Nighthawks/Strip Jack Naked (4 stars)

Nighthawks/Strip Jack Naked

(18) 227min (BFI DVD and Blu-ray retail)


An unsung gem of 1970s indie Brit cinema (and not to be confused with the Stallone flick from 1981), Nighthawks chronicles the double life of a guarded, vulnerable and semi-closeted schoolteacher by day who spends most nights cruising bars and clubs in search of an unattainable Mr Right.

Unshowy, sometimes impressionistic, sympathetic yet detached, it is a carefully considered, quasi-documentary depiction of the transient mating rituals and unfulfilled longings of London’s pre-Stonewall, pre-Aids gay scene. The film is more about pints and fags, cups of tea and morning-after transport negotiations than horny nocturnal encounters. The semi-improvised dialogue is full of telling banalities. Ken Robertson, the sole professional actor, is good enough to make you regret what seems to have been a permanently stalled career. Two great scenes: one an extended and extreme close-up of his restless eyes, the other his coming out in the classroom.

The follow-up to this quiet landmark was the little-known Strip Jack Naked, a rumination on the first film and Peck’s own maturation and radicalisation as a gay Brit. Extras: several shorter works, including Peck’s contemplative documentary about Edward Hopper. Nighthawks is the title of one of the latter’s most famous paintings. Clearly their moody isolation was an influence here.

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