June 18, 2010

STREET HAWK (1985) - finally on DVD

(1985, TV, USA)

The man... the machine... Street Hawk (rrrm rrrm)

I never missed an episode when this went out, and have been waiting years to get this on DVD. But a warning to newcomers - it's soooo 1980s...

A top secret government experiment involves a souped-up attack-motorbike to fight crime. Jesse Mach (Rex Smith) can't tell a soul that he's secretly the rider of the mysterious Street Hawk. He has a 'co-pilot', who co-ordinates Street Hawk's missions back at their hidden base, inventor Norman Tuttle (Joe Regalbuto). The secret street exit was hidden behind a sliding billboard in an alleyway, which always reminded me of Batgirl's similar Batbike exit. Can't have been much of a secret location because Mach's flashy bright yellow Mustang was always parked outside, next to Tuttle's station wagon...

The short-lived TV show had storylines and dialogue that a five-year old could follow, which didn't really sit comfortably with its atrocious lessons in road safety in road safety. Yes kids, try and jump your bike over police cars, through windows, and ride as fast as you can - you'll never hit anything, honestly you won't...

Like so many other family-friendly action shows, the characters are two-dimensional (grumpy police chief, geeky engineer), and the comedy relief is goofy rather than funny. I only ever saw Rex Smith (Jesse Mach) in TV bit parts after this, which was a real waste of a leading man - his half-naked turn in the foam-filled, suit-moulding tube (glimpsed in the theme tune) made me an instant fan. Joe Regalbuto (Norman) had previously been in the bonkers Conan knock-off The Sword and the Sorceror (1982) - he was good, funny, but looked rather out of place amongst all the barbarian mullets.

The technology is fantasy, rather than reality-based. A bike with jet thrusters, a laser, missiles! It's a comic strip, but at least it's an original custom-made concept, rather than an adaption. Despite the high-tech dressing, (when technology meant flashing lights and dry ice, and animation poses as computer displays) the thrills are not from the visual effects (like the 'particle beam') but from car chases and explosions, placing this in similar territory to Airwolf and Knight Rider.

BUT. For all its faults, where else can you get so many car and bike (and boat and helicopter) stunts in a weekly TV show today? In every episode, there's never a shortage of genuinely exciting stuntwork. Street Hawk actually deserved slow-motion for its leaps and crashes. From the high jump through a (closed) window, to chasing a helicopter at high speed.

The fake sped-up 'hyperthrust' mode wasn't as dangerous, but fired-up every episode - as Street Hawk was cleared to travel at 200 mph through Los Angeles at all times of the day. How traffic could be stopped for a stretch of twenty miles, with a guarantee of zero jaywalkers, was beside the point. The effect took a visual cue from Koyaanisqatsi - headlights and neon at night, flashing past as streaks.

Guest stars included Christopher Lloyd playing almost too nasty a villain to square up to such cartoony heroes. There's also Bianca Jagger, Sybil Danning (Battle Beyond the Stars) and Marjoe Gortner (Earthquake, Food of the Gods), but famously this was George Clooney's second-ever featured role.
Rex Smith was making much of that episode, on his recent UK publicity tour for the DVD launch, saying that Clooney owed him a return favour for Smith giving Clooney his big break in Hollywood...

Another aspect that helps me rank this over Knight Rider, is the synthesizer soundtrack. Tangerine Dream's track Le Parc was used as the theme tune and the band provided the background score throughout. This is the same year they were brought in to score Ridley Scott's Legend for the re-edited US version, replacing Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack.

The movie-length pilot episode (well, barely 75 minutes long) appeared on laserdisc, but this UK region 2 set is Street Hawk's world debut on DVD - the entire series runs only 13 episodes. It's coming to the US in July.

For absolutely everything else about Street Hawk, there's an extensive fansite here.

The theme tune is here on YouTube...


  1. i'd completely forgotten about Street Hawk... that opening credit sequence is TEH AWESOME.

  2. Oh, wow. I totally forgot about this show! I will have to pick this up when it comes out. Thanks for the memory!

  3. Thanks for putting this. Makes me very nostalgic. One of my favorite show in my childhood.

  4. Tangerine Dream. A man. A Machine. What more do you want! Great memories of this as a kid but surely, honestly, this cannot rank over Knightrider - come on man!

  5. Sorry Steve, I'm not going to follow the herd. I could never get past Hasselhoff's hairy chest and curly perm. It's just personal choice - AIRWOLF and STREET HAWK are the ones for me...