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Worst Picture/Best Picture Series: Hudson Hawk and Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The 80s was a good decade for Jodie Foster and Bruce Willis. Jodie won an Oscar for The Accused and Bruce starred in the hit film Die Hard and the hit series Moonlighting. But 1991 was going to be the year that defined them both. One film would forever be referenced as the film that won all the top awards, and the other would be forever referenced as the film he made before The Last Boy Scout but after Look Who’s Talking Too. I’m of course talking about Jonathan Demme’s Oscar winning thriller The Silence of the Lambs and Michael Lehmann’s thriller Hudson Hawk.


Hudson Hawk – “Bruce Willis breaks the fourth wall by smirking directly to the audience and delivering wry one-liners about the quality of the film. We didn’t need him to tell us it sucks.” – Bolesroor, IMDb

The Silence of the Lambs – “If the movie were not so well made, indeed, it would be ludicrous. Material like this invites filmmakers to take chances and punishes them mercilessly when they fail.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

Training to be an FBI agent, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned by agent Jack Crawford to interview a convicted serial killer Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in hopes that he will give some insight into capturing a current serial killer “Buffalo Bill”.

As all this excitement is taking place inside that prison, the hero from our other film Eddie “Hudson Hawk” Hawkins (played by Bruce Willis) has just been released from his prison. The cat burglar, who has more piercings in his left ear than Buffalo Bill does in his nipples, greets his friend Tommy Messina (played by Danny Aiello), whose anagram is Antsy Mommies, at the gate and the two reminisce.

Tommy takes Hudson to his bar and he’s shocked at what he sees. Everything has been changed, it’s been completely renovated while he’s been in prison, the regulars are all gone, they’re serving goat cheese pizza, and worst of all Tom Cruise isn’t bartending. Though he’s only been out of jail for a few hours, he’s already confronted by two members of a large Mafia family demanding Hudson pull on one of his classic heists for them. One of the members, Cesar Mario, whose anagram is Rear Mosaic, is played by Frank Stallone, who along with Bruce Willis, was a huge rock star sensation in the 80s. Hudson and Tommy are forced to steal a statue from an auction house. So they pull off a clever scheme robbing the place, which involves Hudson, just like Raymond Babbitt, knowing the length of any song and singing it out loud in order to time himself.

Finishing her first interview with Hannibal, Clarice passes by another inmate Miggs who flings his milk of Miggnesia at her and says “I bit my wrists so I could die”, which coincidentally is what I was thinking of doing to myself after I heard Bruce Willis sing “Swingin’ on a Star.”

While driving and singing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl”, which is 3:33 long, Catherine Martin, the daughter of Senator Ruth Martin, stops to do some grocery shopping. On the way back to her car she sees a man with an arm cast having trouble putting a couch in the back of his van. Offering to assist, Catherine helps lift the couch into the van. It is soon revealed that the handicapped man is none other than Buffalo Bill, and before knocking Catherine out, he asks her if she’s about a size 14, which would make Rain Man proud.

Though Buffalo Bill looks like an intimidating villain, he doesn’t match the villains in Hudson Hawk: the billionaire husband and wife team of Darwin (played by Richard E Grant, whose menacing eyes would make Hannibal cover his face) and Minerva (played by Sandra Bernhard, whose teeth are more destructive than Hannibal’s) Mayflower, owners of the famous Mayflower Industries. At the very same auction house from earlier, Hudson is waiting to steal another horse statue, this one crafted by Leonardo Da Vinci himself, but the Mayflowers butt in and detonate a bomb, stealing the statue for themselves. Goodbye horses. It’s appalling that these criminals are stealing and destroying priceless pieces of art from Leonardo Da Vinci, at least Buffalo Bill is merely stealing fat women’s skin.

Meanwhile, back in Hannibal’s cell, Clarice still needs some help from the good doctor. Stuck in a rut, she agrees to his quid pro quo, give him some stories of her life and he’ll lead her to the tranny tailor. So begins his sneaky way of analyzing her as if she was one of his patients.

Amidst all the explosions, Hudson did rescue Anna Baragli (played by Andie MacDowell), whose anagram is Anal Bargain, at the auction who appeared to be the authenticator. Fortunately, she’s only a supporting character, so we only have to deal with her southern accent for some of the film, unlike some other movies. Unfortunately, shortly after Hudson saves her he gets knocked out by a flying horse. There’s Tristar Pictures at it again, trying to advertise as much as they can. Being transported in an ambulance, Hudson just can’t seem to get away from those Mario brothers and they beat him up. Trying to one-up last year’s winner The Adventures of Ford Fairlane’s hearse chase in the cemetery, Hudson Hawk has a gurney chase on the freeway. Come on, The Silence of the Lambs, the least you could do is have Dances With Wolves help out Clarice Starling by riding by her on his horse screaming “I’ve seen Buffalo!”

It turns out Buffalo Bill is at least a little bit thoughtful toward his kidnapees. He put Catherine in a well in the basement of his home. While the food isn’t that greatest, he does give her skin lotion so she won’t dry up and flake, after all he’s not a monster. Plus you can’t totally hate someone who owns a poodle named Precious.

