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No, It's a Film, Silly, Not a Painting
by Jon Schuller

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Public Domain is defined as:

"Intellectual property designation referring to the body of creative works and knowledge in which no person, government or organization has any proprietary interest such as a copyright. These works are considered part of the public cultural and intellectual heritage of content that is not owned or controlled by anyone and which may be freely used by all."
We've often heard this term, especially when applied to titles of books or songs. It simply means that if you're about to make a movie, for example, you can use a title that's been around for many years and is available as defined above. There are literally 1000s of titles that can be used again and again in books, plays, works of art and movies. So, when you see a film and the title sounds familiar, it may have been used before in another form. Here's a list of 10 movie titles in the public domain:
1)Detour (1945)
2)Driller Killer (1979)
3)Night of the Living Dead (1968)
4)Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
5)Superman cartoons (early 1940s)
6)The Battle of San Pietro (1943)
7)The General (1927)
8)The Lost World (1925)
9)The Street Fighter (1974)
10) Reefer Madness (1936)
These films and their plots have been used many times, in different ways, since they first appeared.

The name and/or title, (The) Nighthawk or Nighthawks, has been used for several films, 8 musical titles and albums, 2 military unit designations, 7 sports teams, 3 aircraft, 3 comics, 1 motorcycle,1 gun, 1 rollercoaster, illegal metal-detecting or poaching of archaeological sites, and 1 rather famous painting by Edward Hopper. It's also, of course, a bird. In April, 1981, a film
with the title, Nighthawks, premiered. It starred Sylvester Stallone, Billy dee Williams, Rutger Hauer, Lindsay Wagner, Persis Khambatta and Nigel Davenport. Two undercover policemen, Detective Sergeant Deke DaSilva (Stallone) and Detective Sergeant Matthew Fox (Williams) are pursuing three muggers, one of whom is chased on to a subway platform by DaSilva. In a parallel scenario, in London, a known terrorist, Heymar Reinhardt (alias Wulfgar), played by Hauer, bombs a department store. Afterwards, Wolfgar is supposed to receive counterfeit travel documents but suspects the man who delivers them. Wolfgar kills him, and then three London cops who try to arrest him. He's on the run and goes first to Paris, then to New York. His bombing in London killed children and his network is now after him. He has a female partner, Shakka Holland/Shakka Kapoor (Khambatta) who goes with him to the States. The Scotland Yard lead investigator, Peter Hartman (Davenport), was criticized for letting Wolfgar escape and goes to New York City to help with a newly formed squad called ATAC (Anti-Terrorist Action Command). DaSilva and Fox have been assigned to the new unit by their Lieutenant Munafo (Joe Spinell), who says they'll get training from Hartman. DaSilva doesn't like Hartman, whom he considers a cop who condones killing suspects, especially one as dangerous as Wolfgar, who's moved into a New York apartment with a flight attendant. He kills her as she discovers his weapons cache.

From a tip, DaSilva and Fox start checking on nightclubs the girl went to and discover Wolfgar in one of them. There's a shoot-out and a chase. Wolfgar takes a woman hostage in the subway. DaSilva
can't shoot him, even as Fox tells him to do it. Deke hesitates and Fox gets a severe knife slash from the terrorist, who gets away.

We next see the ATAC squad at an exclusive United Nations function at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they expect trouble. Shakka, in a disguise, confronts Hartman after he recognizes her and kills him. Wolfgar has hijacked the Roosevelt Island cable car, with people aboard. He's completely ruthless and kills the French ambassador's wife in cold blood inside the car. The tram has been stopped and Wolfgar demands DaSilva come to him to save a baby on the tram. Wolfgar and Deke are face-to-face. Wolfgar's demands for safe passage to the airport are met and a bus is provided to take them all to a waiting airplane and escape.

Wolfgar and Shakka are hidden among the hostages as they're about to board the bus. Deke has a recording of Hartman describing Shakka in non-flattering terms as a terrorist. She becomes angry and pushes her way out of the group. Fox shoots her with a sniper rifle. Wolfgar jumps into the bus, drives away and we see the bus plunge into the East River, sinking below the surface quickly.
As the ATAC team is searching Wolfgar's safe-house Deke discovers personal information the terrorist had on Deke and his wife, Irene. DaSilva runs out and we next see Irene walking up her street to her house. Wolfgar has survived the bus crash and is watching her from a doorway across the street. He quietly breaks into the house and slowly moves towards her as she works in the
kitchen, preparing a meal, her back to him the whole time. Background music intensifies as Wolfgar goes into the kitchen to kill her. Irene suddenly turns around and confronts the terrorist face to face. But it's not Irene: it's Deke in a wig and disguise, with a gun, who shoots him and follows his bloody path to the front steps where he dies.

Remember this movie came out in 1981 and the idea of terrorism in New York City was almost unthinkable, let alone the subject of a motion picture. But films have always been the perfect medium for predicting future events, even the unimaginable ones. There were many production problems getting the film made and, of course, many critics panned it mercilessly. Some said it was disjointed and the acting wasn't acceptable. Sylvester Stallone did his own stunts and this was another opportunity for Sly to show off his talents and not be Rocky (again). It was Rutger Hauer's American film debut and he was quite convincing as the cold-blooded bad guy who would stop at nothing to impose his will on the world. I've always enjoyed Billy Dee Williams and he's quite good in this picture, underplaying his role as he partners with DaSilva. Their relationship as cops and friends comes through. One is calm, cool and plays by the rules; the other is rebellious and wants action and conclusions immediately. As I've mentioned before, my opinion of movies isn't usually determined by the critics. As far as I'm concerned, Nighthawks tells a good story and is quite realistic as it shows us New York City 20 years before that fateful day, 9/11/2001. If the movie were remade today, I believe it would look quite different than the original does.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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