A love affair takes off and lands in a different plot…
In 1943, a married English nurse starts a passionate affair with an American pilot. He’s later asked to go on a secret mission with a member of British Intelligence, little does he know it’s her husband.
Harrison Ford in Hanover Street 1979 TV trailer, robatsea2009
It’s back to the 1970s and a romantic espionage film based during World War II – with planes, planes, planes – with a slushy John Barry composed soundtrack and a sterling cast. This film has the bonus of two very different stories wrapped up in one movie with an unrealistic plotline holding these together, so get ready to wallow in the romance and then the bromance of it all.
The film is Hanover Street (1979), or the one that Harrison Ford allegedly hated but did only to get his first on-screen snog. He could have waited, as this oddity of a movie was one he did after Star Wars A New Hope (1977) and before he headed the four filmed franchise as a chick magnet, archaeologist, Indiana Jones. By coincidence in Hanover Street, a Harrison Ford character faces the Nazis, but not before falling in love. But in this film, it’s serendipitously complicated.
The film starts with a scrolling screen – just because it can – and this was completely unnecessary but only useful as it sets the scene as London, 1943. A natty in film title would have been enough. Then an always majestic John Barry score accompanies a picture of the sky and the golden cast and crew credits in joined-up writing. If it wasn’t for those cast members and the authentic plane sequences, you would think it was a TV Movie. But it’s written by the man who both wrote and directed Outland (1981), Peter Hyams so things are immediately looking up.
We then cut to Hanover Street, London. The street is full of extras in service uniforms or civilian dress bustling here and there. David Halloran (Ford) – an American bomber pilot – is waiting for a bus. A nurse – much, much later known as Margaret Sellinger (Lesley Anne Down) – cuts in front of him in the queue. With a Harrison Ford now trademark smirk, he takes his rightful place in the queue and then gets on the bus. He then smiles in triumph as the bus pulls away without her.
She then clutches her stomach and acts like she is concerned about losing a baby. He gallantly jumps off the bus in concern and runs to help. She’s now joking in a WTF moment, so he then pretends to have a leg injury. She falls for his joke, and then he literally dances across the street in glee in some moves that Fred Astaire would be proud of. And then they both miss the bus but have the most inappropriate meet-cute since Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace (2002) when the teenage Padme met seven year old Annakin.
So he asks her to join him for a cup of coffee, and she drinks only tea. It’s a then meaningless stilted dialogue with meaningful looks over cups of tea for her – because she’s English, right? – and coffee for him. These beautiful unflawed people discuss the beverage known as tea (I kid you not, but this fact becomes strangely relevant later). More importantly, she discovers he’s an American pilot – from Chicago – who is stationed an hour from London and wants to die a heroic death. She’s an English nurse and adds…
“I tell men they’ll be all right and they believe me… …because they want to. Then I watch them die.”
They apparently talk for hours, by which time he has fallen in love, and is practically begging to see her again. He tells her his name is David and for no apparent reason, she doesn’t want to tell him her name.
Then this pair leave the tearoom and seconds after she has disappeared into the crowds, there is an airstrike. Somehow in the resulting chaos of extras running in all directions, explosions and buildings falling down, he finds her. They snog passionately and hungrily (I should so write romance novels). He grabs her still gloved hand, and she pulls her hand away. Her glove comes off, and he discovers she’s married. Despite this
wee hiccup, they arrange to meet again at a prearranged date on Hanover Street (cue Darlin Husband calling title drop, as he does).
Then after some plane dominated scenes for you aviation fanatics, it’s the day of their date. She doesn’t turn up, so he chain-smokes… then about 10 cigarettes later, she eventually turns up. They embrace longingly, then go for a drive and have tea (and probably coffee) in a twee English tea room in the country. This is naturally followed by soft-focus sex and lots of close-ups of their hands be it holding each other’s hand or the sheets or both at the same time.
