(1985) Romantic Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leo McKern, John Wood, Ken Hutchison, Alfred Molina, Giancarlo Prete, Loris Loddi, Alessandro Serra. Directed by Richard Donner
When you find your soul mate, you know it immediately. The greatest joy in life is to be in their presence. The greatest cruelty is to be separated from them.
Philippe Gaston (Broderick) – a.k.a. Philippe the Mouse – is a thief who has been imprisoned in the dungeons of Aquila for his crimes. Resourceful and desperate, he escapes through the sewers and is chased through the countryside by the vicious and cruel Captain of the Guards (Hutchison). Just when it appears he is going to go medieval on Philippe’s ass, he is saved by Captain Etienne Navarre (Hauer), the disgraced former Captain of the Guard.
Navarre takes an interest in Philippe not because of his sense of outrage at injustice but because of his accomplishment of escaping the dungeons of Aquila. Navarre has an interest in this because he means to kill the Bishop (Wood).
It turns out Navarre has an incredible secret. He fell in love with Isabeau d’Anjou (Pfeiffer), who the Bishop had his eye on. Unable to have her, he cursed the lovers; by day Navarre is a man but by night a wolf. Isabeau is a woman by night and a hawk by day. They cannot see each other, touch each other – but they are constantly at each other’s side. They are in love but they can never be together. That’s why Navarre wishes to kill the Bishop.
However, Imperius (McKern), the friar who was responsible for the Bishop finding out about Navarre’s romance with Isabeau, believes he’s found a way to break the curse – Isabeau and Navarre must stand before the Bishop as man and woman. Impossible, no? No because there’s a solar eclipse coming in which day and night combine. But how to get there with the Bishop’s guards arrayed against them and a vicious bounty hunter (Molina) on their trail?
This is one of my favorite romantic movies of all time. Richard Donner was on a streak of great movies at the time, including Superman: The Movie and The Goonies. He shot most of the movie in Italy and Spain, utilizing the great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro to shoot beautiful mist-filled vistas that lend an air of otherworldliness to the fantasy but also romance as well.
Pfeiffer was at her most beautiful and her most radiant here, and her chemistry with the dashing Hauer (just off his appearance in Blade Runner) is astounding, even though they’re only in two scenes together. The first, where they are both changing forms as dawn breaks, is absolutely heartbreaking and one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever.
Broderick is the glue that holds the movie together. He’s not just the comic belief, but he’s also the moral center. His conversations with God are hilarious and his relationship with the main characters keeps the movie flowing, particularly with Navarre and Imperius. When I first saw this back in the day, the criticism was that Broderick was a bit out of place in the medieval timeframe, coming off as more of a New York street hustler and in many ways that’s valid, but it nonetheless works in my humble opinion.
Wood also does one of the best villain turns of the 80s, snake-like and self-righteous but with a slimy underbelly of corruption and lust. He’s a fine character actor who had several pretty good roles (and I believe is active to this day) but none ever made the kind of splash as this one did, at least with me.
It’s a great movie with a tremendous premise. It’s not quite perfect – the Eric Woolfson/Alan Parsons score is simply wrong for the movie – but it’s pretty darn close. It’s wonderfully romantic, as close to a modern fairy tale – the filmmakers for many years claimed it’s based on an actual medieval legend but there’s little evidence of that. It’s perfect for cuddling up with your sweetie and imagining one another as a dashing knight and a beautiful damsel.
WHY RENT THIS: A wonderfully wicked curse and outstanding chemistry between Hauer and Pfeiffer. An energetic performance by Broderick and a deliciously evil turn by Wood.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The Alan Parsons-produced score is anachronistic and wholly improper for the film.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images and partial nudity. By and large acceptable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rutger Hauer was originally cast as Marquet, the evil captain of the guard and Kurt Russell was originally cast as Navarre, but when Russell dropped out three days before principal photography began, Hauer was given the role which is the one he wanted to begin with.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $18.4M on an unreported production budget; the movie reportedly broke even.
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
TOMORROW: Day 2 of Cinema365: From the Heart