Hanover Street (1979) dir. Peter Hyams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Lesley-Anne Down, Christopher Plummer
By Alan Bacchus
A young Harrison Ford in a romantic lead makes this obscure wartime romance an interesting discovery of the past. Peter Hyams, director of some decent ‘70s/’80s action thrillers (Narrow Margin, 2010, Capricorn One), directs this hopelessly tragic romantic war film channeling the sweeping epic qualities of David Lean, unfortunately, at times, with the heavy bluntness of Joe Wright.
Harrison Ford is an American pilot, David Hallerin, stationed in London in 1944. He catches the eye of a beautiful and well mannered erudite British gal, Margaret Sellinger (Lesley-Anne Down), and immediately develops an infatuation with her. An illicit romance starts, dramatized with gentle touches, heavy breathing and all the guilt that follows. Poor Margaret is actually in a happy marriage to a dull but well meaning bore of a man, Paul, played by Christopher Plummer.
Meanwhile, David continues to fly his bombing missions into France, becoming more belligerent and disillusioned about the danger his superiors are putting him in. Coincidentally, David and Paul meet on a secret mission inside Germany and are forced to work together for the cause without knowing their connection with each other. Love, courage and heroism collide with full-on heartbreaking tragedy and exhilaration so often featured in these sweeping epics.
The picture was shot right after Star Wars, so it’s fun to see a young and spry Harrison Ford with maximum charisma, rebellious confidence and foolhardy innocence. He looks damned fine in military garb and Lesley-Anne Down's big doey eyes are also irresistible, so it's not hard to sell us on this romance, which is thrown at us without much set-up other than the fact that they are the two most beautiful people in the room.
Peter Hyams’ trademark photographic look is pastoral beautification personified. His long lenses crush the edges of the frame squeezing out the periphery of the populated London streets to concentrate solely on his two lovers. The opening scene on the trolley where David and Margaret first meet is poorly written, but with such lovely compositions, Ford at his charismatic best and John Barry’s grand swooning score it sets the mood appropriately.
There’s not much on-screen chemistry that isn’t forced down our throats with these other cinematic embellishments. The age and relative obscurity for a Harrison Ford-led picture allow us to excuse contrivances I would normally pounce on.
The third act climax is reverse engineered without much nuance. Out of the blue David is assigned to pilot his lover’s husband on a dangerous mission into France. And for much of the journey they get to know each other without knowing they’re sleeping with the same woman. We see where it’s going a mile away, but Hyams manages to make it all exciting by dulling us to the outrageousness of it all - he even throws in a well choreographed chase scene (also a specialty of his).
Hyams certainly does not reach the mark of the David Lean-inspired romantic grandeur, but with top notch production values and a handsome and young Harrison Ford as an anchor, Hanover Street is rendered watchable. Enjoy.