I guess the FBI was too busy trying to catch serial killers, because all Hudson Hawk has to contact him is the CIA. After his little scuffle in the ambulance, Hudson is greeted by the head of the CIA George Kaplan (James Coburn), whose anagram is Geek Porn Gala, and his agents all named after candy bars, including master of disguise Kit Kat (played by David Caruso in the role that skyrocketed his film career). Instead of giving him a bunch of information as to what’s going on, they decide to knock Hudson out, stash him in a package, and ship him off to Rome, so he’s pretty much on the same page as the audience is.

As Hudson gets shipped off to Rome, Hannibal gets shipped off to Memphis after cutting a deal with the grieving Senator, promising that he’ll give them information on Buffalo Bill if it means getting him out of that horrible asylum he was originally in run by Dr. Chilton. Clarice decides to drop in on Hannibal to see his new pad and have another chat. Unfortunately, he keeps messing with her, being cryptic and conniving and she demands answers about Bill. He agrees, but only if she will finish the tale of living on her aunt and uncle’s horse ranch in Montana when she was ten. She gives in and explains that one night, she heard distant screaming. Going to inspect, she found ranchers slaughtering lambs in the barn. She tried to save them but only managed to grab one before dropping it because it got too heavy. The rancher was so angry that she was sent to a Lutheran orphanage and never saw the ranch again. And worst of all, she never even got to have any of the delicious mutton. Concluding her story, Clarice is forced out of the room before Hannibal can give her any useful information, but at least the title of the film has been explained.

Back in Rome, Hudson finds himself a guest at the Mayflower’s. The Mayflowers explain that they hired Hudson to commit all of these thefts and are forcing him to do yet another one, this time stealing Da Vinci’s codex from the Vatican. Hudson’s been meeting so many new characters, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some tips from Hannibal Lecter on how to get around Italy, after all, he does have quite a good memory of the country. And of course, while Hudson scopes out the location of the codex, who shows up none other than the lovely Miss Anna. But it turns out Miss Anna actually works for the church as an undercover Vatican agent. See, now if Clarice had been sent to a Catholic orphanage instead of a Lutheran orphanage, she might be working as a secret agent for the Pope rather than as training detective talking to a cannibal.

After his little heart to heart with Clarice, Hannibal is back to his lonely self. But when the guards come to take his meal from him, he picks his handcuffs, bites off the face of one of the guards, and hangs the other one from his cage. As the cops in the building think the escaped cannibal is lying lifeless on the roof of the elevator, he actually escaped in the ambulance, fooling the medics into thinking he was the guard by wearing his face that he bit off. Hudson Hawk, you could have taken some tips from Hannibal and saved yourself a race on a gurney in traffic if you had just bitten off Frank Stallone’s face and worn it as your own.

While Hannibal is successfully escaping from his cell, Hudson is successfully stealing the Da Vinci codex, with no thanks from his Bonfire of the Vanities pal Tom Hanks. Of course, one can’t smoothly steal something from the Vatican, Hudson must escape from the guards and gets into a little scuffle doing so, finally getting away from them by landing onto a movie truck filled with chickens. Luckily, the truck passes right by the restaurant where he was to meet dear Anna at for their scheduled date. Though their date is going nicely, they aren’t alone, the candy bar agents have the place bugged. Agent Almond Joy is wondering why things are so quiet, so agent Butterfinger chimes in asking “Do you want me to rape them?” Someone’s been watching Ghosts Can’t Do It too many times. Because he could use another one, Hudson is knocked out once again, this time revealing that Anna is also in cahoots with the CIA. Though it would seem this would explain some things, Anna gets confused as well, and goes to see the Cardinal, hoping he can clear some things up, which in turn will hopefully clear some things up for the audience. Instead, more confusion arises, and it’s discovered that the Mayflowers are stealing these three Da Vinci items so they can obtain the three crystal pieces which will create a device that turns lead into gold which in turn will destroy the world’s economy. And to think, the one with Sandra Bernhard and David Caruso is the more complex of the two films.

Now that she doesn’t have any go-to serial killers to help her out, Clarice is on her own trying to catch Buffalo Bill. Looking through the notes Lecter left in the case file, she realizes that Bill knew the first victim personally, so she visits the town in Belvedere, Illinois to talk to some locals. There she discovers that Bill’s been skinning the women so he can make dresses out of their skin. I guess one could say that Hannibal is like the Sioux tribe and he doesn’t let anything go to waste whereas Buffalo Bill is like the typical white man, just taking the skin and leaving the heart and liver and everything else behind. Informing Crawford of her discovery, he pauses her, saying they’ve already located Bill and are ready to capture him. He tells her to stay where she is and see if she can find out anything else from the locals.

