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Nighthawks is a 1981 thriller film starring Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams, Lindsay Wagner, Persis Khambatta, Nigel Davenport and Rutger Hauer. It was directed by Bruce Malmuth. The original music score was composed by Keith Emerson.


The story revolves around two NYPD police detectives, Det. Sgt. Deke DaSilva (Sylvester Stallone) and Det. Sgt. Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams) who work undercover, and a terrorist Reinhardt Heymar Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer). In the prologue, a man with a knife tries to mug a woman, who turns out to be DaSilva in a blonde wig. Deke chases the man upstairs to the 174th Street marker Subway Station platform and dares the man to cut him. Deke then knocks him out and arrests him.

The next scene takes place in Londonmarker, where Wulfgar blows up a department store. Meanwhile, back in New York Citymarker, DaSilva and Fox go on a drug bust. Back in Londonmarker again, Wulfgar meets an associate at a party, Kenneth, who tells Wulfgar that Mercer, who we never see but come to know as the financier of Wulfgar's operations, is withholding money owed to Wulfgar because several children were killed in Wulfgar's latest bombing. Wulfgar quickly finds out that Kenneth has tipped off the police and kills him and the policemen are coming to get him. He then flees to Parismarker where he meets his associate Shakka Holland (Persis Khambatta) at La Sainte-Chapellemarker. Shakka remarks that La Sainte-Chapellemarker is a bad meeting place because it's next to (in real life too), the Palais de Justice, a courthouse in Parismarker. Shakka informs Wulfgar that Kenneth had a photo of Wulfgar on him when he was killed so Wulfgar and Shakka go to see a plastic surgeon. We find out later they killed the surgeon after the surgery. Wulfgar then flees to New Yorkmarker.

INTERPOLmarker Britishmarker Counter-terrorist specialist Peter Hartman (Nigel Davenport) comes to America to assemble a task force called A.T.A.C. (Anti-terrorist Action Command) to stop Wulfgar. Hartman believes Wulfgar will come to the U.S. next primarily for the press coverage. Hartman schools DaSilva, Fox and a specially selected team of New York police on Wulfgar, Shakka, and terrorism in general.

Wulfgar meets a woman, Pam, in a nightclub and moves in with her. Surprisingly enough, when she asks him what he does for a living, he tells her the complete and total truth: "I'm an international terrorist wanted on three continents." She thinks he's just kidding. Alone in her apartment while Wulfgar (known as Eric to Pam), is away, Pam discovers Wulfgar's arsenal of weapons in a case just as Wulfgar unexpectedly comes home. Pam, who has a stereo blaring, doesn't hear him and is caught holding a grenade from his suitcase. Wulfgar kills Pam but her death is the first break Hartman, DaSilva, and Fox get. Wulfgar has left behind a map with his last bombing circled. DaSilva and Fox find out some of Pam's favorite nightspots and hope to find Wulfgar at one of them. They do. But, unsure of what he looks like since the plastic surgery, they hesitate and after a long chase, Wulfgar gets away. Wulfgar is now hiding and living down in the basement of a little grocery store and after the chase, we learn Shakka is now in the United Statesmarker and is there to meet him.

A few days later the team is protecting an important United Nations function at the Metropolitan Museum of Artmarker that has the earmarks of a potential terrorist target. Just when everything seems to be running smoothly we see that Shakka is there, she has somehow eluded security, and with no one else around, she shoots Hartman.

Wulfgar and Shakka's next act is to hijack the Roosevelt Island Trammarker carrying U.N. representatives. Because he now knows DaSilva as a result of the nightclub chase he executes the wife of the French ambassador while DaSilva is watching from a hovering police helicopter. Wulfgar decides to let a baby onboard go and demands that DaSilva personally board the tramway to rescue it. DaSilva is winched up to the aerial tram and confronts Wulfgar face-to-face. DaSilva demands to know why Wulfgar killed the woman. “I wanted to.” the sadist replies. DaSilva and the baby are lowered back down to a waiting barge.

The police agree to Wulfgar's demands for a bus to escort him to safety. Wulfgar and Shakka hide among the crowd of hostages from the tram. DaSilva waits until they try to board before making his move. He plays back a recording of Hartman's lecture in which the terrorist expert denounces Shakka. In a rage, Shakka breaks from the hostages and is gunned down by Fox. Wulfgar somehow escapes, driving the bus off a ramp into the East Rivermarker.

