Main Cast : Rutger Hauer - Etienne Navarre
Michelle Pfeiffer - Isabeau
Matthew Broderick - Philippe Gaston
John Wood - Bishop
Ken Hutchinson - Marquet
Leo McKern - Imperius
Alfred Molina - Cezar
Massimo Sarchielli - Innkeeper
Giancarlo Prete - Fornac
Loris Loddi - Jehan
Alessandro Serra - Mr Pitou
Nicolina Papetti - Mrs Pitou
Charles Borromel - Insane Prisoner
Russell Kase - Lieutenant
Screenplay: Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas and Tom Mankiewicz from the book by Joan D. Vinge
Plot: The spell of vengeance had been cast upon Etienne Navarre, Captain of the Guard, and the beautiful Isabeau by the evil Bishop of Aquila.
Etienne and Isabeau must wander the wilderness, always together yet forever apart – she a hawk by day and restored to herself only with the setting of each day’s sun; he a wolf by night, transformed once more into human form at break of each day’s dawn. This eternal spell is their punishment for daring to love after the evil Bishop had already chosen Isabeau for his own.
Then suddenly Etienne receives an unexpected sign of hope in the person of Philippe, a young and cunning thief….and Navarre knows he must seize this fearful opportunity to free himself and Isabeau from the Bishop’s diabolic spell – or bring them death…
Notes: The film was shot in the Cinecittà Studios (Rome), in the Rome catacombs, as well as in several lushly Italian locations, such as:
Rocca Calascio, near L'Aquila (the ruined castle where Imperious was living)
Castello di Soncino (near Cremona)
Misurina (near Cortina d'Ampezzo)
Campo Imperatore (in the Gran Sasso Mountains)
Torre Chiara Castle (near Parma)
Inside the Cinecittà Studios, the sets for this production were magnificent. The biggest secular cathedral ever built, 250 ft. long, towers 80 ft. high out of hardboard, plaster, real stone and tiles, an awesome edifice of Corinthian columns and arches.
Lauren Shuler, the producer, who put the whole 'Ladyhawke' package together, had worked for almost four years to get this movie into flight, after having bought up the option from an original script by Edward Khmara. The origins of 'Ladyhawke' date back to a famous feudal legend, recorded as early as the 13th century.
Concerning Rutger's skills with medieval weaponry, the film critic James Burns wrote, "One of the picture's greatest assets is that its first third features some of the best swordplay ever seen since swashbuckling was virtually a Hollywood staple. Such stylization reaffirms Ladyhawke's intent to be more in the tradition of celluloid historical adventures, rather than the newer trend of blatant sword and sorcery".
'Ladyhawke is an amalgam of themes', Donner clarified. 'It's adventurous, outrageously romantic and pure escapism".
I adore sword fighting. I had been practicing with swords and horseback riding since I was 15. I had even gotten my best review on my fencing skills as I passed my final exam in acting school.
My first break in front of the camera was as a young knight (Floris van Rosemond/series for Dutch tv). This had been an overwhelming success. A year or two later I spent half a year in Hungary on horseback doing other 13 episodes in German. For German TV.
One year before the shoot of 'Ladyhawke', the director Richard Donner invited me to have a conversation. He asked me if I was interested in THE BAD GUY role. I loved the script but felt heartbroken as I told him that I wasn't. Find someone else, damn it.
I had thought. Not enough meat or bone. I left the meeting saying if he were ever to consider me for NAVARRE, then I’d be delighted.
A year later I got a call from him. From Rome. He was now about ten days before principal photography on 'Ladyhawke'. Was I available and did I still want the part?
I said, 'Dick, ,just say when!' Dick said, 'When...can you be here? Kurt Russell just walked away from the Navarre part'.
I said, 'I’ll see you in a couple of days. Make sure they have parking space for my 55ft trailer!'
He thought I was kidding. I loaded up my 18-wheeler, which is like a motorhome and which I built myself, and started driving. 2000 miles.
I got there in two days. I put the airbrakes on right in front of the main gate of the famous film studios in Rome.
There I was. 16 years after my first camera appearance. Some 15 films behind my belt. I would die for this role.
Dick had been notified and came storming out the door shouting across the street, “RUTGER... GODDAMN!”.
