Bruce Malmuth played the ring announcer in The Karate Kid, but he was also a director with this movie, Hard to Kill and The Man Who Wasn’t There on his resume. He replaced Garl Nelson (Freaky Friday, The Black Hole), who was fired within the first week.
The story was originally planned as The French Connection III by screenwriter David Shaber (The Warriors) with Gene Hackman teaming up with Richard Pryor, before being reworked.
Because of post-production issues, the film was heavily re-edited and was released a year after it was finished. Contrary to stories that Stallone hurt the film by being so hands on, Lindsay Wagner told Crave Online: “We started with one director, and all of the sudden there was some problems, and Sylvester ended up having to take over the film and he ended up directing it. So just spontaneously, he just jumped into that role, and after [that] directed [it]. And, it was incredible watching him and his multi-talented self whip that film into shape.”
Co-star Rutger Hauer had to deal with the death of his mother and his best friend during production, as well as being burned and his back being strained in his death scene. When he learned that the cable was pulled too quickly by order of Stallone, the two had a rocky relationship on set. However, Stallone had nothing but praise for the actor: “Rutger Hauer’s performance held it together — he was an excellent villain.”
Hauer plays Heymar “Wulfgar” Reinhardt, a terrorist who has decided to take his war on society to New York City, along with his partner Shakka (Persis Khambatta, MegaForce).
Opposing him is the NYC Anti-Terrorist Action Command, made up of Detective Sergeant Deke DaSilva (Stallone) and Detective Sergeant Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams), led by Detective Inspector Peter Hartman (Nigel Davenport, Phase IV). Hartman doesn’t believe that American police can be ruthless enough to battle Wulfgar, who doesn’t care if innocents are killed in the crossfire.
Between gun battles in a disco, knife murders at the Museum of Modern Art and a thrilling cable car hostage sequence, DaSilva attempts to connect to his wife Iris (Wagner). Joe Spinell also shows up as Lieutenant Munafo. This would be the last film he’d work on with Stallone.
The beginning and end of the film bookend this, as Stallone is in drag, getting the jump on three muggers, then is dressed as his wife when Wulgar attempts to kill her. He turns and blows the villain out a window, then sits next to his dead body on the cold streets of New York City.
Stallone would later tell Ain’t It Cool News that Nighthawks “was a very difficult film to make namely because no one believed that urban terrorism would ever happen in New York, and thus felt that the story was far fetched. Nighthawks was an even 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, Lindsay Wagner and the finale was a blood fest that rivaled the finale of Taxi Driver. But it was a blood fest with a purpose.”
I love the Keith Emerson score. He also lent his talents to movies like The Church, Murder Rock and Inferno when he wasn’t being the greatest keyboardist in prog rock history. When asked about the score, he minced no words: “Universal got some old dyke as music editor that had worked on Jaws. She was a minimalist in maximalist clothing and immediately set about stripping everything down apart from my underwear in order for my entire score to reach the big screen as half the man I might have been. Sly, upset about Raging Bull, was already working on another Rocky sequel, and couldn’t be bothered.”