Bruce Willis says, "Directions even your brother can understand," to co-star Frank Stallone. On the script, this jab is directed at the character of Antony Mario, but it doubles as an off-screen jab at Stallone's real brother Sylvester Stallone.
The film has the dubious distinction of being the final film produced by TriStar Pictures prior to their being bought out and merged with Columbia Pictures (which was going through similar financial difficulties). Because Hawk (in conjunction with other unsuccessful films from the same studio) had lost so much money, the Sony Corporation had to salvage TriStar by purchasing its remaining stock, and by reorganizing the company as part of the recently formed Sony Pictures Entertainment. As with United Artists when they were bought out by MGM, Columbia and Tri-Star were allowed to keep their own logos, and to continue making movies under their own names.
Isabella Rossellini was originally cast as Anna Baragli, but when the movie was delayed because of scheduling issues, the part was re-cast with Maruschka Detmers. However, due to back problems, she had to leave after a few days of shooting, and was finally replaced with Andie MacDowell.
When Mark Kermode met Richard E. Grant, he told him that he was one of the few people who liked the film. Grant's response was - "It was a stinking pile of steaming hot donkey droppings and you are an idiot".
Nintendo humor abounds in this movie. "New Jersey's third-largest crime family" is known as the Mario Brothers. Additionally, Hudson Hawk has been in prison so long he does not know what a Nintendo is.
In this film Danny Aiello plays the Italian 'criminal' Tommy Five-Tone . This could be seen as an in-joke at The Godfather: Part II (1974) where Danny Aiello's character, one of the Rosato brothers, attempts to murder Frankie Pentanglis, a.k.a. Frankie Five-Angels.
Of the movie's producer Joel Silver, star Bruce Willis said: "I wanted someone who would be very 'hands on' and Joel is very reminiscent of the old-time Hollywood producers who were able to see the overall project as being of the utmost importance. Joel lets everyone do their work, puts out the fires, and brings his own very valid creative input to the film as well". Although they knew "Hudson Hawk" would have enough action to more than satisfy the most die-hard of "Die Hard" fans, Willis and Silver also knew that the primary focus of the film was to be its humor.
Of the picture's story-line, actor-writer Bruce Willis said: "Throughout the development of the story, we took certain elements from many different types of films. In one way, we wanted to do a film about an international cat burglar, which has its roots in films such as To Catch a Thief (1955) and Topkapi (1964), yet at the same time this is as close to a screwball comedy as anything I've ever done".
Producer Joel Silver and star Bruce Willis chose director Michael Lehmann to helm the picture to blend all the elements of the film. Although Lehmann had previously directed only two feature films, his directorial debut with a dark comedy that attained cult status entitled Heathers (1988) had caught the attention of both star and producer. Lehmann was enthusiastic about tackling the project: "I was a Bruce Willis fan and it was easy to envision Bruce in the role. I also felt that there was something I could contribute to the film. Although the material was very accessible, there was room for some funny little twists and turns that would lift it above the standard action-adventure comedy. Most of all, it was very clear from the script that if it was done right, the movie would be a lot of fun to watch. What more can you ask from a movie?".
When it came time to cast the film, everyone was in complete agreement about the actor they wanted for Tommy "Five-Tone." Danny Aiello and Bruce Willis had known each other for many years, dating back to a time before either had attained worldwide recognition, and 'Bruce and I had wanted to do a film together for three or four years', recalls Aiello. The actor was so enthusiastic about taking the role of Hawk's best friend and partner that he postponed the start of another film in order to join Willis and company in their globe-trotting adventures.
In 1980, a young musician-composer-songwriter by the name of Robert Kraft was performing with his group, the Ivory Coast, at a restaurant-nightclub in New York's Greenwich Village. In the midst of a musical number, Kraft found himself unexpectedly accompanied on harmonica by someone in the audience. The man with the harmonica turned out to be bartender and aspiring actor Bruce Willis. The two men became fast friends, and Willis would often turn out for Kraft's engagements, and join in the musical proceedings. Willis, who became intimately acquainted with Kraft's entire musical repertoire, was most taken with one song called "The Hudson Hawk." Kraft had come upon the concept one afternoon while walking the streets of New York. Kraft had read a newspaper article about a fierce wind that blew off Lake Michigan nicknamed "The Hawk," and as he wandered toward the west side of Manhattan, bracing himself against a wind corning from the direction of the Hudson River, he thought, "This must be the Hudson Hawk." When Kraft described the genesis of his song to Willis, the actor thought the music would be fitting as the theme for a classic movie character as well. Intrigued, Kraft offered Willis the opportunity to collaborate on the song by writing the lyrics. As those lyrics evolved, so did the characters of Eddie Hawkin's and his best friend and mentor - Tommy "Five-Tone" Messina. For many years, the song remained just that, with both men vowing that if either were ever in the position to produce a film, it would be about the world's greatest cat burglar. Several years, a hit television show, and Emmy and Golden Globe awards later, Willis indeed found himself in that position, and, true to his word, began developing "Hudson Hawk" with Kraft for the big screen. Needing the services of an experienced producer, Willis turned to Joel Silver, for whom the actor had starred in the smash hit Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2 (1990).