She still doesn’t tell him her name, so he calls her Fred and tells her he’s in love with her. As this romance develops, this means silly montages with Fred – sorry, Margaret – in yellow sou’westers and raincoats like the baddie in Home for the Holidays (1972) and David doffing jaunty caps as they frolic in the fields and in the rain.
Their romance is intercut with a number of war-themed scenes of David at mission briefings, where we discover that he is a bit of a smart arse at work, hates and challenges authority and can be pretty reckless in aeroplane and bombing related scenes.
There is more aviation themed scenes as he and his Air Force buddies – Cimino (Richard Masur) drop bombs on targets. David’s daredevil, no cares attitude naturally all changes on falling in love with Margaret, as he now has as the trailer as he now has “something to live for”. Anyway, these scenes include splendid footage – as Imdb HERE states –
North American B-25s Mitchell bomber planes which were flown over to England from the United States of America especially for the production of this movie.
And after getting a bollocking from his superior for this attitude, is told he could go far in his Air Force career.
Simultaneously we also meet Margaret’s wee family, her older (sexier.. sorry Harrison) husband Paul (Christopher Plummer) and their 10-year-old, annoying and very precocious daughter, Sarah (Patsy Kensit). Sarah in some random kid talk tells how a friend calls his parents by their first names and then does just that. I assume this tell-all scene has the aim to tell the audience her parents’ names.
She then after even more precocious kid talk, asks her – instantly loveable Plummer character – dad if he’ll love mummy forever. He replies – in a way only Plummer could, that he’ll love her til;
“I’ll have to put my false teeth in to kiss her.”
Margaret watches them from the doorway, hears all this romantic talk and drops the teapot that she’s holding. But immediately I’m Camp Christopher Plummer’s Paul.
We discover that her apparently not very exciting husband actually works for British Intelligence. Paul is called for a meeting with his superior, Major Trumbo Marty Lynch (Alec McCowen). The Major tells him two of their men have been killed, and the last man stated there is a list of double agents names in a Gestapo’s vault in France.
Paul believes there is a leak in the Intelligence service, and then he trains a man Wells to go to occupied France, break into safes and survive interrogations with Paul roleplaying a Nazi and speaking in fluent German (with subtitles). Wells will then be flown to Lyon, France by an American Forces plane – to outwit the Germans – and a pilot both in disguise as SS officers and then take a copy of the list. (See where this going?).
After a wee dance with some British lovelies at the base (keep your eyes peeled for Sherrie Hewson), David is asked to go on a secret mission. He is asked – with no surprises here – to fly to France and drop off a British Intelligence agent. David agrees out of guilt, as he believes that was partly responsible for a colleague’s death. He’s still seeing Margaret and, they are both proclaiming love like they never felt before. And she’s still superguilty about it. But at least, he now knows her as Margaret and now she is cagey about telling her surname.
Then it’s heartwarming Christmas Eve scenes with Margaret and Paul and their
annoying daughter. Alone with his wife, Paul tells Margaret that he loves her and she tells him she loves him too (cue her biting of bottom lip in bed). He also apologises for not being very exciting and dynamic and I don’t know why put I find him both, especially when compared to David’s tea filled speeches.
Later, Paul phones her as she’s working in the hospital and he tells her again just how much he feels and then he leaves her a wee note. Meanwhile, she’s stood up by David… Paul then – for no apparent reason, but plot convenience – arrives at the American base, as he’s taken Wells place for this mission. Paul meets the pilot who will take him to France, David Halloran. Both men are unaware of their shared love interest… and their plane is then struck by bombs and blown up.
In England, Margaret discovers her British intelligence husband’s plane has been destroyed, and it’s unclear if he and the pilot, David Halloran are alive.. names, missions and more are revealed in the craziest breach of British national security since James Bond told the world he was Bond, James Bond. Meanwhile, unknown to her, David and Paul have parachuted to safety in France as the buddy movie begins…
This film, according to the World War II historian on the couch next to me, aka Darlin Husband was often historically inaccurate in some of its storytelling. Even if you ignore wee foibles such as the absence of sandbags, you will – like we were – shocked at the apparent lack of confidentiality from Major Trumbo Marty Lynch. He literally sits Margaret down – over a cup of tea (naturally) – and mansplains the whole of Paul and David’s “secret” missions… and this scene tenuously links this romantic story to the Plummer and Ford buddy movie.
