THE STORY: International terrorist Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer), now unrecognizable after plastic surgery, flees to New York. Enter NYPD cop Deke DaSilvia (Sylvester Stallone), who, along with his partner Fox (Billy Dee Williams), finds himself transferred to the newly created counter-terrorism unit, in order to help take down Wulfgar once and for all.
THE PLAYERS: With: Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams and Rutger Hauer. Music by Keith Emerson. Directed by Bruce Malmuth, Gary Nelson and possibly Stallone himself.
THE STORY: The story behind nightjars is a compelling thing. Originally designed as a third party french connection sequel, which would have pitted Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle against a terrorist modeled after the infamous Carlos the Jackal, while pairing him with a partner the producers hoped would be played by Richard Pryor, the project fell through when Hackman decided that he had had enough of the role. The script made its way to Universal, where it was redeveloped into a project for Sylvester Stallone, then released from the first two Rocky movies, meaning he was a star, but not quite the icon he would become.
nightjars was a very difficult movie to make, especially because nobody believed that urban terrorism would ever happen in New York, so the story was far-fetched. nightjars was even a better movie before the studio lost faith in it and cut it to pieces. What was in the missing scenes was extraordinary acting from Rutger Hauer, Lindsey Wagner, and the finale was a blood fest that rivaled the “Taxi Driver” finale. But it was a blood fest with a purpose. – Sylvester Stallone – Isn’t It Cool News Q&A
Rutger Hauer, who had recently become an arthouse idol when his Paul Verhoeven films, turkish delight and Orange soldier made their way to America, was imported to play sophisticated terrorist Wulfgar. In keeping with their on-screen animosity, Stallone and Hauer quickly went to war on set, although both admitted years later that they had a grudging respect for each other’s work and that the past was just that – the past. The tension was not helped by the fact that after a week director Gary Nelson, who was then releasing two Disney films, terrible friday and The black hole, was fired, briefly leaving the production without a director. Sly replaced, but found himself in hot water with the DGA, and Bruce Malmuth, whose biggest project until then had been an “Afterschool Special”, was hired. It wasn’t smooth sailing – with the finished film being cut and recut, first by Sly, then by the studio. In the end, many of Stallone’s dramatic scenes were cut, Billy Dee Williams’ character went underage, Lindsay Wagner, then better known as TV’s “The Bionic Woman”, found that most of his role had been deleted, and Hauer’s big puppet death scene was cut. to ribbons. Even still, the movie did pretty well financially, grossing nearly $20 million, four times its budget, though the movie is pretty obscure these days.
It was a bit ahead of its time in that I was dealing with urban terrorism. Now, with the World Trade Center, it’s happening. At the time, people couldn’t relate to it, and the studio [Universal] didn’t believe it. Rutger Hauer’s performance held up – he was an excellent villain. – Interview with Sylvester Stallone – EW
WHY IT’S GREAT: nightjars should not be awesome. The whole production process seems like a nightmare, and considering how quickly it was cut and recut, it should be choppy as hell. Yet even if it’s compromised, it works pretty well, thanks to a plot that at the time might have seemed far-fetched but is now too realistic (urban domestic terrorism). It should be noted that Stallone’s performance is one of his best. I love Sly, but pre-ROCKY III/FIRST BLOOD Sly is a different beast. At the time, many saw him as a Brando method actor rather than an action hero, and as such the film is more of a thriller than an action film.
The more dangerous the villain, the more credit he gives to the hero. I read a book by the real terrorist that the character was based on, and it was pretty scary. And it wasn’t a stupid book. The idea was that as a villain, you don’t look like the devil or act like an idiot. You know, I think the devil is very smart, probably smarter than all of us. – Interview with Rutger Hauer Nerve.com
Foremost is the story and DeSilva’s horror at Wulfgar’s actions – and notably Sly only kills one person in the film – Wulgar himself. It is the journey towards this end that makes nightjars convincing, with him bristling at the idea that, as a cop, he should be expected to cold-bloodedly execute anyone. That he underestimated Wulfgar’s sadism is what the plot hinges on with Hauer’s wild-eyed villain, stronger and smarter than DeSilva could ever hope to be. But if he wants to protect and serve, DeSilva has to put him down. Their tango of good versus evil is compelling and, oddly enough, the reissue that sidelined Williams and Wagner may have actually helped the film, making it much more about Stallone versus Hauer and a two-handed movie. .
It should be noted that Hauer is at the peak of his abilities here, with magnetic Wulfgar everywhere. It’s no wonder he started getting so many offers as a result, with blade runner following the following year. The movie also has a cool, grimy, pre-Giuliani NYC vibe to it, and I’m not sure who should get the credit, Nelson, Malmuth or Sly himself. It sounds seedy in that late ’70s/early ’80s grindhouse manner, with slick actors like Joe Spinell in the cast, and a funky prog-rock score by Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. There’s nothing like it nightjarsand although it’s dated, that’s part of its charm.
BEST SCENE: Have you ever seen Stallone in drag? look nightjars and you’ll have your chance, with his habit of dressing up as female decoys being a rather idiosyncratic touch, especially given the Serpico-style beard that he rocks all over.
SEE : The best way to see nightjars is undoubtedly via Shout Factory’s recent blu-ray re-release. All previous DVD releases lacked music tracks (like The Rolling Stone’s “Brown Sugar”) and generally sounded like ass. Shout Factor did a great job restoring the movie in HD to Blu-ray and this is the only solution.
SEPARATION BLOW: nightjars is one that is sure to surprise even some of Sly’s most dedicated fans. It falls into a little-reviewed period of his career when he was struggling to find his footing at the box office and Hollywood hadn’t quite figured out what to do with him yet. If you’ve never heard of it, give it a try. I think you will love it.
For more nightjars love it, watch our episode of Stallone Revisited on it!