A search of the wreckage shows no sign of Wulfgar. The team finds the store where Wulfgar has been staying and DaSilva finds that Wulfgar has a lot of information on DaSilva, including an address of his ex-wife, Irene (Lindsay Wagner). Wulfgar makes his way to Irene's house, hides outside, and sees Irene walk up to the house and go in. He breaks in, finds her washing dishes and sneaks up behind her brandishing a knife. But DaSilva has made it to Irene's first, he turns around, wearing his ex-wife's housecoat and a blonde wig, brandishing a gun. With nowhere to go, Wulfgar lunges at DaSilva who fires his revolver twice into the terrorist, blowing him into the street.


The story was originally planned as The French Connection III by screenwriter David Shaber at Twentieth Century Fox, and would have seen Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle team up with a wisecracking cop, to be possibly played by Richard Pryor. The main plot was the same but when Hackman showed reluctance to do a third movie as Doyle the idea was scrapped and Universal acquired the rights to the storyline, which Saber then reworked into Nighthawks.

The original director was Gary Nelson, who had directed the successful movies Freaky Friday (1976) and The Black Hole, but he left the project early into production and was not credited. His replacement, Bruce Malmuth, had only one previous film to his credit, a segment of the 1975 portmanteau comedy Foreplay. Malmuth was unable to make his first day of shooting, so Stallone stepped in to shoot the scene, the chase down the subway. Stallone had to get the approval of the Directors Guild of America marker, which has strict rules on actors directing their own movies, for this one day of filming. Principal photography began on January 1980 and lasted until March 1980.

The film marked the Americanmarker debut of Dutchmarker actor Rutger Hauer. According to a recent interview in Premiere, Hauer was told before filming that Stallone ran up building stairwells for exercise. However, during the subway chase, Hauer continually outran the Americanmarker star, who is known for his competitive streak (see also Victory). Stallone also gave the producers headaches by insisting on doing his own stunts. According to actor Nigel Davenport in an interview for the BBC's Wogan show, Stallone performed the scene where he was winched up to the tram without a double. The film's stunt coordinator was the legendary Dar Robinson. Stallone confirms this in a Q&A session on Ain't It Cool News' website:

Hanging from the cable car was probably one of the more dangerous stunts I was asked to perform because it was untested and I was asked to hold a folding Gerber knife in my left hand so if the cable were to snap, and I survived the 230 foot fall into the East River with its ice cold 8 mile an hour current, I could cut myself free from the harness because the cable when stretched out weighed more than 300 lbs.
I tell you this because it's so stupid to believe that I would survive hitting the water so to go beyond that is absurd.

In the same Q&A session, he said that Nighthawks "was even a better film before the studio lost faith in it and cut it to pieces. What was in the missing scenes was extraordinary acting by Rutger Hauer, Lindsey Wagner, and the finale was a blood fest that rivaled the finale of Taxi Driver. But it was a blood fest with a purpose".

The subway train used in the chase sequence consisted of retired IND equipment that had been preserved as a museum train. Of the cars whose numbers are visible, 800 is now at the Seashore Trolley Museummarker in Kennebunkport, Mainemarker. 1802, the last prewar NYC subway car built, is owned by Railway Preservation Corporation and remains in New York, where it operates several times a year on museum fantrips along with other preserved cars. 1208 has since been scrapped. The IND Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Brooklyn served as both the 57th and 42nd St. stations (a Hoyt-Schermerhorn sign is briefly visible when Stallone tries to pry the doors open as the train is pulling out). The train operated on the unused outer track that leads from the Court St. station, now the New York Transit Museummarker.


Despite receiving good reviews, including one from Variety, Nighthawks did not become a big commercial success, even though it did recover its $5 million budget in both US and foreign markets. It grossed USD $14.9 million in North America and $5 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $19.9 million. In her review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin praised Hauer's performance: "Mr. Hauer's terrorist, in particular, is a sharply drawn character who acts as a driving force within the movie's scheme. Sadism and bloodlessness are his only identifiable characteristics, and yet he behaves memorably wherever he goes".

Stallone says of the film now, "At the time, people couldn't relate to it, and the studio (Universal) didn't believe in it".


The widescreen DVD edition from Universal Pictures replaces two songs played during the disco shoot-out. The first song is "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones and the second one is "I'm A Man" by Keith Emerson. Earlier VHS releases from Universal Home Video and some TV versions, also featured the altered songs. The fullscreen DVD release by GoodTimes Entertainment contains the restored songs. Both versions contain the UK edit of the finale, which causes a continuity error (Stallone fires only two shots, but six bullet holes end up on Hauer by the time his body falls down the steps).


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