Hudson Hawk [retro review]

“History! Tradition! Culture! Are not concepts! These are trophies I keep in my den as paperweights!”

The Scoop: 1991 R, directed by Michael Lehmann and starring Bruce Willis, Danny Aiello and Andie MacDowell

Tagline: Catch The Excitement. Catch The Adventure. Catch The Hawk.

Summary Capsule: A cat burglar is forced by the CIA, Mafia, and business tycoons to steal precious works of art to create the ultimate alchemy machine.

Kym’s Rating: Better than a pot of cappucino.

Kym’s Review: How to describe this movie? I subscribe to the theory that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who get it and those who don’t. The fact that this movie did so poorly is an indication that there are too many people out there that do not get it.

I love this movie.

It’s basically the story of a catburglar nicknamed Hudson Hawk who, upon being released from prison, is blackmailed into stealing a horse sculpted by Leonardo da Vinci. This piece of art is required to build the gold machine which operates on the principle of alchemy and will turn lead into gold. Hawk then must stop the evil Darwin and Minerva Mayflower and rescue not only the girl of his dreams, but the world as well.

Filled with hysterical, surreal moments and dialogue (the break-in at the museum serving as a prime example), Danny Aiello and Bruce Willis singing duets (!), and a host of unforgettable characters, I must say that this is one of the quirkiest, offbeat movies that I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch and it remains one of my perpetual favorites.

If you’re one of those who get it, I suggest that you do yourself a favor and rent this movie. You’ll love it.

Justin’s Rating: A large, hand-tossed, premium Italian pizza with the works, extra cheese, stuffed crust, AND one of those cute little tables that holds the lid from smashing into the pie.

Justin’s Review: This is the fateful movie that brought Kym and I together. A friend of mine recommended me to see this over a break from college and I did, and liked it. I thought it was okay. But it grew to be an obsession a few months later at college, as our suite watched it again and again and could sing all the lyrics and debated movie points and dressed up like Bruce Willis.

And one day I was hanging from the ceiling and thought, Why isn’t there a Hudson Hawk web page?. So, I fell 8 feet and bruised my skull, but three months later I rolled out the now-defunct Hudson Hawk Aviary. Down in Texas, Kym saw it, wrote to me, and we began to share our passions for movies, which led to the formation of MRFH. Isn’t that such a sweet story? I like stories.

As for the actual movie, Hudson Hawk is one of the most hated and debated movies of the 90’s. Critics never forgive big-budget box-office bombs (like Waterworld and Godzilla), but in this case they made a fatal error. They condemned a movie that was actually one of the most brilliant, entertaining, nonsensical pieces of art brought to the big screen. This movie is the utter definition of post-modern quirky. It brings the audience action, locales, twisted plots, and lots of humor (weird and unmistakable). Sure, it’s surreal, full of camp and not everyone’s cup o’ chino, but that doesn’t make it a naughty boy.

Willis plays Eddie AKA “Hudson Hawk”, a catburglar released from prison after ten years, who attempts (briefly) to walk the straight and narrow. Along with his friend Tommy Fivetone (Danny Aiello), Hawk gets involved in a complicated scheme to recover objects designed by Leonardo Da Vinci to make a gold machine. The key players in this conspiracy include (take notes!) the Mafia, crooked cops, the CIA, the Vatican, and billionaire eccentrics out for WORLD (pause) DOMINATION!

Written in part by Willis himself, Hudson Hawk takes quite a few dares by incorporating elements that aren’t often seen in big-budget adventure blockbusters. For instance, there’s a fat Three Stooges / Looney Tunes vibe that runs through the whole thing, with plenty of slapstick and cartooney sound effects to go around. Most of the characters, too, might well be lifted out of a cartoon, if cartoon butlers carried hidden blades in their sleeves and decapatated their enemies. There’s also a small musical portion of the film, where Tommy and Eddie time their burglaries by singing classic old tunes. And now, for something completely different.

If you lack the ability to let go of “movie reality” (where you expect the movie to follow certain, predefined rules seen countless places elsewhere), then you might really come out of this experience with a partial lobotomy. But for those of us looking for the unusual and fun, Hudson Hawk is one of the freshest movies out there.

Kyle’s Rating: Every day for Bruce Willis is a holiday

Kyle’s Review: I remember the ads in the back of my precious comic books: “Catch the Hawk. Hudson Hawk.” There was Bruce Willis, Mr. Die Hard, swinging on a long rope. That was all I needed to see to know Hudson Hawk was worth my time. I can honestly say it’s worth your time as well, unless you’re an uptight bastard.

In fact, I venture the theory that this zany and unpredictable film is an effective Litmus test for determining whether you’re a hip lord of the bright future or a boring fascist square. So do us all a favor and figure out which category you fall into as soon as possible. Rent Hudson Hawk, and let me know what you are!

What's better than Bruce Willis? Bruce Willis times two!

Intermission!

