Hudson Hawk

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1991

Silver Pictures/Tri-Star Pictures

Directed by Michael Lehmann

Produced by Joel Silver

Screenplay by Steven E. de Souza/Daniel Walters

Story by Bruce Willis/Robert Kraft

There are those that will insist that HUDSON HAWK is a failure, a flop and a misguided project doomed from the outset to failure. I strongly disagree. It is a movie that along with “Big Trouble In Little China” “The Last Dragon” “The Assassination Bureau” “Sunset” “The Man With The Iron Fists” “Action Jackson” “Shoot ‘Em Up” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” is a movie that nobody knew what to make of it because they couldn’t figure out what genre it was. Was it a caper movie? Yes. Was it a spy thriller? Yes. Was it a comedy? Yes. Was it action-adventure? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Whatever you want to throw in. HUDSON HAWK was all of those and more because like those other movies I named and much more besides it defined being put in a genre because the story took whatever it needed from whatever genre it wanted to, mixed in wonderful characters and then it hit the ground running at top speed and never stopped until the end credits. Long before the term was coined and before I even knew what it was, when I saw HUDSON HAWK in the theater back in 1991 I knew I was watching a New Pulp movie.

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Eddie Hawkins aka The Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) is the world’s greatest cat burglar. That’s why on his first day out of prison after doing a dime, he’s blackmailed by his parole office and the Mario Brothers (not the ones you’re thinking of. These guys run a Mafia family). Along with his partner Tommy “Five-Tone” Messina (Danny Aiello) he pulls off the theft of the last commissioned work done by none other than Leonardo DaVinci, their individual tasks synchronized to the both of them singing “Swinging On A Star” at the exact same time. Yes, yes, I know how it sounds but if you’ve seen the movie I’m willing to bet that you’re grinning right now. Because the scene is impractical, silly, goofy and yet, you’re singing right along with Eddie and Tommy. Me, I admire a movie for having the audacity to even pull off such a notion. And what the hell, it’s downright FUN to watch.

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What gets Eddie interested in what is going on is that when he turns over the item he’s stolen to the Mario Brothers and their employer Alfred (Donald Burton) there’s an object inside which is desired by Alfred’s employers: Darwin and Minerva Mayweather (Richard E. Gant and Sandra Bernhard) who in a masterful comic performance always keep us an audience off guard as to what the hell these two whackos are going to do next. The object is also desired by CIA Director George Kaplan (James Coburn) and his ‘MTVIA’ Agents, all of whom are named after candy bars: Almond Joy (Lorraine Toussaint) Kit Kat (David Caruso) Snickers (Don Harvey) and Butterfinger (Andrew Bryniarsky) as well as by Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell) who is a top operative for the Vatican’s own counter-espionage agency. Eddie is astounded to discover that the object was fabricated by none other than Leonardo DaVinci (Stefano Molinari who gets the best visual gag in the movie which also involves The Mona Lisa)

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The Mayweathers need Eddie to steal various DaVinci relics that will place in their possession the components of La Macchina dell’Oro. The last and greatest of DaVinci’s inventions. One that can turn lead into gold. The Mayweathers were supposed to be working with The Vatican and The CIA in this but oh those crazy kids decided to just go rogue and grab everything for themselves as they intend to use the power of La Macchina dell’Oro to control the world gold market. Hilarity ensues. As well as a lot of action and for me, at least, a fun movie.

My own personal theory as to why this movie wasn’t the hit it deserved to be back in 1991was that the year before, “Die Hard 2” completely blew all expectations to smithereens and made more money than the original. So people most likely went to the theater looking for something similar and simply didn’t know what to make of this goofy, pulp-inspired adventure. Moviegoers wanted to see more of John McClane or a character like him and just couldn’t get into this more laid back, less intense Bruce Willis who actually goes through most of the movie smiling and looking as if he’s having a great time.

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And for me, that’s one of the major pluses of HUDSON HAWK: everybody looks as if their having nothing but fun making this movie. David Caruso in particular stands out for me as he steals every scene he’s in without saying a word. Kit Kat communicates solely with business cards and by his wardrobe/costume in whatever scene he’s in. The chemistry between Willis and Aiello feels real and I could easily have seem them continue to play Eddie and Tommy in a Crosby/Hope style in future films. I love that is not only James Coburn in this movie but that sound effects and phone ringtones from his Derek Flint movies are used as well. “Bunny! Ball Ball!” The lush sets and gorgeous locations.

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Understand me, my intention is not to change your mind about HUDSON HAWK or indeed, any movie I review. It’s just for me to give you my insight as to why I like and/or love a particular movie and maybe intrigue and/or interest you enough to maybe want to see it for the first time or revisit it. HUDSON HAWK is one of those movies that everybody seems to either love or hate. You can put me firmly on the side of those who love it.