Rome/Filmstudios - The interior of the church's set had taken months to build and with great craft. An enormous undertaking. It had to be built for two reasons. As you know any old Italian church will be host to a number of frescos, icons you name it. It’s just not possible to shoot in there because it’s part of history and needs to be protected. By the same token the control over lighting scenes by our great Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro would be impossible. There was no way to hang all these lights in those churches. Let alone to get the permission to shoot there. It takes too much time.
The final scene of 'Ladyhawke' will take place here. So the set was built and it was a job well done.
Now I’m talking about the best set builders, the best painters, designers, what have you. And not a flaw to be found. And very few small errors.
And all lighting on dimmers.
Yet, I’ll talk about two small errors which had a major impact on the schedule/budget of the film. Just to demonstrate how small errors can have their impact.
Navarre (my character) is supposed to ride on horseback, get off and have a swordfight before embracing his long lost love. The film cuts from Ext. (Castell'Arquato square) to Int. Studios in Rome.
Two major things were done to help the horses. First, in order to get them into the church (studio) alive and well, a big ramp was built at the exterior (Castell'Arquato) over the stairs leading up to the heavy double church door entrance and this had now been replicated for the studio set.
One small surprise concerning continuity was that the doors were hinged on the inside while they were hinged on the outside at the other location. Consequently, they opened the wrong way. So that needed some alterations because it would show as a big mistake in the film. And it cost the company a few hours.
The second thing done for horses and riders was the the pavement. The concrete studio floor was “carpeted” with a composite of rubber so the horses would not slide too much. A clever safety measure.
The structure of this “pavement” looked just like big cobblestones and felt that way as well. It was quite rough on its footing.
It also improved the recording of dialogue. The noise of horses hooves on this pavement sounded just horrible and very contrived.
So any dialogue on horseback was out the holy window. But it did help the horses slide less.
Apart from me riding the stallion in through this door, was the fact that the scene we were about to shoot here was also one of my most challenging. Sword fighting skills, riding skills and acting as well.
I practiced intensely in the little spare time I had, with a man who was the god of sword fighting choreography.
My black costume was handcrafted with about a hundred holes - like a corset almost - in the back, and each of my boots had leather strings, which had to be put through another hundred holes. This would need time and many hands each morning.
Once I was strapped in, there was very little relief. And the colour black tends to eat/absorb energy.
In the week of the churchfight alone I had lost 20lbs.
The floor’s cobblestone structure was uneven but my boots gave me some support.
When doing sword fights there are two elements that vary. The skills of the opponent. And the skill of the sword as a tool.
Three different swords were made for different use.
The steel sword looks the best but is too heavy to really fight with. It is made with hardened steel, a process that is hardly known anymore.
It drains more energy and it is impossible to initiate blows and then stop them at impact, which is a major technique in the choreography or sword fights. In closer shots the steel version literally outshines the plastic version or the titanium composite version.
Plastic is just for wider shots and looks, and useless and dangerous for fighting.
What craft again here. We practiced them with vigour.
The titanium version was sweet and light but would break on occasion. 911. Paramedics.
The steel version as well as the titanium would bend and get a nasty swordfish look after too much “work”, which enabled it to open up any flesh it would connect with..... ouchouch fingers and gloves.
Because of my background and ability to remember sequences and also because of Angelo, my stunt opponent, we were able to be creative and get more interesting moves. Loved it so.
The ‘end-move’ (where THE BAD GUY “finds” his death by falling into NAVARRE’s sword by accident) I convinced Dick that it was just perfect. It was not the hero’s, but god's way of shining his light on NAVARRE's fortune and, in a way, his consent with the forthcoming victory over the TOP BAD GUY HORNY BISHOP, who then would join the same fate.
Another small detail I cherish is the casual dagger handling. NAVARRE looks up to the tower where one of the opponents is about to ring the bell, which was the sign to let Imperius know that things had gone wrong.
NAVARRE, in order to prevent this, quickly pulls a dagger with his right hand because his sword is in his left, he flips the dagger in the air, while always keeping an eye on his opponent, and throws it.
It is a physical skill that very few actors have but it happened to be part of my homework. At the same time it is and should not be a big deal. I’m just glad it is mine. In my secret box of pride. Don’t tell anyone.
The next thing that happened because of the uneven rubber darn cobblestone floor, was that I managed to sprain my ankle in the middle of the fight. I walked in a cast the next ten days before being able to come back and finish the fight.
I’m glad we got it all done the way we did. And very much proud of it.