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Harrison Ford Fights Nazis in 'Force 10 From Navarone,' 'Hanover Street'
Young Harrison Ford played a military pilot for directors Guy Hamilton and Peter Hyams, opposite Robert Shaw and Lesley-Anne Down.
Now Streaming: Harrison Ford began flight training in the 1960s when he was living in Wisconsin, where he attended college, but he couldn't afford to continue the lessons. After he moved to California, began his acting career, and eventually made a mark as smuggler and starship pilot Han Solo in Star Wars (1977), Ford played non-starship pilots in two succeeding films, Force 10 From Navarone (1978) and Hanover Street (1979).
Both films are set during World War II. Inspired by Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and its lengthy opening sequence, set in World War II -- specifically, in 1944, a few years after the events in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) -- and seeing that both are available to streaming on Prime Video, I settled in to watch what Harrison Ford was doing when I wasn't paying attention.
First published in 1968, Alistair MacLean's novel Force 10 From Navarone, was a sequel to MacLean's novel The Guns of Navarone, first published in 1957 and adapted into a film released in 1961. MacLean wrote lean, popular novels that were enjoyable to read; he was Scottish and pragmatic, it appears, since his sequel novel followed the events and characters in the film, not necessarily his original novel.
Directed by Guy Hamilton, Force 10 From Navarone begins with footage from The Guns of Navarone, with Robert Shaw and Edward Fox pictured at the end as British commandos Major Mallory and Sergeant Miller, roles originally played by Gregory Peck and David Niven. The two are assigned a mission to find and kill Nicolai, a German spy who has infiltrated the Yugoslavian partisans. To get there, they must hitch a ride with U.S. Army Ranger Lt. Colonel Barnsby (Harrison Ford) and his men, who have their own secret mission in Yugoslavia.
Things do not go as planned; the plane that Barnsby is piloting is shot down, and he ends up teaming with Mallory for much of the remaining action, as do the other crash survivors, including Carl Weathers, for some reason. Barbara Bach, who was coming off her splendid performance in the James Bond adventure The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), plays a supporting role as a Yugloslavian resistance fighter who may be collaborating with the Nazis.
Guy Hamilton, who directed Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger (1964) and Diamonds Are Forever (1971), as well as Roger Moore as James Bond in Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), helmed the picture with his usual, efficiently busy action eye. He's a good fit for the material, which keeps popping up with new scenarios every few minutes.
The screenplay is credited to veteran TV writer Robin Chapman from a story by producer Carl Foreman, and loosely based on the novel by Alistair MacLean. It seems that none of the actors was terribly happy with the script, which is fairly bare-bones, tying action scenes together with barely a nudge and a wink.
Robert Shaw is the lead, and plays especially well with Edward Fox, but Harrison Ford displays good command as a military leader. Shaw and Ford have good chemistry after they go on the run together. It's a good picture that is filled with a number of explosive action set-pieces, includes a tense scene on a train, and builds toward the need to destroy a bridge. As it happens, the latter two plot points also play into the opening sequence in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Shaw, who memorably played a blonde Russian villain opposing Sean Connery as James Bond in From Russia With Love (1963), is admittedly a bit old to be running around as he does here, yet he is entirely convincing as the clever commando. Sadly, he only made one more film (Avalanche Express, 1979) before he suffered a heart attack and died in August 1978. This film was released shortly thereafter, in December 1978.
To complete the James Bond connections: Richard Kiel, like Barbara Bach, had just come off The Spy Who Loved Me and would go on to do Moonraker (1979); Edward Fox appeared as gadget-man 'M' opposite Sean Connery as an older, balder 007 in Never Say Never Again (1983). [Prime Video]
In its opening titles, Hanover Street declares itself to be a love story, and the first portion of the film lives up to its ambition, as U.S. Army Air Force pilot Lt. David Halloran (Harrison Ford) is smitten with a British woman he meets on the streets of London, even after her glove slips off, revealing a wedding ring.
Nonetheless, David pursues the woman (Lesley-Anne Down) and they end up in bed together, for reasons that the woman, who initially refuses to divulge her name, cannot properly identify. She says that something is lacking in her marriage, which might ring true, were it not that her husband is British intelligence officer Paul Sellinger (Christopher Plummer), who treats her in a kind and loving manner, and is a good, doting father to their young daughter Sarah (Patsy Kensit, who grew up to become a star in Lethal Weapon 2, opposite Mel Gibson, and many more beyond that).
As their affair continues, and David learns that her name is Margaret, he begins to act differently as a pilot, to the extent that his fellow crew members begin to notice and wonder what's happening to the devil-may-care pilot they once knew. In time, David and Paul's paths converge, and soon they are fighting Nazis together after the plane that David is piloting gets shot down.
(Yes, if you're counting, that's two movies in which Harrison Ford pilots a plane during World War II that crashes, kills other people aboard, and yet he survives. It's a wonder that anyone let him fly a plane again!)
The first half of the picture, devoted as it is to an adulterous love affair, complete with a lush, swelling musical score by the reliable John Barry, feels quite icky to me, especially since Margaret's husband is a very decent fellow, and they have a child! Eew!
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Peter Hyams wrote and directed. He's a very talented director with a good sense of popcorn entertainment, including a number of action films that have held up over the years, including Busting, 1974 and Capricorn One, 1977. I prefer the second part of the film, when Ford and Plummer end up on a mission together through war-torn territory, and Ford's character gradually realizes that he's been sleeping with the wife of Plummer's character, who has been oblivious to that possibility.
Ford and Plummer have good chemistry together, and the action is nearly continuous. The narrative momentum picks up as the film progresses, which is nearly always a good thing, and Peter Hyams has always been highly talented at telling a story through the visual medium.
Hanover Street is resolved with a grand, melodramatic flourish. For a movie that revolves around an adulterous affair, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth, but if you can put that aside, there is much to enjoy about Harrison Ford's performance as a heel who eventually does the right thing. [Prime Video]