A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


September 26, 2010


I have fond memories of this movie from my youth. I can’t think of any other movies with quite the same spirit – it is a gritty and realistic fantasy film. In almost every regard the world this movie takes place in is a completely believable representation of medieval Italy. Or at least a parallel world Italy where an evil bishop rules the countryside with an iron fist from his fortress of Aquila. There is only one actual piece of magic in this movie, and it is that one piece of sorcery that defines the movie. The only other movie I can think of that even resembles this one is the medieval murder mystery Name of the Rose.

The movie follows the adventures of young Phillipe “The Mouse” Gaston, a thief and pickpocket who escapes from the prison in the impregnable fortress of Aquila. He is the first person to ever have done so, and is pursued by guards intent on returning him to the prison to be hung for his crimes. When they finally catch up to him, however, he is rescued by an exiled guard captain named Navarre who takes Phillipe’s escape as a symbol that the time for his return has come. For Navarre has a score to settle with the evil bishop. We discover thanks to the kindly monk Father Imperious that Navarre and his love Isabeau are under a curse, and poor Phillipe becomes mixed up in the whole affair.

I have a couple small quibbles with the film, watching it again tonight for the first time in a couple decades. The eighties-pop inspired Alan Parsons Project music somewhat dates the movie now for example. It’s still thrilling and exciting, but synth music in a fantasy movie is a very eighties thing. Then there’s Matthew Broderic’s transitory accent. Michelle Pfeiffer, Leo McKern and Rutgar Haur don’t seem to feel any need to put on different accents than their natural ones, but Broderick attempts at time to do an English accent, but then forgets it for most of the rest of the film.

There are so many more things about this movie that I love though. The cast is superb, even with Broderic’s accent. Rutger Haur is great at playing the driven man on a mission with nothing to lose. Matthew Broderick has the task of being both the comic relief for the film and the charming rogue. He manages to carry it off well, I think, and is a lot of fun to watch doing it. Leo McKern is the grizzled and tortured Father Imperious, who partly blames himself for the curse at the heart of the movie. He’s always fun to watch, and this movie is no exception to that. And Michelle Pfeiffer manages to take a role that’s written mostly as a damsel in distress and provide her with a little steel.

The design of the movie and the locations they found to film it in are both stunning. I never saw this movie in the theaters (I wish I had) and so have only seen it in the past on videocasette. Now that we own the DVD we can see it in its lush widescreen glory, and I have to say it is a treat. Part of the movie’s charm is in the fantasy setting and the world it takes place in, and director Richard Donner, along with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro fill every frame with wonderful images from edge to edge.

What’s unique about this movie, for a fantasy film, is that it features almost no special effects. There are a couple scenes with the actors wearing special contacts and one blue-screen shot I can think of, and a couple other little tricks and some slick editing, but for the most part the movie relies on the performances and the script to relay the magic in the film. There are a lot of stunts and battles, but the movie doesn’t need lots of flash and hocus pocus to tell its story. I think that is part of why it has aged so well, music aside. There’s nothing in it that doesn’t still work today, really.

I feel like this movie is a bit of lost gem. People talk about Donner’s other movies from the eighties all the time. Superman and Superman II (well most of the good bits anyhow) and Goonies are all still movies I had people checking out at Blockbuster all the time. But this movie seems to have faded from memory. Which is too bad, because it’s a great story and a fun movie. I feel like it should be remembered in the same way as Neverending Story and Time Bandits, but nobody ever seems to bring up Ladyhawke in conversation in the circles I travel in. I think they should.

September 26, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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