In "Hanover Street," Harrison Ford, an American B-25 pilot stationed in England, and Lesley-Anne Down, a British Red Cross volunteer, meet by chance in 1943 and plunge into one of the silliest affairs ever depicted in a public place.
Director Peter Hyams introduces them in the worst "meeting cute" sequences since Robert De Niro tried to pick up Liza Minnelli in "New York, New York." Ford and Down compete at cutting into a long bus queue. When she fakes labor pains, he resorts to a phony limp.
Over tea, Ford asks her probing questions: "Who are you? What are you?" Although Down coyly refuses to divulge her identity, she gives him a sizzling insight into her mentality: "I work in a hospital. I tell a lot of young men that they'll be all right. Then they die. Oh, God, I want it to end."
Undaunted by the thought that he may have hustled an incompetent angel of mercy, the lovesick Yank promises, "I'll end the war for you." Changing the subject, she says, "Tell me about America." Changing it again, he replies, "I think you're lovely."
Hyams seems incapable of inventing characters who don't express themselves in glib idiocies. It's his idiom, after all, and he assigns it to everyone regardless of age, class, sex or nationality.
After barely introducing the lovers, and making a botch of it into the bargain, Hyams overcompensates by unleashing a bombing raid on Hanover Street. The giant set blazes like Atlanta in "Gone With the Wind," Ford retrieves a cringing Down from the holocaust, and they embrace in what the filmmaker obviously considers a Big Reunion Scene. Didn't anyone realize it was trifle early?
Down turns out to be the straying wife of a British Intelligence instructor, played by Christopher Plummer. Suspecting his beloved's alienation (she's been dropping the teapot at the slightest of remarks), he decides to prove that he's more than a cozy old house slipper by going on one of his own secret missions to Occupied France. Who should get the job of flying him by night but Skipper Ford?And who should end up bailing out together but husband and lover?
Back in England, Ford's character had to put up with his new romance's bedroom prattle, always humiliating enough to drive a sane man straight back to combat ("I can't stop, you know. No matter how much I try. It must be wrong to love someone this urgently"). Behind enemy lines he must cope with the apparent lack of field experience on the part of his new companion. Plummer's scheme for penetrating Gestapo headquarters in Lyon plays like a sloppy episode from "Hogan's Heroes."
Although Ford and Plummer blow their covers, the latter still insists on photographing the secret document he was after. Finally, Hyams totally fudges a cliffhanging situation in which Ford supposedly pulls Plummer to safety while both are dangling over an abyss. We never see how this spectacular rescue is actually performed.
After pulling Plummerhs chestnuts out of the fire, Ford gallantly bows of the romantic picture. Heaven knows it would be a shame to breakup such a sublimely loony notion of A Perfect British Marriage. Ford tells Down, "Think of me when you drink tea," and heads for Hanover Street again, presumably hoping to pick up a less troublesome Englishwoman the next time around.
Only cinematographer David Watkin and production designer Philip Harrison, securely absorbed in pictorial period recreations, come out of this abortive romantic mission with anything resembling professional dignity.