  • That one slide in the slide show *shudder*
  • Kit Kat’s cards
  • The opening narration is by William Conrad, who is most famous for doing the narration in Rocky and Bullwinkle
  • The movie’s humor was largely influenced by the Three Stooges, and also some of James Coburn’s 60s comedies
  • The filmmakers broke continuity rules in HH on purpose — such as when Hawk and Five-Tone are driving to New Jersey. As the camera goes back and forth between them, you’ll notice that the NYC skyline is on BOTH sides of the car!
  • One of the Mario Brothers is Frank Stallone, Sylvester Stallone’s brother
  • The filmmakers chose a low-tech theme for Hudson Hawk. He uses songs to time robberies, lockpicks, never wields a gun, uses skateboards, etc.
  • Notice that in the auction house, a pegasus (the logo of TriStar) hits Bruce in the face
  • Kit Kat has “FROG” and “HATE” tattoed on his hands
  • The Mayflower’s building is what used to be Musillini’s administrative HQ during WWII, and is decorated with an appropriate fascist interior
  • When Darwin slaps Alfred, it was impromptu (and you can see the actor who plays Alfred struggling to stay in character)
  • Kit Kat does not have a tongue, and there was a scene shot to explain this — it was cut
  • When Kaplan is thrown onto the hood of the limo, you can see a photo of a monkey pasted on his forehead. This is from an entire subplot that was cut out of the film. Hudson Hawk used to have a monkey accomplice named Little Eddie, who was killed by Kaplan in the same robbery that sent Hawk to jail. Before Hawk threw Kaplan off the tower, he originally pasted the photo onto Kaplan’s forehead and yelled, “This is for Little Eddie!”
  • The tones that the telephones make are the same as the ones used in Our Man Flint and In Like Flint James Coburn appears in all three movies.
  • Coburn plays “George Kaplan”, which is the name of the fake agent from North by Northwest.
  • Igg and Ook both mutter their own names as their last words.
  • The blond girl on the bridge who asks Hawk if he’s gonna die was a Playboy Playmate of the Year
  • The barking and other noises of the dog, Bunny, were supplied by human actor Frank Welker
  • One of the running gags/continuity errors in HH dealt with day suddenly turning into night and vice versa. Two such instances were when Tommy was taking Eddie back to the Five-Tone (clearly day suddenly turned to night as they entered the bar), and the climax, when Hawk and Anna make their escape (black night through the whole sequence, then suddenly day for their hang gliding ride). Have fun spotting the others.
  • In an obvious Nintento gag, the Mafia contacts are named the Mario Brothers. The ambulance Hawk is transported in has “Mario” on the back of it.
  • For the record, Hawk tries – and fails – to drink cappucino four times during the film. The fifth time he makes it.
  • When Hawk makes it through the “exact change” toll booth and the ambulance that the Mario Brothers are in Crashes – the sign on the building next to the crash is titled Collisionville
  • When the Hawk does a back flip off of a street lamp and lands on a bus with chickens and then onto his seat with perfect timing for his date, he blows feathers out of his mouth (a reference to the Three Stooges) while a mandolin in the background plays “3 blind mice” (another reference to the Three Stooges)
  • When the film came to home video the tag line “Catch The Adventure, Catch The Excitement, Catch The Hawk” was changed to “Catch The Adventure, Catch The Laughter, Catch The Hawk”.
  • In the opening sequence, when the donkey approaches the DiVinci castle, you see a large foot in the foreground. That was a prop taken from a 50’s Italian gladiator movie. The DiVinci castle (exteriors) is Castle San Lae in north Italy.
  • Hudson Hawk was one of the first movies to use digital editing to erase wires from hanging objects (such as the glider).
  • Back in the early 90’s, few people knew what a cappucino was, and the filmmakers almost changed the drink to something more recognizable.
  • The gurney chase was shot on Brooklyn bridge over five nights, which did not endear the movie makers to the inhabitants (they were shot at from Brooklyn).
  • Nobody is allowed to film in the Vatican, so they used a villa that is used by most movies locations set in the Vatican (it was, for instance, used in the Godfather Part 3).
  • In the novelization of Hudson Hawk, the origin of Tommy Five-Tone’s name is revealed. He once punched out a gangster with five punches, each one making a different tone/note. In the movie, when Tommy punches Darwin Mayflower five times in the end, you can hear five different notes accompany the punches.

Groovy Quotes

Cardinal: Oh, the Pope warned me never to trust the CIA!

Darwin Mayflower: History! Tradition! Culture! Are not concepts; these are items I keep in my den as paperweights! Chaos will rule the world!

Hawk: Gates tries to blackmail me, you ask me ‘did I miss anything?’. Gates gets killed and you say ‘did I miss anything?’. I bet you went up to Mrs. Lincoln at Ford Theater and ask ‘How was the show? Did I miss anything?’

Narrarator: The time was 1481. The artist was Leonardo da Vinci. The guy on the donkey’s just a guy on a donkey.

Hawk: But I want to do community service. I want to teach the handicapped how to yodel.

Hawk: If I don’t get a cappucino soon, I’m going to strangle somebody.
Tommy: You still got a thing for those unmasculine European coffees? Here’s your buddy.
[hands him a cappucino]
Hawk: The Man knows! The Man knows!

Hawk: [starting to cut a hole in the glass, looks at Tommy] I’d better make the hole bigger.
Tommy: Don’t worry, bonehead. I’m wearing my girdle.

