Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Shout Factory Select - NIGHTHAWKS on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shout Factory Select - NIGHTHAWKS on Blu-ray

NIGHTHAWKS (1981; Bruce Malmuth)
Ahh scummy New York City - why am I less disturbed and more nostalgic when i see you portrayed in older movies? NIGHTHAWKS wastes zero time with said portrayal either by the way as it starts right off with a woman (or seemingly a woman) being cornered and attacked by muggers on a dark and lonely New York street. I've spoken about this before, but my impressions of the dangers of urban life in the 1980s came a lot from watching the gritty New York crime films of that decade and the decade prior. It just terrified me that I could be out walking some evening and had the potential to be accosted by low-lifes. It was perhaps a much less warranted fear than I portrayed it to be considering I was living in mostly rural Wisconsin as a kid. Not to say that Wisconsin cities (especially Milwaukee) weren't dangerous late at night, but it wasn't like New York. In New York (according to the movies anyway), the crooks were much more aggressive and lurked in nearly every alleyway. So NIGHTHAWKS kicks off with a couple cops (Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams) running down some scumbags and setting the stage for what could be a standard procedural type thing. This sequence reminded me ever so slightly of the foot chases in THE FRENCH CONNECTION for some reason. Interestingly, the script for NIGHTHAWKS was originally intended to be THE FRENCH CONNECTION III, but when Gene Hackman passed, it was reworked by writer David Shaber. So it looks like a regular old police flick from the outset, but what hasn't been introduced yet though is the bad guy. He goes by "Wulfgar" and he is played perfectly by Rutger Hauer. Wulfgar is an unscrupulous terrorist and he's decided to move his operation from Europe to New York just in time for our two hero cops to be assigned to a new Anti-Terrorist task force. The task force is known as "ATAC" (Anti-terrorist Action Command), which feels like something out of G.I. JOE. So naturally, ATAC has to go head to head with Wulfgar and he proves to be a surprisingly evil and formidable force to be reckoned with. A couple things that stand out about this movie - first off is the terrorism and how it is handled. While terrorism is certainly as relevant now as it ever was, it feels like some filmmakers and studios would be more likely to shy away from depicting some of the terrorist acts (bombings etc) we see on screen in NIGHTHAWKS. Secondly is the presence of Rutger Hauer and the malevolence that he is able to carry off like few actors today would be able to.  NIGHTHAWKS was his American film debut I believe so he must have really caught people's attention at the time. Hauer has always been a favorite actor of mine and much of that affection comes from my appreciation of his ability to play depravity in a bigger than life, but oddly grounded way. When I think of his turn in THE HITCHER, it still creeps me out. Similarly his performance in BLADE RUNNER is one for the ages. It really all comes down to one of my more obvious theories which is that a movie is only as good as its primary villain. If the bad guy seems weak or ridiculous, all the dramatic tension goes out the window for me as I realize how easily the baddie will be vanquished and that our heroes have nothing to fear whatsoever. Not so with Wulfgar though. He is iniquity incarnate and not to be underestimated. The other thing about Rutger Hauer is that he is a very charismatic and commanding presence, so he is even more compelling and can really drive a film forward by being involved. Another interesting and somewhat antiquated thing about the film is the stunt work and how Stallone did many of his own stunts - even the very dangerous ones. There's quite a bit of tense action overall and several enjoyable set pieces throughout. The supporting cast is excellent as well and includes actors like Lindsay Wagner, Nigel Davenport, Persis Khambatta, Joe Spinell and even a small part for Catherine Mary Stewart.
Also notable with regards to NIGHTHAWKS is the score (which I have a copy of on vinyl). It was composed and performed by Keith Emerson on Emerson, Lake and Palmer and it is quite dynamic and enjoyable. A lot of it has to do with Emerson's instrumentation which focuses on synth and horns and is quite jazzy and propelling. The synths occasionally remind me slightly of Wendy Carlos' TRON score at times. Sample the main title theme below:

One thing that amuses me about the film is that it was something of a joke movie for a while because of Stallone's cross dressing scenes. On more than one occasion, I feel like I saw Stallone interviewed on some night time talk show and when they were supposed to cut to the clip of whatever movie he was promoting, they cut to a clip of him from NIGHTHAWKS, dressed in drag. It's been nice to see the movie come around as something of a fan favorite and finally get a decent Blu-ray release.

Bonus Features:
We're still early on with Shout and their Shout Select Line, but I've been digging what they've done with these releases so far. Though they will likely never be as popular as the Scream Factory titles, I find it exciting to see so many great non-horror films getting a bit of the Special Edition treatment. This disc includes some solid supplements:
-NEW Lights, Camera, Action! – An Audio Interview With Producer Herb Nanas
-NEW Nighthawks: The First Draft – An Interview With Writer Paul Sylbert
-NEW We Gotta Shoot This! – An Interview With Director Of Photography James A. Contner
-NEW A Sign Of The Times – An Interview With Actress Lindsay Wagner
-NEW Not The Other Girls – An Interview With Actress Catherine Mary Stewart
-NEW It Was Hell – An Interview With Technical Adviser Randy Jurgensen
-Theatrical Trailer
-Radio Spots

Buy the NIGHTHAWKS Collectors Edition here:
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