Despite the late hours of the filming as well as the odd location for the Brooklyn Bridge chase sequence, hundreds of New Yorkers strolled the Brooklyn Bridge's walkway in order to get a glimpse of the action and, of course, star Bruce Willis. The actor later appeared on the local news to thank New Yorkers for their interest, cooperation, and above all, patience.
The nick-name of Tommy Messina (Danny Aiello) was "Five-Tone" whilst the nick-names of Eddie Hawkins (Bruce Willis) were "The Hawk" and "Hudson Hawk" which are also the nick-names of for the fierce bracing winds that blew off Lake Michigan and the Hudson River in New York State, USA.
Principal photography on "Hudson Hawk" began on 9th July 1990, where cast and crew gathered in front of a correctional facility to film the scenes in which Hawk (Bruce Willis) is first released from prison. From there, the film company moved to the New York City area where, for the next three weeks, streets within the metropolis, as well as several New Jersey and Brooklyn sites, served as backdrops for the production.
The most intricate and ambitious scenes filmed in New York City found the film company closing the outbound side of the Brooklyn Bridge for an entire week [five nights according to director Michael Lehmann on his audio-commentary, which makes an entire week a normal working days week]. From 10 pm at night until 5 am the next morning, the filmmakers created their own rush hour, with Bruce Willis weaving in and out of treacherous, but painstakingly choreographed, traffic on an out-of-control hospital gurney, which was motorized and controllable and not-freewheeling.
In the film, Leonardo da Vinci's most ambitious project is a machine that can turn lead into gold through the use of solar energy and alchemical salts. This is called the "The da Vinci Gold Machine" or the "The Leonardo da Vinci Gold Machine". Although there is no historical evidence that da Vinci dabbled in alchemy, the machine dreamed up by production designer Jackson De Govia, would have impressed the man who inspired it. De Govia said: "In producing the gold machine, I was able to incorporate and adapt mechanical principles and devices that came directly from the mind and pen of Leonardo da Vinci".
Production wrapped in New York at 6 am on 31st July 1990 and hours later the cast and crew boarded a plane to begin the second leg of their international odyssey. After one day of preparation, filming resumed, this time in the eternal city of Rome in Italy, directly across the street from one of the most impressive and recognizable wonders of the world, the famed landmark the Coliseum. Many famous locations throughout Rome and its environs were used for the picture, including the Piazza Navona, the Roman Forum, and the 16th Century Villa Farnese in nearby Caprarola, a vintage town and commune in the Viterbo province in the Lazio region of central Italy.
Rome's famed Cinecitta Studios were used to house the Rutherford Art Gallery, a bit of New York constructed in Italy, where Eddie Hawkins (Bruce Willis) and Tommy Messina (Danny Aiello) stage their musical theft of the Sforza Statuette, and where an art auction is interrupted by an explosion.
Immense sets constructed at the Cinecitta Studios in Rome, Italy were the elaborate corporate boardroom of Darwin Mayflower (Richard E. Grant) and Minerva Mayflower (Sandra Bernhard) as well as the room in the Vatican Art Museum which houses Leonardo da Vinci's "Codex". Just one of the intricate security devices Eddie Hawkins (Bruce Willis must overcome to steal the book is a unique chandelier that automatically descends and transforms itself into an impregnable cage when light beams surrounding the display case are broken.
In the midst of the Rome shooting schedule, the film company packed up and headed north for ten days and nights of filming near the town of Rimini in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the capital city of an Italian province of the same name. Within minutes of the seaside resort, the crew found itself in the village of San Leo. Noted by Dante [Dante Alighieri] in his "Divine Comedy" (c. 1308-1320), San Leo boasts a magnificent 15th Century fortress which serves a dual purpose in "Hudson Hawk." Its first appearance in the film is the setting for Leonardo da Vinci's workshop in the 16th Century whilst its second appearance in the film is the present-day domicile of Darwin Mayflower (Richard E. Grant) and Minerva Mayflower (Sandra Bernhard).
After three months in Italy, yet another location awaited the filmmakers. At the Mafilm Studios, located on the outskirts of Budapest, Hungary, a soundstage underwent four months of construction to produce the largest and most spectacular of the film's sets: "The Leonardo da Vinci Gold Machine". The set was actually divided into two parts: the machine, and the adjacent Renaissance workshop of Leonardo da Vinci, where the assorted diagrams, sketches, and models of the artist's ideas became reality. In the 20th Century, when the Darwin Mayflower (Richard E. Grant) and Minerva Mayflower (Sandra Bernhard) take possession of the castle where da Vinci's workshop was situated, the room is turned into a museum, with numerous models of da Vinci's work on display. Thousands of dollars worth of actual models were loaned to the production by the da Vinci museum in Milan, the capital city of Lombardy, Italy.
One model that played a prominent role in the film was a Renaissance version of a hang-glider. This was one of the few pieces that was not a true replica of a Leonardo da Vinci work. As built and engineered by the Aero Vironment company of Simi Valley, California in the USA however, the glider did have its ties to da Vinci through his studies of man-powered flight. Aero Vironment picked up where da Vinci left off and, with the addition of modern aerodynamic engineering, produced a working glider based on da Vinci's designs.