April 12th, 1985 to mixed to above average reviews. Unfortunately it didn’t quite break even earning 18.4 million on a 20 million dollar budget. Imagine what it might have cost if Dustin Hoffman had been signed. While some critics found the story uneven, most agreed that the cast was first rate with special emphasis on Broderick’s interpretation of Mouse and his running dialogue with God. Michelle Pfeiffer was also recognized for her portrayal of Isabeau.

My thoughts

LadyHawke is one of my favorite films. Of course I am a sword and sorcery fan so this definitely fits the bill. I am also a hopeless romantic so the lovers curse and the happily ever after ending was most satisfying. It also had its comedic moments, mainly with the aforementioned conversations with the Lord by young Phillipe. I give this film 4 out of 5. Have you seen LadyHawke? What did you think of it? If you haven’t, you should check it out. If no other reason than to look at a young and flawless Michelle Pfeiffer.

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