Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s while living within a few hours of New York City meant that our local cable provider included WPIX in its package. This helped forge a strong connection with the seemingly (but not really) far-off and magical city for me. Who can forget Crazy Eddie? His prices were INSANE!
Then there were the films broadcast on the channel. This was where I first saw Michael Mann's Manhunter, which was unlike any movie I'd seen at that point. It was also a great place to catch movies set in the city, including such disparate work as Night Shift and State of Grace. The channel and its movie library brought to life all of the glorious chaos and griminess of New York from the 1970s through the early 1990s, also called pre-Giuliani New York.
One of the the New York films from this era that I watched on WPIX too many times to count would be 1981's Nighthawks. Like many of the films I caught on the channel back then, it now acts as a time capsule to that period, a period which feels much longer ago than just thirty-odd years. New York changed so rapidly and so enormously in the decades since (not all of New York, but plenty of it), that films like Nighthawks can't help but elicit serious pangs of nostalgia for days gone by. This is true even for kids like myself who lived well outside of its parameters. Watching Nighthawks today, I'm instantly transported back to how I felt about the city in those days: a mix of terror and love for the place, in equal measure.
Nighthawks is an action-thriller that hasn't been all that well remembered outside of cult circles over the years. Nevertheless it's highly recommended for anyone interested in down and dirty '70s/'80s era New York cop movies. It may not be on the level of The French Connection but it's fast-paced, ludicrously entertaining, and even gripping at times. Plus, it stars Rocky and Lando as NYPD detectives, each sporting gloriously coiffed hair and killer threads befitting the era in which this film was made. Along with feathered hair and a fierce beard, Sylvester Stallone sports the biggest glasses you've ever seen (they were in style back then, after all), creating a sort of studious Serpico-light look. Plus his character is named Deke DaSilva. Awesome. Billy Dee Williams wears an awesome Superman t-shirt (the Superman films were the hot movie properties at the time) under a Superfly-smooth leather jacket, often with collar popped so just. These guys look sharp, no doubt about it. As an impressionable young lad I was certainly enamored with their sartorial choices.
The film also stars Rutger Hauer in his Hollywood debut as the terrorist Wulfgar. This was my first exposure to Hauer, to be followed soon after by Blade Runner. That's a tremendous twofer and the best possible introduction to what makes Hauer such a force. His performance here is absolutely electric. Wulfgar is equal parts charming and ruthless. His terrorist acts are killing innocent civilians across the globe (and now he's targeting New York) but still you almost can't help root for him at times. Wulfgar deserves to be mentioned alongside other great genre film baddies.
There are too many memorable scenes to mention, but let's give special notice to the chase scene that begins in a groove-tastic disco and ends in the subway with Stallone screaming repeatedly "You're fucking dead!" at Wulfgar, who has eluded capture. It's that unmistakable Stallone voice and you'll be repeating the line forever after watching the film. Lest we forget, the Bionic Woman herself Lindsay Wagner plays Stallone's estranged wife. She isn't given much to do but still, it's the Bionic Freaking Woman.
Nighthawks will always be one of my personal favorite New York time capsule films. It's similar to watching Taxi Driver now—a trip to the seedier side of life at a time when far more of the city was seedy than not. Films like Nighthawks also never fail to remind me of nights spent glued to the TV as WPIX aired it or another similarly addictive early '80s movie. I discovered a lot of strong genre films that way. Certainly, few were stronger than the one that brought together Rocky, Lando, and the Bionic Woman.