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April 27, 2006



Richard Donner - 1985
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

Today's entry is part of Nathaniel R's Michelle Pfeiffer Blog-a-thon. Other links are to be found at his site Film Experience. And on behalf of The Self-Styled Siren who is busy moving herself and her family from Toronto to NYC, another reminder that June 29 has been marked for the blog-a-thon date with another blonde icon, Lana Turner.

Ladyhawke is significant to Michelle Pfeiffer's filmography almost in spite of the film. Pfeiffer has the title role, and her face dominated the posters. Even though one usually thinks of Pfeiffer first among the stars of Ladyhawke, she actually has less screen time than Matthew Broderick or Rutger Hauer. More than Into the Night, released the same year, Ladyhawke marked Pfeiffer's transition to top line movie star.

This medieval fantasy is of two lovers separated by a curse. Isabeau is a woman at night, but a hawk during the day. Navarre is a wolf at night. Acting as an intermediary between the hawk and the wolf, is a young pickpocket, Phillipe, known as Mouse. The most memorable and poignant scene is of Isabeau and Navarre together right before sunrise, he still as a wolf while she is in human form. As the sun rises the two undergo their metamorphoses, he to human, she to hawk. For a brief moment they are able to see each other as humans and just barely can touch each other's fingers. While the scene ends with Hauer screaming in anguish, it also recalls an earlier scene where Mouse first meets Isabeau. He asks is she is flesh or spirit. Isabeau replies that she is sorrow.

The film could have been Richard Donner's masterpiece. Certainly their was no problem with the casting. Donner has been ably assisted by Vittorio Storaro's cinematography although there is sometimes a bit too much reliance on gradient tinting. With three credited writers, the script is occassionally witty and seems truer in spirit to 13th Century Europe than some films that try to graft in contemporary anachronisms for the sake pandering to the presumed audience. Even the pre-CGI special effects work for the most part because little time is spent with them. Where Ladyhawke shows its age is in Alan Parson's bass heavy progressive rock score. It is unfortunate that no one could persuade Donner to use different music. An interesting comparison in music scores can be made with Bertrand Tavernier's medieval Beatricemade two years later, with a score by jazz musician Ron Carter.

As for Michelle Pfeiffer, I am one of the many who "discovered" her in Grease II. It is interesting that three of her roles were of her either literally or symbolically playing predatory animals, in the films Ladyhawke, Batman Returns and Wolf. All three of these films explore the idea of love being limited by an identity that hides ones humanity. The ending of Wolf could be considered the reverse of Ladyhawke with the lovers accepting animal identities in order to fully realize their relationship, while Batman Returns concludes with the would-be lovers in an uneasy truce between animal and human. It is a tribute to Michelle Pfeiffer that no matter who she plays, whether hawk, cat or wolf, there is never a reason not to fall in love with her.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 27, 2006 07:00 PM


Ever since a friend pointed it out, I am unable to watch this movie without focusing completely on the dreadful score -- it's a huge curse, you're right. That said, Ladyhawke was a favorite when I was a kid. I remember being stunned when Mouse said he remembered escaping from the womb -- that haunted me for far, far too long. (Clearly, I was a troubled child.)

Posted by: Martha at April 28, 2006 07:09 AM

i hate the score as well. I sometimes wish a fan could do one of those final cut edits on it --like the famous Phantom Menace dubs) and change the score for something else. The movie automatically goes up a full grade.

it's interesting that we both saw ladyhawke as her coming out ball as movie star.

Posted by: Nathaniel R at April 28, 2006 01:51 PM

Nice post, Peter. It reminds me that I need to see this again. Although i must admit, I have quite a fondness for INTO THE NIGHT, as well.

Posted by: tlrhb at April 28, 2006 05:05 PM