Waking up once again in front of the Mayflowers, Hudson’s told that he must steal the third item, Da Vinci’s helicopter design from the Louvre. Forgetting he was even in the movie, Hudson’s pal Tommy shows up, supposedly double crossing him, but instead he’s there to double cross the Mayflowers. But, since the film probably ran out of budget, Hudson, Tommy, and Anna wake up to the CIA guys in their room with the stolen helicopter. They paralyze Hudson and Tommy leaving them for dead and kidnap Anna, taking her and the final crystal to the Mayflowers.

So, rather than deciding what’s worse: Andie MacDowell literally wailing like a dolphin or Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello singing “Side by Side,” instead I’m gonna choose the easier thing to sit through: Ted Levine singing and dancing around naked with his dick tucked between his legs and wearing a dress made of women’s skin.

Attempting to rescue Anna from the Mayflowers who are tucked away in a castle, Hudson and Tommy come up with a very clever scheme of firing a rocket launcher a bunch of times around the castle. Of course, a rocket launcher is no match for Kaplan, and using his martial arts skills against Hudson, you’d almost think he knew Bruce Lee or something. With all of Kaplan’s amazing fighting skills, Hudson cleverly ducks one of his kicks, sending Kaplan flying over the balcony onto a car occupied by Tommy that goes crashing over a cliff, killing both of them.

Back in Illinois, as Bill is distracted dancing with himself, Catherine lures Precious the poodle over to her well and the dog goes tumbling down. This really pisses off Bill, but just as he’s about to do something about it, the doorbell rings. It turns out Crawford’s information was incorrect, and Clarice unknowingly found herself at the doorstep of Buffalo Bill. After inspecting the surroundings of the place, she quickly deduces that the man is indeed the crossdressing dressmaker. She attempts to arrest him but he escapes into the basement and shuts off all the electricity. Him wearing night-vision goggles and her completely blind, it’s a very tense moment. Well, I wonder what’s going on in Hudson Hawkland.

Once again, the Mayflowers are in control, and having Hudson and Anna tied up, they prepare the assembled crystal, ready to turn the lead into gold. For such a complex mission that was years in the making that spanned all across Europe to complete, their entire scheme is foiled when Hudson leaves out one little piece of the crystal which causes the whole operation to explode, killing both the Mayflowers. But unlike Precious, the dog of the other movie’s villain, this movie villain’s dog Bunny is actually a villain and does what the whole audience wanted to do and lunges at Anna’s throat. Sadly, Hudson fires a ball at it, sending it flying over the balcony and falling to its death. At least The Silence of the Lambs had the heart not to kill a dog.

Speaking of The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice is creeping around in the dark with a maniac. Luckily, though she can’t see anything, her hearing is pretty keen and when Bill cocks his gun ready to shoot her she swings around and fires at him, killing him. Clarice is unharmed, Catherine is alive, and most importantly, Precious the dog is saved. Shortly after, Clarice became an official FBI agent, and Hannibal called her up on the phone to congratulate her. Although he told her he wasn’t gonna stay on the phone for long, he should have spent a little more time talking with her, after all, how was he to know the next time he would see her she would have red hair and white, freckled skin?

With all the villains, both human and dog, gone, Hudson and Anna escape the burning castle by flying in Da Vinci’s plane. And who else to greet them at their landing but the supposedly dead Tommy who survived the car explosion due to air bags and a sprinkler system in the crashed car (no, that’s not one of my jokes, that’s what actually happened). But at least the film had a happy ending. Actually, let me say that again, if you turn the film off right before the end credits roll, it has a happy ending, otherwise you have to listen to the theme song which was written by Bruce Willis.

So in the end, good triumphed over evil, but in The Silence of the Lambs Clarice Starling merely stopped a guy from killing a couple people. At least in Hudson Hawk, Hudson prevented the end of the world, and he did it all by singing show tunes. Maybe Clarice could have saved all that trouble and taxpayers’ money if she had just sung “My Way”, or at least “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Overall, it’s tough to decide which film is the better of the two. But think about this, Hudson Hawk was a personal project for Bruce Willis who created the character for himself and developed the story over the year and the director even had a Catholic priest come and bless the Vatican set. Did Jodie Foster spend years on her film, creating Clarice Starling for herself and did Jonathan Demme have a cannibal come in and oversee Hannibal’s cell? I don’t think so.

About the author

Jeff spends too much time watching movies, but when he’s not watching them, he helps make them by working in the grip and electric department. Some would say he chose this profession because of the thrill of being on set and helping create art, but the real reason is most G&E don’t need to wear pants. Along with being a film nerd, Jeff enjoys riding his bike everywhere around the Southern California and watching his friends perform improv.

About Erik Anderson

Erik thanks his mother for his love of all things Oscar, having watched the Academy Awards together since he was in the single digits; making lists, rankings and predictions throughout the show. This led him down the path to obsessing about awards. Much later, he found himself at GoldDerby, led by Tom O’Neill and then migrated over to Oscarwatch (now AwardsDaily), headed up by Sasha Stone before breaking off to create AwardsWatch. He is a member of the International Cinephile Society, GALECA (The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics), the International Press Academy and is the founder/owner of AwardsWatch.

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