100 Minutes

Rated R

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

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1960

The Mirisch Company/United Artists

Produced and Directed by John Sturges

Written by William Roberts

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Based on “Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa

Written by Akira Kurosawa/Shinobu Hashimoto/Hideo Oguni

Much as I love the Internet I’m glad I grew up during a time when we didn’t have it. Because back then when I saw a movie either on television or in the theater I had to take that movie on its own terms and for what it was. I was familiar with THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN due to it being shown fairly often on TV. It was one of the movies I watched with my father every time it came on. This was in the days even before VHS (I heard that scream of anguished disbelief from the back. You okay?) so if you missed a movie you had to wait quite a while before it was shown again. I didn’t know that THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was a remake of “Seven Samurai” until the 1980s when I caught it on PBS late one Saturday night. Intrigued by the similarity of the two movies I went to my local library, found some movie reference books and looked it up and became aware of the movie’s history.

See what we had to go through to get information before Google?

A small Mexican village is being terrorized by a gang of banditos led by Calvera (Eli Wallach) who is having problems finding food and supplies for his men. He’s looted this particular village so often and for so much that the village leaders have finally decided they’re sick of his shit and they’re not going to take it anymore. They collect all the sellable goods in the village and ride across the border to the United States, looking to hire gunslingers to show them how to fight and drive off Calvera and his gang. They meet up with Chris Adams, a gunfighter who dresses all in black and explain their dilemma to him. They offer him their goods as everything they have in the world and touched by the naked honesty of these simple men, delivers one of the best lines in a movie stuffed full of great lines: “I’ve been offered a lot for my work. But never everything.”

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Chris recruits six gunslingers: Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen) who would rather take a chance on getting killed defending the village than become a store clerk. Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) once commanded thousands of dollars for his professional skills but has fallen on hard times. Lee (Robert Vaughn) is on the run from the law and a change of country for a time would do him good. Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) is an old friend of Chris and goes along as he’s convinced that the villagers must be hiding a gold or silver mine from Calvera and Harry wants to cut in. The enigmatic, laconic Britt (James Coburn) is the absolute best with a gun or knife and always looking for new challenges to test his lethal skills. Chico (Horst Buchholz) is a hot tempered young gun, looking to make a name for himself fast and hard.

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The Seven go to the village. The plan is that even though they’re outnumbered, once Calvera sees he’s up against professional gunmen he’ll move along to other towns where the pickings will be easier. The first skirmish against Calvera goes to The Seven but Calvera has no intention of leaving it at that. And that leads to an apocalyptic showdown in which not all of The Magnificent Seven or their allies will survive.

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Simply put; THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is one of the greatest westerns ever made and certainly one of the best known. A large part of this is due to the bold, brassy, heroic music score by Elmer Bernstein. Even people who have never seen the movie know the music. And I myself know people who hate westerns but they’ve seen THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. It’s just one of those movies that everybody seems to have seen at one time or another in their life.

We look at the cast and marvel at the star power but at the time the movie was made the only ones who were bona fide movie stars were Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach. Everybody else was mostly doing television work and just getting their feet wet in movies. They make for an eccentric, entertaining team. I’ve always suspected that James Coburn actually watched “Seven Samurai” as his characterization of Britt is to play him more or less as a samurai in the Wild West. Horst Buchholz and Brad Dexter are the two member of The Seven whose names nobody ever remembers and they both never had anywhere as good a role as they have in this movie. Yul Brynner’s look and performance here became so iconic that he reprised it in a science fiction movie; “Westworld.” And in the 2016 remake, Denzel Washington’s character dresses all in black, no doubt in homage to Brynner.

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Steve McQueen makes for a more than capable second-in-command and he provides some nice bits of humor with his folksy parables he pulls out when he’s trying to make a point and he gets to say the line that sums up the mission statement of The Magnificent Seven quite succinctly: “We deal in lead, friend.” Charles Bronson, of all people gets to have an emotional subplot where he’s adopted by a trio of village kids who promise to put fresh flowers on his grave everyday if he gets killed. Robert Vaughn’s performance is stylishly laid back, suggesting with his mannerisms that his character is wrestling with various neuroses.

I don’t have to give you the hard sell on the 1960 version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. If you haven’t seen it by now then you apparently have no interest in it and nothing I can say will change your mind. Those of you who have seen it were probably nodding your head in agreement while you read this review. Plain and simple; THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is indeed a magnificent movie with an equally magnificent story and cast and has long earned its reputation as a true classic of the Western genre.

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128 Minutes