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Friday Film Review: Ladyhawke

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,

Jaili   

Ladyhawke trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NW_tsc_PbU

45 Comments

  1. Danielle D
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 04:14:31

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen this movie — I’ll have to look for it on the movie channels.

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  2. Erotic Horizon
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 05:25:24

    This is once of my favourite film. All the little things that are issue for you only made the film more real for me…

    Thanks for this review – spot on in most of the detail…

    E.H>

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  3. BookBoor
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 05:55:19

    This is indeed the visual equivalent of a comfort read. Best of all, Rutger Hauer was at his most beautiful in this film. Definitely swoon worthy. I agree that there are gaps in the plot and “The Mouse” can grate on the nerves. However, the imagery and dare I say it the campy performances evoke things like honor, loyalty and even innocence that we’re rarely offered in movies today. I love watching movies like this to keep that little flicker of wonder alive despite my tendency to view the world through cynical and snarky eyes.

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  4. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 06:01:53

    Oh, I loved Ladyhawke. Haven’t seen it in ages. Might have to remedy that.

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  5. Tee
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 06:05:28

    I’m not usually drawn to a film such as this one–a lot of fantasy that sometimes is a bit difficult to swallow. But I loved this movie and gulped down all the things that were feasibly impossible. I even liked Matthew Broderick in it, which I attribute to it occurring before he became a star; because now I avoid him like the plague.

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  6. Jayne
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 06:16:09

    I saw this when it first came out. The music grated then but, over the years, I’ve come to accept it. Mouse is, indeed, smirky but I forgive him for his reaction when Etienne and Isabeau finally break the curse. One thing I noticed after several rewatches is how often Etienne warns Mouse. “I warn you if….” seems to be the starting words of half of the lines that Hauer says throughout the film.

    Still, it’s a great comfort film as others have said.

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  7. katiebabs
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 06:21:51

    I have seen this movie too many times to count. I had the biggest crush on Rutger Hauer for the longest time because of Ladyhawke. So romantic.

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  8. azteclady
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 06:31:20

    I almost fainted when you said “rape scene” and then laughed hysterically at the movie confusion.

    And yes, Ladyhawke is the visual equivalent of a comfort read–as long as one skips the titles at the beginning :shudder:

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  9. Christine McKay
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 06:35:48

    I think this was Michelle Pfieffer's debut movie?

    Loved this movie. 100% loved. And that blindness makes me ignore the plot holes (kind of like the Star Wars films – if you love them, you love them, regardless of their problems).

    And as a horseback rider, I appreciated all the things they got the Navarre’s horse to do…without special effects, mind you.

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  10. DS
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 06:38:44

    I’ve seen both Ladyhawk and Flesh &Blood. I’m sorry you were confused because Ladyhawk is a movie I am always up for watching again. I don’t know if it is based on a specific medieval chanson or story but it definitely feels like one. Flesh & Blood on the other hand is historical fiction at its grimiest and most brutal involving a rampaging mercenary company.

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  11. Kimber An
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 06:41:31

    The ‘Mouse’ was the best part of the movie for me, but I love children and child-like characters. Grown-ups can be so boring. Agreed, the music stunk.

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  12. Kathy
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 07:00:30

    This was one of the first DVDs I bought – and it is certainly is the equivilent to a comfort read. I loved the concept of the wolf/hawk night/day conflict – I’m going to have to watch it again this weekend!

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  13. roslynholcomb
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 07:11:26

    I would give anything if someone would re-do the soundtrack to this movie, still I love it to death and it’s firmly in my DVD collection.

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  14. Jayne
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 07:21:39

    For a quick viewing, Netflix has it available as a “play now” film once you download the software. Might have to do a rewatch this afternoon….

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  15. Michelle
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 07:41:41

    I love this movie, definitely a comfort movie. I couldn’t believe it when you mentioned “rape scene”, all I could think of to confuse someone was the “arrow” scene-you know woman being held down and screaming but nevermind.

    Another thing is how awesome are those horses? They are so absolutely beautiful and talented. Also the scenery is gorgeous. Of course my favorite scene is that split moment at sunrise. Sigh.

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  16. jillyfae
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 07:47:35

    Oh, this is one of my favorite movies. I watched it for the first time when I was young enough that I was completely uncritical of anything, so even though part of my brain can now acknowledge some issues with the music and plot, I don’t care. Hauer and Pfeiffer are luminous, and Broderick and McKern are adorable at the end, when they’re trying to pretend they’re not all happy and crying. It’s tied with The Princess Bride and the Firth/Ehle Pride and Prejudice for my favorite comfort movies.

