During the Dark Ages, a young thief nicknamed “Mouse” (Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) helps a wandering knight (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner) fight a treacherous Bishop who has put a strange curse on the swordsman and his lover (Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys).
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Each generation is called upon to follow its own quest.”
Released at the height of the 1980s sword & sorcery craze, Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke distinguished itself by its excellent cast and high production values. The film, however, struggled to recoup its production costs. Critics weren’t kind to the movie either. But as often happened during the heydays of the VHS era, the movie found its audience on the shelves of video stores. Ladyhawke is now considered a cult classic.
Personally, I’ve always found the film immensely entertaining and genuinely touching. It’s a really poignant romantic saga. Despite its sword fights, elaborate action sequences, pageantry and evil spells, Ladyhawke is foremost a love story. In fact, I think the romantic angle works better than the film’s fantasy elements.
I do concede that there are plenty of naysayers out-there. Matthew Broderick’s performance and Andrew Powell’s modern pop music are major causes of disagreement among movie fans. Yes, Broderick’s wisecracking pickpocket feels like “Ferris Bueller in King Arthur’s Court.” Powell’s music screams, “We are in the ’80s.” The anachronisms were deliberate, though. I see what director Donner was trying to do here. It’s a medieval adventure that’s both homage and genre revision, ala The Princess Bride.
It’s one of those “experiments” that you either hate or love. I count myself among the film’s biggest advocates. I love everything about it. Above all, I like the film’s technical finesse. The film is bright and stylish. Extraordinarily talented cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Reds) finds clever ways to support Donner’s anti-medieval attitude.
Though Broderick is top-billed (his role was written for a much older actor), Ladyhawke is notable as a fantastic showcase for then rising stars Rutger Hauer (sadly, we lost him last year) and Michelle Pfeiffer. The film’s best moments clearly belong to Hauer (a last-minute replacement after original choice Kurt Russell, The Thing, dropped out of the movie) and Pfeiffer — they are terrific as star-crossed lovers.
I remember being bedazzled by Pfeiffer. I think I first saw her in Grease 2, which didn’t do anything for her career. Ladyhawke didn’t make her a star either, but it was the film that convinced me that she had the “It” factor and time proved me right. Her role is rather small, so star quality is more important than acting ability. She simply glows on the screen! Pfeiffer is like an upgraded version of Garbo or Dietrich.
In 1985, Pfeiffer also starred in John Landis’s excellent black comedy Into the Night, so she quickly became one of my favorite actors. The irony is that neither Ladyhawke nor Into the Night were big hits, yet both movies went on to become cult classics. The cast also includes English actors John Wood (War Games) as the evil Bishop and Leo McKern (Donner’s The Omen) as a disgraced priest. And that’s Alfred Molina (Spider-man 2 and Frida) as the barbaric hunter who gets his just deserts,
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
I used to own a VHS copy and I watched the film on a regular basis. While filmmaker Richard Donner’s emphasis on romance and very 1980ish humor may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Ladyhawke remains an engrossing fairy tale for adults. The beautiful locations are a big plus, and the actors, especially Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer, are just perfect. Color, 121 minutes, Rated PG-13.