Confessions of a (Former) Harrison Ford Junkie
Okay, I admit it, I used to have a major crush on Harrison Ford. I loved Carrie Fisher in the first Star Wars when she was being totally sarcastic to Han Solo. I related to her intelligence and sharp wit. But I absolutely adored Harrison Ford as Han Solo being a smartass back at her even more. They both struck me as totally believable, she as a bright woman who showed it, and he as an archetype of the reluctant hero with the heart of gold. But he also was the hero who won’t give an inch when it comes to sentiment because mentally he still belongs to the all-boys club he joined when he was ten years old. That’s the kind of man we used to accept as a grown-up romance hero. In The Empire Strikes Back, when Princess Leia says she loves him and he replies “I know,” I thought, oh, thanks a lot. I wrench open my guts in an extreme moment in front of our enemies and all you do is acknowledge it? Be frozen for a long time, Han Solo.
But I forgave him soon enough, when as Deckard in Blade Runner he tried to save the life of the replicant beauty he pushed around but also loved. His Indiana Jones persona was far less emotionally involved with women, and it showed. But then, Indiana Jones was a grown-up version of the old Saturday afternoon movie serials aimed at young boys. They certainly didn’t want any icky romantic feelings in their adventures. So he was pushing me away all during the years he was drawing me in.
Witness, a movie that was a tense thriller rather than a romance, ironically showed Harrison Ford at the height of both his romantic powers and his romantic repression. He and his Amish love mostly gaze at each other. It’s a doomed attraction and they both know it. But Ford had figured out how to show enough love and longing in his gaze, and acclaimed Shakespearean actress-to-be Kelly McGillis was a beautiful object of desire. It’s mesmerizing even today.
Harrison Ford has flirted with romance since then, most notably in Working Girl. As a Wall Street exec he is both sympathetic and sweet to Melanie Griffith’s ambitious but insecure gal with moxie. I briefly adored Sabrina, a flop remake that was nevertheless quite convincing at moments. I liked it so much I went out and bought the tape and played the few intense scenes over and over. Harrison Ford’s later attempts to be romantic, such as Six Days, Seven Nights and Random Hearts, seemed unconvincing. I think audiences were more in love with his action hero hijinks all along. Of course, Anne Heche being a declared lesbian at the time that Six Days, Seven Nights came out did not help make the romance in that movie convincing. Even if actors know the difference between their roles and their real lives, we the audience tend not to. Still, my fascination with Harrison Ford as a romantic lead didn’t lessen until the millenium was nearly upon us. Finally it occurred to me that he always was more credible when he had little to say and do about love. I crossed him off my list of movie hotties.
But I had always wanted to see Harrison Ford in the World War II romance, Hanover Street, that he did early in his career. It sounded like just the kind of modest little romance that might be wonderful. I finally rented it, and oh, was I sorry. The passage of time has not been kind to this movie with its 1979 hair and clothing that supposedly takes place in London in the 1940s. The heroine’s exceedingly heavy eye makeup is always getting in the way. Harrison Ford doesn’t have the makeup problem, but what he does have is an utter inability to make himself believable as a man in love with this woman. Oh, he says all the right things. But they sound hollow.
Why? Not really the fault of the actors so much as of the script. If the writer/director (call him an auteur, but call it a mistake) had bothered to create fully rounded characters before throwing them into a romantic clinch at the end of the very first scene, some of the relationship would have been plausible. Both main characters are blank slates emotionally and remain so. It’s too much work for the audience to imagine feelings and personalities that the actors have not conveyed. Harrison Ford is a pilot from Chicago. And we know nothing else about him. He behaves like a wiseass in briefings, but we don’t know why. We don’t know why he falls in love at the very moment the movie opens, during a rude power play with Lesley-Anne Down on the street. And why does she succumb to his advances? Happy marriages are a sealed unit, so something is wrong in her marriage, and nobody is talking about it. Christopher Plummer plays the husband and he’s the most convincing actor in the movie. I actually winced away from the bedroom scenes between Harrison Ford and Lesley-Anne Down. I felt I did not know these people and did not want to see them having sex. Especially adulterous sex, once we learn that she has a loving husband and an adorable little girl. Oh, phooey. This is not the stuff of romantic fantasy. Maybe it was in the past, when people were more trapped in marriage. But with divorce freely available today and careers for women finally happening, this heroine’s passivity and yet her lack of honor grate. This movie is a tarnished fairy tale with a hollow core. Probably its best moment is when Ford’s character renounces his lover to send her back to her husband, with whom he has formed a comrades-in-action bond. But it’s spoiled by all the mascara running down Lesley-Anne Down’s face.
If anything could have killed my long-held passion for Harrison Ford, it was Hanover Street. On the other hand, I was already over him by the time I finally caught up with this stinker. But here’s my current worry. Harrison Ford has a big movie coming out this summer, the trumpeted last in the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He’s in his middle sixties now and showing his age, and my concern is that his longtime audience has completely unrealistic expectations. Are we expecting him to still be young? The baby boom isn’t going into old age gently. And Harrison Ford is from the tail end of the generation prior to it (born in 1942), even older than the baby boom. Is all his whip-cracking going to seem like the behavior of a geezer? We want too much from our fantasy figures. So me being over him is perhaps just another stupid fan behavior, too. Maybe that accounts for his sarcastic attitude all along.