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  17. theo
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 07:52:21

    I too was confused, trying to figure out ‘what rape scene?’ since I’ve watched this enough to know the dialog by heart. I know, dumb.

    I enjoyed Michelle Pheiffer in this, but it wasn’t her first movie. The Hollywood Knights (which I also like for some strange reason) was her first, she did a couple others including Grease 2, but I think Scarface was her breakthrough. Anyway, sorry, OT. I even liked Broderick in this. But yeah, when Rutger Hauer rides into the cathedral on that absolutely magnificent horse. Oh. My. Melt…

    One thing about the music. I really thought the music added a great deal, the driving beat at times, or the tender, softer movements. And it’s one of those precursors to a Knights Tale. That movie wasn’t the first by any means of using rock music in a medieval movie.

    I own this, I do watch it on those dreary days when I need some fun escape time. Comfort movie? For me. Yeah. Lots.

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  18. Silver James
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 08:09:30

    I’ve always adored this movie–the tragic lovers forever kept apart, the evil archbishop, Mouse, and the simple monk looking for atonement. Beautifully filmed. I crushed hard on Rutger Hauer. And the horse! OH, the horse! (not to mention the hawk and the wolf…*sigh*)

    Yeah…definitely need to pull this one out and watch it again this weekend!

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  19. Lori S.
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 08:16:52

    Oh, how I love this movie! It’s a definite comfort flick, and one of the few romance movies that hubby will sit down and watch with me.

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  20. Rene
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 08:18:19

    I remember seeing this movie in the theater. I think I had the main theme on a 12″ single! I made my kids watch this a couple of weeks ago and they couldn’t get over the soundtrack either. I had such a crush on Rutger Hauer when I was in high school, I never paid much attention to the rest of the movie.

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  21. Twila Price
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 08:19:13

    Mmmmm. Ladyhawke is definitely a comfort movie, in the same vein as Labyrinth for me. I have ‘em both on the iPod as pick-me-up movies. I don’t think I ever even minded the soundtrack, given how awesome the movie is. And of course Rutger Hauer is mmmmmm handsome in this movie.

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  22. Monica Burns
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 08:30:47

    This movie is on my DVD keeper shelf, which is beginning to sag with favorites. I liked Broderick’s campy character, and I LOVED the wolf and adored Hauer as Navarre. Definitely a heart-throb movie. Guess I’ll have to treat myself next week when I’ve turned in my book.

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  23. Lizzy
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 08:55:42

    This movie, like The Last Unicorn, is one of those early 80s fantasy movies that I loved as a child but when I watch again in its entirety (as I did, lo, just about 3 weeks ago while recovering from a stinging hangover), I can’t help but think, whoa, I am so glad they don’t make them like they used to. Also, damn, I was a really sappy little kid.

    This does not prevent me absolute loving it, but it does take me about 15 minutes to really get into it.

    But I tell you what, by the time they get to the bit with the pit, Navarre all shirtless and angsty, howling into that dark night, beating his hands on the dirt, oh, yeaaah, I’m totally there. I know I shouldn’t root for him to be all torn apart by his unrequited love, but frankly, it’s pretty hot what that evil priest did to you, Navarre. Pretty damn hot.

    Also, Michelle Pfieffer: Give me your pretty, pretty skin, bird lady.

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  24. Lori
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 09:47:17

    Oh I haven’t seen this in years and now I want to see it again. I wonder if my Twilight loving daughter would have this as magical and romantic as I did.

    Great choice of movie Maili.

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  25. Radish
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 10:15:26

    Ladyhawke was one of the first flix we bought when we got a DVD player — anyone know whether it’s been released on BluRay?

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  26. Sandra Cormier
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 11:19:04

    Every time I come across Ladyhawke on TV, I enjoy it like I did the first time. I love Mouse and the way he breaks the fourth wall, I love Hauer and his delicious lips, I love Pfeiffer’s big eyes. I really love that beautiful horse. I believe it is a Friesian.

    Funny, the music escapes my memory. I wonder if there will be Director’s Cut, possibly with different music. Perhaps a 25th Anniversary Edition will come out next year.

    Every time I hit the video store I forget my list of titles to buy, and Ladyhawke slips from my mind. What a shame. (These days, my brain is so full things start to fall out.)

    I MUST get a keeper copy.

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  27. Anon76
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 11:24:31

    Oh, I love this movie and sooooooooooo do not think Michelle Phieffer phoned in her performance (my words, not any used in the review).

