• Nighthawks

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: October 18th, 2016.
    Director: Bruce Malmuth, Gary Nelson
    Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams, Rutger Hauer, Nigel Davenport, Lindsay Wagner, Joe Spinell
    Year: 1981
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    The Movie:

    Nighthawks is a great movie with a sordid past. It was originally presented to Fox as what was planned to be a third French Connection film but when Gene Hackman opted out, the project sunk. From there, it became the movie we know today, but not without some turmoil along the way. Leading man Sylvester Stallone made life difficult for co-star Rutger Hauer on set and there was plenty of tension throughout the production. Original director Gary Nelson was replaced by Bruce Malmuth early on and once it was finished, Stallone had various scenes chopped out or edited. On top of that, the movie ran into problems with the MPAA and had further cuts made to some of the stronger violence. Somehow, despite all of this, the movie still turned out to be a pretty gripping watch and while it’s hardly Stallone’s best known film, it rightly deserves its solid cult following.

    The story begins in London where a man walks into a department store and after sweet talking the pretty girl (Catherine Mary Stewart) behind the counter, walks out… just as it explodes behind him. It turns out that this man is Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer) and that he is one of the world’s most accomplished terrorists. When the NYPD learn that he’s relocated to the Big Apple, a terrorism expert named Peter Hartman (Nigel Davenport) is called in to lecture and train some of the force’s best cops on Wulgar’s past and what it will take to stop him at the behest of Lieutenant Munafo (Joe Spinell).

    Enter street detectives Deke DeSilva (Sylvester Stallone) and Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams). These guys are tough – Deke even had fifty-two confirmed kills during his time overseas in the Vietnam War – but they’ve understandably got concerns about shooting first and asking questions later. As they head out into the streets to try and find Wulfgar, a murdered woman who put him up turns out to be their first clue. Meanwhile, Deke kinda-sorta tries to patch things up with his estranged wife Irene (Lindsay Wagner), who works for a pompous fashion designer (played by none other than Jamie Gillis!). When Deke and Matt luck out and find Wulfgar at an inner city disco, a firefight breaks out and a chase through the city ensues that leads the men through an underground subway tunnel still under construction. Wulfgar escapes, leaving Fox wounded, but now he knows who these guys are. When the terrorist connects with his liaison, Shakka Holland (Persis Khambatta), all bets are off – he launches a plan to hold some United Nations emissaries hostage and to make his beef with DeSilva very personal indeed.

    Nighthawks features some great location footage shot around New York City that really adds to the film’s gritty vibe. Whether it’s an early scene where our two cops bust open a drug operation taking place in a rundown tenement to a scene that plays out in Central Park or the finale that famously takes place on the Roosevelt Island cable car, there’s a lot of great locations featured throughout the movie that help to make it feel authentic (even if those who pay close attention might notice that subway station interiors do occasionally differ from exteriors!). While some of this dates the movie (the disco scene is very… disco) those who enjoy the time capsule aspect of gritty urban thrillers like this will find a lot to like about this aspect of Nighthawks.

    The performances here are also really strong. A supporting effort from Spinell is always welcome and he brings his typically sleazy screen presence to this picture in his own inimitable way, though he’s cast against type and plays a good guy this time around. Jamie Gillis is superbly pompous and arrogant in that way that only Jamie Gillis could be, though his part is really just a cameo (but a cameo worth noting, on this website at least!). Catherine Mary Stuart’s part is also very small, but Lindsay Wagner – the Bionic Woman herself – gets a bit more to do as she and Stallone share some good screen time here. Nigel Davenport chews through the scenery like crazy but he’s a blast to watch, while Billy Dee Williams plays a hot-headed and clearly stressed out street cop really well. Stallone and Hauer are the real stars here, however. Stallone is in fine form. He looks great, he handles the dramatic scenes as well as the action scenes and he brings an appreciable intensity to the part. Hauer is his exact opposite, and perfectly cast. Wulfgar doesn’t lose his cool, he’s a suave and charming bastard of a man and Hauer nails it.

    The story was really ahead of its time in dealing with a type of urban terrorism once thought impossible but which now feels all too common place. The pacing is quick and both the score and the Keith Emerson’s soundtrack are great (note that Universal’s old DVD replaced the use of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ and Emerson’s ‘I Am A Man’ with some generic music – this release from Shout! Factory thankfully corrects that). There are some really impressive visuals here (the subway construction site chase being a great example) and some pretty killer stunts too (Stallone reportedly did all of his own stunt work in this film). Despite the fact that the odds were stacked against it in many ways, Nighthawks stands the test of time. It’s an ambitious and well-made crime thriller that remains gripping and suspenseful.


    Shout! Select’s new AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.85.1 widescreen transfer of The Laughing Policeman offers a very strong picture on this 50GB disc. The transfer has accurate looking color reproduction that reproduces all those early eighties fashions quite nicely. Black levels are really strong but shadow detail remains quite good and the picture avoids any issues with crush or macroblocking (which is important as a lot of this movie takes place in dark locations). Detail is strong throughout and a big improvement over the previous Universal DVD release. There are no obvious issues with sharpening, edge enhancement or compression artifacts and there doesn’t appear to be any noise reduction here to complain about. The image is remarkably clean, showing virtually no print damage, but retaining and appropriately natural amount of film grain. No complaints here, really, the movie looks excellent.

    The English soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD 2.0 format, is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. The film’s score from Keith Emerson sounds great, full of life and quite vibrant, while the levels stay nicely balanced throughout. Dialogue remains clean and clear and the sound effects are nice and strong, particularly the gun shots. There are no alternate language options but optional English subtitles have been provided. Again, we get a nice upgrade over the past DVD edition, particularly with the score which sounds so much better here in lossless audio.

    Extras on this release are considerable, beginning with a piece called Lights, Camera, Action! That is an audio interview with producer Herb Nanas that runs sixteen minutes in length. He speaks about what happened with the directors on the film, dealing with Stallone on the picture and his thoughts on the movie as a whole. In Nighthawks: The First Draft we get a ten minute interview with writer Paul Sylbert who talks about the film’s origins, the real life inspiration for the film and some of the changes that were made to the script over time. We Gotta Shoot This! gets director of photography James A. Contner in front of the camera for almost twenty-five minutes wherein he talks about his background and then about working on this film specifically, offering up some great stories from the set. A Sign Of The Times interviews actress Lindsay Wagner for ten minutes about her work in front of the camera in this film, her thoughts on some of her co-stars and some other pictures she’s been involved with. Catherine Mary Stewart gets a quick four minute interview in Not The Other Girls where she discusses playing the woman behind the counter in the opening scene, working with Hauer and what it was like on set. The last interview is entitled It Was Hell and it’s an eleven minute talk with technical adviser Randy Jurgensen. He talks about working on this and other crime films of the era as an adviser regarding police work but also offers up some pretty blunt thoughts on Stallone’s methods on set, some of the tensions that arose from that and quite a bit more. Not surprisingly, given the title of the featurette, Jurgensen makes this sound like a pretty tough shoot.

    Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer, a few radio spots, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. It would have been great to see some of the deleted material talked about in the supplements included but Shout! has gone on record noting that Universal wasn’t down with that idea for whatever reason. They also tried to get Stallone and Hauer onboard for the extras but had no luck.

    The Final Word:

    Nighthawks holds up really well as a tense and violent crime thriller thanks to some great performances from the cast, some killer location photography, slick camerawork and tight pacing. Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release offers up a nice array of supplements and an impressive audio and video presentation – definitely recommended for fans of Stallone, Hauer or just tough as nails crime films in general.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!