One day, after brokering yet another crooked deal on behalf of his corrupt senator father-in-law, Michele Alemani (Fabio Testi) is attacked by armed anarchists. They handcuff him to a pole, shoot his legs and blow up his car. However one of the group, a beautiful young model named Vita (Lara Wendel) kindly tends to his wounds before making her escape. After recovering in hospital an obsessed Michele withdraws even further from his loveless marriage to Rita (Simonetta Stefanelli). He tracks down Vita, lures her away from an abusive boyfriend and lands her an acting gig with a theater group. Before long the pair enter into a passionate love affair. However Vita carries a dark secret that together with constraints placed on Michele's life a tragic toll on their romance.
A sincere if overwrought mix of crime thriller, romantic melodrama, scathing social satire and tawdry teen sexploitation Il Falco e La Columba (The Hawk and the Dove) is the kind of ambitious hodgepodge one imagines could only emerge from Italian cinema in the early Eighties. Remarkably for then sixteen year old star Lara Wendel doing nude love scenes was business as usual having graced controversial underage erotic opus Maladolescenza (1977), played Michele Piccoli's inappropriate lust object in Little Girl in Blue Velvet (1978), Satan's nymphet in Ring of Darkness (1979), a would-be incestuous daughter intent on seducing papa Franco Nero in Mimi (1979) and a vengeful child prostitute in Desire, the Interior Life (1980). While an Italian audience in the early Eighties may have taken all this unabashed adolescent sexuality in their stride in a modern context Wendel's explicit sex scenes with forty year old co-star Fabio Test make for decidedly queasy viewing.
Nevertheless the film is unconcerned with the age gap. Its big dramatic 'dum-dum daaah!' reveal happens post-coitus when Michele discovers Vita shooting heroin. For alas Vita is a junkie, hooked on horse by her pusher boyfriend who dresses like a camp renegade member of The Warriors (1979). Nice guy Michele (or as nice as someone that pursues underage girls can be) is perturbed at first but soon goes out of his way to help Vita get clean, checking her into an expensive clinic then into seclusion at a plush apartment after abandoning his shrewish wife (who, for added 'nag effect' in the English dub, is voiced by a woman twice her age). Tragically between Vita's addiction and the seemingly all-encompassing hold Michele's father-in-law has over all facets of law enforcement, the future looks bleak. In the first of only four films as writer-director Fabrizio Lori touches on the crime-ridden state of Italian politics at the time, taking an understandable if wearyingly fatalistic view. Yet the film's hard-hitting social commentary is undercut by moments of outright kitsch, including its hopelessly square and outdated depiction of swinging counterculture (as embodied by Michele's flamboyantly camp theatre buddy) and moments of unintentional kitsch. Adding to the camp factor are the Neil Diamond ballads that underscore every languid glance between our leads.
Euro-crime and spaghetti western staple Fabio Testi is actually very good, drawing sympathy for his plight in an otherwise icky situation. Even if the relationship is not much deeper than your standard older man latches onto younger woman to recapture his youth. In most instances an engaging and personable actress, here Lara Wendel lacks the acting ability to pull off her tricky role. Slathered in heavy makeup and designer outfits she looks like a shellshocked little girl playing dress-up. Happily she graduated to better things, working with Dario Argento as a fetching victim in Tenebrae (1982), Michelangelo Antonionini and Federico Fellini though after those high points slowly slid into trashier horror with Killing Birds (1987), Ghosthouse (1988) and The Red Monks (1988) before ending her career with a handful of TV roles. Ponderous and dry with a sincere yet painfully self-conscious script, The Hawk and the Dove is so enraptured with its own futile trajectory it undoes its few poignant moments of empathy.