    I feel MP added such a depth to the storyline in her portrayal (with the help of the director, I’d think.) The character must seem flat through most of this…she’s tired, she’s without the man she so desperately loves (obviously must be because she didn’t try to break the curse at any time by killing the wolf) and depressed. She is a woman who has ALMOST lost all hope.

    Enter Mouse, who figures out that she needs a bit of fun, and a reassurance that while she is close to giving up hope, her beloved has not. Hence his made up messages. You see MP pick the character up a bit then.

    And man, her skin! With the lighting, she had an ethereal quality which soooooo matched the hawk tie in.

    Okay, I won’t chatter on any more, lol. Lubbed this movie.

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  28. Jessa Slade
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 11:38:13

    Lizzy, The Last Unicorn is a wonderful movie. I’d add (Tom Cruise aside) Legend to this category of comfort fantasy films.

    Best scene in Ladyhawke: They’re on the way back to the castle on their suicide mission, and Navarre and Isabeau wake up in the nest of furs together, just as the sun is rising, and her change is coming…

    If you haven’t seen the movie, go, go now.

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  29. SonomaLass
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 13:42:47

    My adult children all insist that The Last Unicorn and Dark Crystal were the favorite childhood movies — they recently made me buy them both on DVD, because their younger brother doesn’t remember either of them. They will all be here Sunday for a family dinner; wonder if I can find a copy of Ladyhawke by then? I’ll bet they’ve never seen it and would love it. Thanks for the review!

    Jane, I’m loving this new feature!

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  30. Linda
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 13:42:49

    This movie is in my Top Ten, along with Somewhere in Time. I just wished the DVD had some extra features on it. I was such a fan of it, I wrote a prequel story, telling how Isabeau and Navarre were cursed. Yeah, call me nuts. :) It’s even worse when a friend and I can throw out lines from the movie.

    “Walk on the LEFT side!”
    “She flew away! I’m telling the truth! She flew away!”
    “When you get down on your knees to pray, Father, how do you get back up?”
    “Bring the bird up! We’ll dine on it tonight!”/”We can’t eat this bird, Father!”/”Why not? Oh, God, is it Lent again?”
    “One of these days, little Mouse, I expect to see you at the gates of Heaven.”/”I’ll be there, Father, even if I have to pick the lock.”

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  31. Erotic Horizon
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 13:55:37

    @Linda:

    Hey linda,

    Lovely that you chipped in . As soon as i saw this, this morning i thought of you…

    Still catching up on your stuff… so good

    E.H>

    ReplyReply

  32. Patricia Briggs
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 14:44:13

    Love, love Lady Hawk. I can remember disliking the music track when I first saw it — but it doesn’t bother me anymore (after 40+ viewings). I love Mouse. Love Rutger Hauer (and he can RIDE!!)

    Horse is Friesian (named Goliath) — and he is responsible for making the Friesian breed popular in the US. They were almost extinct and now you can find them everywhere. Lots of carriage horses in films these days are Friesians.

    I love the scene when they were running over the plains. My husband turns to me and said, “I’d rather have seen him really running. I had to say, “Honey, that’s as fast as a Friesian goes. Pretty, pretty gaits. Strong. Not fast.”

    I loved the other horses, too. So seldom does a movie get the horses right! No quarter horses/thoroughbreds here (love them, but they are period inaccurate). The other fighting horse (white) is, I think Andalusian with that much hair — some Iberian breed anyway. All of the messenger horses are Southern European light (running) breeds of the type they’d have had. Cool. Cool. Usually I get to sit through movies and point out that the bad guys and the good guys are both riding the same horses. This was way above par on that scale. Only other fantasy film that got the horses right was Lord of the Rings.

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  33. Susan/DC
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 15:09:26

    Be still my beating heart — this movie is ROMANTIC (only all caps do it justice). Rutger Hauer, all blond hair and light eyes and anguish. Michelle Pfeiffer, so luminously, angelically beautiful. Add the wolf and the hawk and the horses to the mix, and it’s every fairy tale I loved as a young girl. Only Matthew Broderick’s character broke the spell — too wisecracky and 20th C — but after a while I didn’t mind him. Thank you for reminding me of this one.

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  34. Lizzy
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 15:18:36

    To whomever just brought up Somewhere in Time … Total love.

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  35. Maili
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 15:32:25

    @everyone
    I love reading your responses. It makes me look quite forward to the second viewing.

