Film revew: Ladyhawke (1985) Grade:B Genre: Historical romantic fantasy (US)
Dear Richard Donner:
I really enjoyed your 1980 film Inside Moves, a romantic black comedy about a young man who, after a failed attempted suicide, acquires a permanent disability that takes him into an underworld of people with disabilities and a dark sense of humour.
In spite of that, I’d consistently avoided Ladyhawke because its notorious rape scene. Yet Ladyhawke keeps cropping up on romance readers’ lists of favourite romantic films and it puzzled me. I just couldn’t get it. I thought perhaps it was the same readers that like reading old skool historical romance novels featuring rapist heroes. However, I recently learnt from a conversation with a friend that Ladyhawke doesn’t feature the rape scene at all.
I was shocked. I remember seeing a such scene during a TV review. After investigating, it seems I had mistaken Ladyhawke for Flesh+Blood. Both films were released in 1985 and set in medieval-era Europe. Both feature Rutger Hauer as the leading character, and both feature blonde heroines (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michelle Pfieffer) as romantic interests to Rutger Hauer’s characters. I learnt that apart from these similarities, Ladyhawke and Flesh+Blood are completely different. Oops.
Petty thief Phillipe “The Mouse” Gaston, is imprisoned in the notorious dungeons of Aquila and sets to be hanged for his petty crimes, but he manages to escape through Aquila’s sewer system. He takes off, well away from the city. The Bishop of Aquila isn’t pleased. He could control the city and its surroundings with ease because he’s taking advantage of the fact people are aware that no prisoner has ever left the dungeons of Aquila alive. He’s concerned that if these people find out “the Mouse” has successfully made his escape, it could cause an uprising among commoners against the Bishop, causing him to lose everything. He couldn’t allow this possibility to happen so he sends Captain Marquet to track down and execute Phillipe.
Captain Marquet and his men successfully find Phillipe in a village traven and set to execute him, but his life is saved by a mysterious blond in black whose name, we quickly discover, is Captain Etienne Navarre.
After a dashing fight with Marquet and his men, Navarre takes Phillipe with him into the woods with a hawk following closely behind. Phillipe is initially grateful, but then becomes suspicious. He guesses Navarre may have an agenda for saving his life. His suspicion is proven right when Navarre informs him that he plans to use Phillipe to get inside the impassable castle and kill the evil Bishop of Aquila.
Meanwhile, there’s something mysterious about the man and his hawk. And this beautiful woman who seems to come out of nowhere at night. Only at night. And around that time, there is a massive black wolf prowling around. Indeed, there’s something dodgy going on. Phillipe eventually learns Naverre’s tragic secret and reason for wanting to go after the Bishop: he and his beloved are cursed.
The hawk is actually Isabeau d’Anjou, the mysterious lady who only appears in human form at night. Navarre himself appears as a wolf by night and in human form by day. In three days’ time, there will be a solar eclipse that may enable Isabeau and Navarre to appear in human form at same time. Only then, they could kill the Bishop to break the spell that keeps them apart. Could they pull it off with Phillipe’s help? Even it means the self-confessed coward Phillipe would have to return to the hated castle, Aquila?
My conclusion? A very highly enjoyable film that could be easily seen as a comfort film. The kind that would make anyone take it out to watch on a rainy day.
However, it has three things that put Ladyhawke firmly in the B league. 1) Matthew Broderick as Phillipe “the Mouse” Gaston. He was at times a fun, witty sidekick, but God, so slappable. Particularly whenever he smirked at his own cleverness. I couldn’t tell if it was part of his character or it was just Broderick trying to revive his best known role, Ferris Bueller. I thought it was the latter, but I found out Ferris Bueller’s Day Out was made three years after Ladyhawke. Must be just Broderick, then.
2) the soundtrack! I’m sorry, but I jut don’t think the disco music is ideal for any Medieval-setting fantasy romance. This is what keeps Ladyhawke from entering the A league.
3) I couldn’t help noticing plot holes and a couple of unexplained details. I can’t detail these because they are spoilers. In short, some seemingly important details were forgotten later in the story, and some details just simply didn’t fit. One could argue it’s only a fantasy story, which is true, but I felt these were easily preventable. Knowing this frustrates me a lot.
Apart from these three issues, Ladyhawke is a truly lovely film. I didn’t mind the campy acting from some of your actors including Rutger Hauer, John Wood and Leo McKern. I didn’t even mind Michelle Pfieffer’s sleepwalking-through-a-performance offering. For a strange reason, it’s what makes Ladyhawke so fun.
The best thing about Ladyhawke is its beautiful cinematography and locations that lend the fairy-tale feel to the story. I enjoyed many dramatic moments as well as some action scenes. It was very exciting and fun. It’s also a romantic film that would please any romance reader. It obviously did since Ladyhawke was mentioned every time there was a discussion among romance readers about romantic films.
I suspect I’ll become one of those readers because I’m already in mood to watch it again. That’s once I get used to Ladyhawke‘s eccentric soundtrack, of course.
Be good, be bad & be safe,
Ladyhawke trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NW_tsc_PbU