[looking at the video room]
Tommy: They record everything video survailence takes in.
Hawk: Yes, I can see that, Master Thief.

Tommy: We got about five minutes and change.
Hawk: 5:32. Swinging on a star.
Tommy: You know, they invented something when you were in. It’s called a watch.

Hawk: [before having to jump off of a building] You know, I can’t tell you how happy I am that you covered our tracks!

Hawk: Gates tries to blackmail me, you ask me ‘did I miss anything?’. Gates gets killed and you say ‘did I miss anything?’. I bet you went up to Mrs. Lincoln at Ford Theater and ask ‘How was the show? Did I miss anything?’

Hawk: You know, after all these years I still get goosebumps going to these auctions. The paintings, the sculptures, the things that aren’t really paintings or sculptures.

Hawk: Is looking like a constipated warthog a prerequisite for working in the art world?
Anna: [getting up] Some are more constipated than others.

Darwin: Outbid by my own wench!
Minerva: Don’t hate me, baby.

[Hawk saves Andie from a pillar]
Anna: That was bold of you. You didn’t have to do that.
Hawk: It was nothing. Anyone would have done the same thing.
Anna: No, I mean you didn’t have to tackle me and rip my dress.

[Hawk is being dragged behind an ambulance]
Girl in passing car: Hey mister, are you going to die?

Hawk: The Vatican, robbing the freakin’ Vatican. The nuns at St. Agnus predicted this.

[Kid hitting elephant against stairs]
Mom: Stop that! You’re embarrassing your country.

Anna: As you know, the DiVinci Codex has lived in the Vatican for centuries, and will remain here for centuries to come.
Hawk: [softly in falsetto] That’s what you think!

Anna: Are you going to tell me what you did back there, or are you going to blame it on that stuffed animal?
Hawk: Pokey? Can you believe that kooky elephant?

Cardinal: The Vatican has spoiled the advances of pirates and terrorists. We will not lie down for some schmuck from New Jersey!

George: Rome – I had my first bare-handed strangulation here. Communist politian. God, I miss Communism! The Red Threat? People were scared, the agency had respect, and I got laid every night.

George: We blow up space shuttles for breakfast. You and your friend Tommy would be no more than a late-afternoon Triscuit.

Butterfinger: Hey, Mr. Hawk, I got your stamps.
Hawk: [in cartoon voice] Good, Yogi.

Anna: I have a thing for sinners.
Hawk: I have a thing for sinning.

[Crucifix lights up]: Attenciones! Attenciones!
Hawk: Catholic girls are scary.

Anna: Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been 1200 hours since my last confession.
Cardinal: Hit me with your best shot.

Minerva: Markets will crash, crash. Financial empires will crumble, crumble.
Hawk: Except yours, yours.

Minerva: …on display for three days only at the Louvre in Paris.
Hawk: As opposed to the Louvre in Wisconsin?

Hawk: You better be glad I don’t hit women. Assuming that you are a woman, because from now on I’m not taking anything for granted!

[Hawk and Tommy are paralysied and looking at the front page of the USA Today]
Tommy: Dammit, the Yanks lose again!
Hawk: How’d the Mets do?
Tommy: [to captors] Can you turn to section B?

[Hawk finds out Anna is a nun]
Anna: It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you.
Hawk: Oh, no, you love me, it’s your job! You probably love Butterfingers over there!
Anna: In a weird sort of Catholic way, I do.

Anna: I feel like a dolphin who’s never tasted melted snow. What does the color blue taste like? Bobo knows – HAHAHAHA! I must speak with the dolphins now: eeeee-eeee-eeeeeeeeee!!!

Darwin: Yo Flipper! A damsel in distress implies that there is some well-hung Dudly Do-Right galloping up to save you.

Tommy: So what do you say, Eddie? Two and a half minutes to save Anna, Three and a half to save the world?
Hawk: Six-oh-oh. Side by Side?

George: [going over a cliff] My pension!

Darwin: If DiVinci was alive today, he’d be eating microwave sushi naked with us in the back of a limosine.

[Anna nearly shoots Hawk]
Hawk: HEY! Thou shalt not kill! Thou shalt not kill!

Hawk: Bunny! Ball-Ball! [Fires dog out of the window]

Darwin: I’ll torture you so slowly you’ll think it’s a career. I’ll kill your friends, your family, and the bitch you took to the prom.
Hawk: Penny Joe Biarsky? I can get you an address on that.

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15 Comments

  1. It was a long time since I last saw Hudson Hawk on the TV, but I remember that I really liked it, strangely enough. It had that surreal feeling where you almost couldn’t tell if the movie was trying to be serious, and if all those strange things was actually on purpose or just the signs of a bad movie. Once you told yourself that it was all on purpose it became really entertaining. I will need to dig it up somewhere and re-watch it.

  2. While I like that movie, I have say I like the german dub more. It has several flaws (all dubs have, it seems), but it was a bit more coherent and, to me, funnier.
    For example, the reference to “bare-handed strangulation” doesn’t exist in the german dub. Unless it’s a methaphor I don’t know, I don’t think it really fits the movie.

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