One of the delights of DVD - even more than video - is that its insatiable desire for fresh product sees the resurrection of swathes of unloved would-be blockbusters that no self-respecting cinematheque would ever include in any retrospective and which would otherwise be left to rot in time-compressed panned-and-scanned graveyard slots on network TV just before the infomercials start. These aren't the forgotten or under-appreciated masterpieces awaiting rediscovery, but rather the misjudged, the misbegotten or the just plain mistimed, films before or after their time that never found their audience and, until the advent of DVD, would never have been given the chance.
Hanover Street fits into all those categories at once. Intended both as a throwback to 1940s tearjerkers and an epic Summer event movie that would launch Harrison Ford to stardom (something that would still be another two years and a bullwhip away), it proved a major box-office failure and a source of much critical derision - not quite the Battlefield: Earth of its day, but close. It's easy to understand why, but, dammit, it is fun. Maybe not always in the ways its makers intended, but fun nonetheless.
Ford is the bomber pilot with nerves of steel and no fear of death or heavy anti-aircraft fire - or at least until he falls in love with nice English girl Lesley Anne Down and starts to scrub missions because the engine never sounds quite right as he finds something to live for. To prove to himself and the various whisperers at the airbase that he's still got what it takes, he volunteers himself and his crew (including John Ratzenberger who, pre-Cheers, must have starred in almost every single US movie made in the UK from Star Wars to The B**ch) for a top secret mission over occupied territory. Naturally, it goes wrong and he finds himself behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied territory with a British secret agent (Christopher Plummer) out to prove his courage and show himself worthy of his wife's love by stealing vital documents from the local Gestapo headquarters. Yes, you know exactly what's coming next, but that's part of the fun of this unashamedly romantic throwback to World War Two morale-boosters: the Germans are dastardly, the Brits quietly heroic, the Yanks brash but decent sorts underneath it all, the French resistance irresistible and all the clichés are played straight as if freshly minted.
Ford and Down were last-minute replacements when Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold dropped out of the picture. At the time, Ford admitted that he only took the role (his first lead) because he had never kissed a woman onscreen, which is as good an excuse as any. In the process he started a career trend of romantic flops and underachievers (Regarding Henry, Random Hearts, Sabrina, Six Days, Seven Nights), but hokey as this is - and it definitely is - this is by far the most entertaining. There's no shortage of cringingly bad dialogue ("Think of me when you drink tea") while an infant Patsy Kensit's deeply annoying turn as Plummer and Down's sugar-sweet oh-so-perfect daughter makes Shirley Temple look like a chainsaw-wielding drug-crazed Christina Ricci and will have you cursing the poor aim of the Luftwaffe. Plummer's unutterably decent cuckolded husband also seems stuck in post-transformation Captain Von Trapp mode - you keep on expecting him to thank Down for bringing music back into his home. Yet much of the humour is intentional, Plummer has a great speech about always being the guy who gives his coat to the drowning man that someone else has rescued and, while it's not exactly hardcore gritty realism, in an age of CGI effects it's refreshing to see a film that literally rebuilds part of WW2 London (even if it does plant a non-existent tube station in Hanover Street) just to blow it all up and in which the bombers are still all real vintage aircraft rather than pixels. Now that it's firmly in the past as an old movie, what was anachronistic in 1979 almost has exactly the kind of charm it failed to weave on cinema audiences all those years ago. And hey, it's a lot more fun than Pearl Harbor.
Although on his audio commentary writer-director Peter Hyams acknowledges the influence of Joseph Heller's novel, Richard Masur's dialogue isn't so much inspired by Catch-22 as lifted from it verbatim. Still, since Mike Nichols didn't use much of it in his poe-faced movie version, and since Masur has such fun with it, you can forgive them the conceit. The film even shares the same cinematographer, David Watkin, though unfortunately it's from that period in late-seventies mainstream cinema when cinematography was both soft and dominated by Earth tones, so the film never looks quite as rich as it could, and this is reflected in the 2.35:1 transfer.
Sadly, Columbia have missed a trick by not including an isolated score track - a particular disappointment because John Barry has famously little regard for his lush and unashamedly romantic score and has always resisted moves to include a suite on any of his own compilations (a 5-minute suite conducted by Nic Raine is included on Silva Screen's The Classic John Barry). No trailer either.