The Archivist #78: Hitch Laughs and Michelle Flies [MR. & MRS. SMITH and LADYHAWKE]

Celebrating my birthday with these two personal favorites.

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and Blu-ray discs (which, unlike the DVDs, are factory pressed rather than burned). Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

Since it’s my birthday, as well as my turn at The Archivist, I thought I would exercise my power with this column and write about two of my favorite Warner Archive titles. Usually, most editions of The Archivist feature selections which have a common link; both either share some of the talent in front of/behind the camera or carry similarities in terms of theme. This isn’t so much the case in this edition. Apart from the presence of a striking blonde heroine at the heart of both films, the Alfred Hitchcock comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith and the romantic fantasy adventure Ladyhawke are both unrelated pieces of escapism made by and starring a collection of extraordinary talent. So please enjoy a pair of great and personally beloved flicks from the good folks over at Warner Archive.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Two comedy pros of Hollywood’s golden age lead the purely screwball and totally delightful Mr. & Mrs. Smith. For three years, the marriage of David and Ann Smith has been a fiery one. The two have been known to engage in the most passionate of fights leading to the pair sequestering themselves and not speaking for three days at a time before reconciling. However, when a lawyer informs the couple that their marriage isn’t actually legal, the Smiths make an attempt to make things right. However when Ann gets the impression that David doesn’t actually want to be married to her, she throws him out, leading Mr. Smith to do whatever it takes to win back his wife.

The sole true comedy Hitchcock made is a genuinely funny romantic farce in its own right. Every film the director ever made contained slivers of Hitchcock’s distinct humor that nailed its laugh so effectively, it almost made you wish you were watching a comedy. Mr. & Mrs. Smith makes that wish come true with this laugh-filled tale of two people trying to recapture the magic that brought them together in the first place. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments here, from the couple painfully trying to replicate their first date, to Ann being caught in a stuck ferris wheel in the middle of a rain storm, to the dialogue: “I can’t imagine anything hanging in a closet shrinking this much,” remarks Ann when trying to put on the dress she wore when she first met David. Hitchcock directs the breezy material with the same concentration and respect for his more serious titles resulting in a genuine romantic comedy which rivals the likes of Billy Wilder. As an early 40s entry, Mr. & Mrs. Smith balances its frothy pedigree by providing a comment on the questioning of one’s own marriage and the reasons behind its existence. In an age when people got married, stayed married and never asked or said anything more about the subject, Mr. & Mrs. Smith proved that even in the rom-com realm, Hitch could still be the bold and daring filmmaker he was always destined to be.

Ladyhawke (1985)

Director Richard Donner enjoyed quite the year in 1985 with the one-two punch release of both The Goonies and Ladyhawke, two films which would go on to be a pair of cherished titles for a whole generation. Of the two, it’s the latter which is hard not to get emotionally swept away by. In 13th century Italy, a young thief named Philippe (Matthew Broderick) escapes the dungeon of an evil Bishop (John Wood), much to his surprise since it’s a feat no one has accomplished before. With the Bishop’s men hot on his tail, Philippe encounters the lone warrior Navarre (Rutger Hauer) who travels with a statuesque hawk by his side. When he learns that Philippe is the only person to have escaped the Bishop’s dungeon alive, Navarre tells him of his own past with the Bishop and the curse placed upon him and his lover Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) which causes him to turn into a wolf at night and her into become a hawk by day, ensuring that they will never truly be together.

Ok, let’s get the discussion of Ladyhawke’s score out of the way right now. The music for the film by Alan Parsons is so dreadfully 80s, it’s not even remotely funny. Each and every musical cue induces a combination of laughter and cringing which isn’t helped by the somewhat cartoonish fight scenes and primitive moments of transformation. Aside from this, there’s nothing but beauty, magic and fun to be had with Ladyhawke. As the film’s lead, Broderick is golden as he embodies a sort of medieval Woody Allen, delivering one chuckle-filled quip after another. “I have waited two years for a sign from God,” Navarre tells Philippe in explaining why he must join him on his quest. “Sir, the truth is I talk to God all the time,” replies Philippe, “and no offense, but He never mentioned you.” At the same time, the journey the actor takes Philippe, from someone trying to save his own skin, to ensuring the survival of his newfound friends, is the very definition of heroic. Hauer is appropriately stoic and Pfeiffer is endlessly ethereal as the doomed pair whose devotion to the other is felt, regardless of the fate they’ve both accepted. Gorgeously shot, Ladyhawke takes full advantage of its European settings, nowhere more than in the iconic scene in which a small eclipse of the sun shows Isabeau and Navarre in rare human form together for a split second before the curse takes effect once more. The very epitome of a fairy tale, Ladyhawke continues to radiate love, beauty and wonder as it enchants everyone who watches it.

Previous post For Your Consideration: Two Cents Cries in the Rain with BLADE RUNNER 2049
Next post CLASS OF 1999 Graduates to Blu-ray with Honors