The buddy action and adventure movie totally change the tone and plot. It’s as manly as Where Eagles Dare (1968) with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, in the older British character with gravitas and the young American action star roles but without the mutual love interest. And sadly there are a few unintentional comic moments in really bad action scenes.
As Paul and David have to work together in getting to those all-important papers, it has the older eloquent Brit, Plummer and young American action hero Harrison Ford replacing Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood respectively. Naturally, these men bond and have many shared suspense ridden action and adventure experiences before they have time to talk about love…
Ford’s character reminded Darlin Husband of Hans Solo, in a number of similar-looking scenes to Star Wars where he was briefed on missions, seen as a roguish smart arse and flew with William Hootkins. Hootkins appears as a Star Wars A New Hope pilot and also is a pilot in this film. He was also in Indiana Jones, but that is irrelevant.
Lesley Ann Down inevitably shone in those romantic scenes and obviously brought out the romantic in David’s character. Even when she talked about being able to milk a cow and had even more discussions about tea.
Plummer was convincing in all his scenes as a genuinely nice bloke and husband, mostly competent in his Intelligence job, and fluent in French and German. I really liked his character, but felt it was sad he felt he had to apologise to his wife – and later David – when he seemed anything but boring. As it was pretty obvious he had an exciting job and was a nice guy.
I adored Plummer’s scenes with Ford and their on-screen scenes where they bonded. This film them reminding me of Clark Gable and Gig Young as they bonded over Doris Day as Young made a hangover cure in Teacher’s Pet (1968). Paul says this after calling David, a hero…
“You are one, you can’t help it. When the boy falls through the ice…you save him. I’m the one who gives you my coat to wrap him in. When it’s all over, you’re in the paper, saying it was really nothing. And I have a wet coat.”
The buddy movie started convincingly then sadly slowly turned more, and more implausible despite those actors’ earnest performances. This proved this film would have been better had it stuck to and developed the one relationship be it the bromance or romance and the other had more summarised scenes.
As it was the action in this buddy story, lurched from one scene to the next, with my suspense at a minimum and there was badly stifled cynicism from my viewer partner. But this film did lead to a surprising ending… but on the bright side, the film however is a favourite from aviation enthusiasts and these scenes are stunningly recreated.
The film’s overall premise also appears to have confused critics as after writing this article I noted that Wikipedia HERE added this quote from Variety, that it was
“reasonably effective as a war film with a love story background. Unfortunately it’s meant to be a love story set against a war background.”
But should this script ever be developed as two films, with one plotline given centre stage I’ve already got my taglines ready for the film poster.. with “Think of them when you drink tea…” had the love story taken precedence. Or as Darlin Husband nattily titled Paul’s storyline “A Plummer character tries to find a leak”.
But it is as it is, and I did love it in spite of it all and would heartily recommend it with the tagline which was actually used, as listed in five options on IMDB HERE for this against all odds movie.
The fateful entanglements of two men in love with the same woman.
Weeper Rating: 😦😦 😦😦 😦😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Aviation Blogathon 2022, No 13
This was added to Taking Up Room’s The Aviation Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Harrison Ford in Star Wars, Blade Runner: The Final Cut and Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (spoilers). Lesley Anne Down is mentioned in A Doctor For All Seasons (2021) by Dr John Gayner and also starred in Murder is Easy and Dallas. Richard Masur starred in Heartburn. William Hootkins starred in Star Wars, The Lady Vanishes and White Nights. Christopher Plummer starred in his Remembrance post HERE, The Sound of Music HERE, his “singing” HERE and the house (and film) HERE, Somewhere in Time reviews if you CLICK HERE for the Spoiler filled post or HERE is spoiler-free. And also in Starcrash, Dreamscape, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Murder by Decree and in The Lake House. And finally HERE and HERE for International Velvet.