    I don’t think we will see a Director’s Cut, but Special Edition? Let’s hope so, because in spite of its dubious charm, the soundtrack is…I’m sorry, no. Just no.

    I think I found a way around the soundtrack problem. Turn off the audio, turn on the subtitles, and watch it with a random music CD. It’s worth a go. Well, if they can do it with The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, I don’t see why I can’t try with Ladyhawke. :D

    Many of you are right. SHE has the amazing complexion (I admit to brief moments of feeling envy). HE is hawt with capital H.

    The horses do look amazing. My jaws dropped a couple of times when Goliath trotted along with its Attitude on at full blast.

    @ Anon76
    That’s a good way of looking at it. Okay, I will have your interpretation in mind when I watch it again.

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  36. Malin E
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 16:32:46

    I have loved Ladyhawke since I was 13, but even as a teenager, I hated the soundtrack. My husband says he can see why I love it, but can’t get over the dreadful score. My fondest wish would be for someone to re-score it, because it’s a lovely, touching love story, and a very underrated fantasy film.

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  37. Trish
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 17:25:57

    Like so many others I HATED the soundtrack (ruins it for me, sorry to say) and could have done without Matthew Broderick and his lousy accent, whatever language he was trying for. But everything else was fantastic – Rutger Hauer, Michele Pfeiffer, John Wood, Leo McKern, etc – so it makes me even more frustrated that what could have been a great film was ruined by stuff that shouldn’t have made that much of a difference.

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  38. Deb Kinnard
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 18:03:55

    I could so get off on watching this movie to a Mediaeval Babes track. The music didn’t bother me at the time it came out…I figured it was the best they could do.

    At the time it came out, my sister and I worked (fitfully) on a fanfic called LADYKEET. He was a cute and cuddly puppy by night, she a parakeet by day. Thank all evil bishops it got no further than concept.

    The movie’s plot was not taken from any medieval legend but is an original story.

    And of course Pfeiffer sleepwalked through the film–she was in character. Neither of these lovers EVER got any rest. Awake as an animal half the time and up doing as a human the other half? Sheesh. It’s worse than having newborn twins.

    Best moment is when Navarre wakes up in the pit and Isabeau is there, about to morph, and they ALMOST touch…but not. My husband and I virtually fell in love to that scene.

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  39. RD
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 19:05:39

    I think I watched this movie every single afternoon for a whole summer. I could recite the movie by heart. So much love for this film. And count me along with the others for falling in love with Rutger because of it.

    On a sad note, L’ Aquila, where the legend takes place and where I believe a great deal of the movie was shot, was pretty much destroyed in the recent earthquakes.

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  40. Angelia Sparrow
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 21:00:39

    The first time I saw it, in theaters, I loved it. Hated the music, loved the movie.

    I’d already fallen hard for Michelle in Into the Night. This cemented my Rutger Hauer love.

    I came back to it as an adult instead of a teen, with a better understanding of classical, rock, and synthesizer music. I found the music worked better for me.

    And Freddie Jones is a perenniel favorite from Dune and Krull and Young Sherlock Holmes.

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  41. LindaR (likari)
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 22:09:01

    Oh frabjous choice!

    One of my favs and, yeah, the mention of a rape scene totally set me back. Yikes.

    I liked Mathew Broderick’s Mouse, and enjoyed MP as Isobo or Isabol or Isabel or whatever the heck her name was.

    Remember Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob? She’s really a lot of fun in so many movies — oh, and also the recent Stardust.

    Anyway, I think I’ll be popping Ladyhawke into the DVD player this weeked. thanks!

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  42. KristieJ
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 22:28:19

    I’ve only seen this movie once many years ago but I’ve always wanted to see it again. I do remember being so sad that they came so close but never really got to see each other. And would you believe I don’t remember how it ends????????

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  43. Deb Kinnard
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 10:26:46

    @KristieJ – it ends with them TOGETHER, the curse broken…as any finest-kind romance should end! And the horse lives happily ever after as well.

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  44. Linda
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 10:38:24

    If you’ve ever had a chance to look a the original script, there’s a scene at the end that was shot but never made it into the film. That’s why you can find pictures of Isabeau seated in front of Navarre on his horse, while knowing that shot wasn’t in the final movie.

    Definitely this film had an effect on me and my future writing endeavors. :)

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  45. Kat
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 20:48:02

    I loved this movie. So, so much. I must buy it on DVD. That bishop, I wanted to punch him bad. I also have the book. Time for a reread, methinks.

    ReplyReply

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