Shortly after “Star Wars” made him one of the world’s most recognizable stars, Ford appeared in the sequel to the 1961 classic “The Guns of Navarone.” A throwback to old-fashioned serial adventures, the film follows a ragtag group of military commandos trapped behind enemy lines during World War II. The operation is led by British Intelligence Major Keith Mallory (Robert Shaw), and Ford joins the team as the American Lt. Col. Mike Barnsby.
The group is in frequent danger, but director Guy Hamilton keeps things light with comedic banter between the men. As one of the few Americans in the group, Barnsby is often called out for his non-traditional strategies. Ford provides some blunt humor as he grows frustrated with the precision of the British soldiers, and seeing the trust grow between Barnsby and his colleagues adds emotional stakes to the climactic final action sequence. Ford’s physicality makes the military combat sequences realistic despite the breezy tone.
Given that George Lucas was inspired by the same World War II serials that influenced “Force 10 From Navarone,” fans of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” will want to check out this underrated film.
Ford shed his action star persona, but not his charisma, for one of the best rom-coms of the ’80s. Mike Nichols’s “Working Girl” follows overachieving secretary Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) as she attempts to launch a business merger, only to have her credit denied by shrewd employer Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). Ford’s character, Jack Trainer, is initially skeptical of Tess’s claims, but after hearing her side of the story decides to help her hatch a plan to achieve justice.
Trainer’s initial cynicism develops into curiosity as he grows excited by Tess’s idea, and as the two work together romance blossoms. Ford uses the contrast between Trainer’s professional expertise and personal awkwardness to comedic effect; while Trainer can easily rattle off complex business terminology, he’s unable to find the right words to admit his feelings to Tess. He’s equally matched by Griffith; the two do a great job comedically passing off their shared attraction as a purely occupational arrangement.
“Working Girl” doesn’t negate the challenges women face in a male-oriented business, either, and leaves some story threads dangling at the end. The soft kindness that Ford brings to Trainer feels more impactful as a result.
While the first Jack Ryan film, “The Hunt for Red October,” is a classic, the franchise took a hit when Ford took over the role from Alec Baldwin in “Patriot Games.” The second Ryan film lacked the intelligence that elevated its predecessor. Thankfully, Ford got another shot with “Clear and Present Danger,” which challenges Ryan’s patriotism after he discovers that the U.S. government is covertly involved in the Columbian drug war.
Ford explores Ryan’s idealism as he realizes that those leading the government don’t share his dedication to doing the right thing. Unlike Baldwin, who depicted Ryan as a novice, Ford plays Tom Clancy’s best-known character as an experienced CIA agent, one who is worldly enough to know the price of federal irresponsibility. Although they spend many scenes on opposite sides of a phone, Ford develops an interesting relationship between Ryan and Willem Dafoe’s John Clark as they work together to crack the conspiracy. The final scene, in which Ryan interrogates the President, allows Ford to expel the anger that’s built up as Ryan witnesses the violence overseas.
“Clear and Present Danger” achieves the mix of clever problem solving and riveting action that has made Tom Clancy’s novels so beloved, and Ford perfectly embodies the veteran intelligence officer. The grounded approach of “Clear and Present Danger” makes Harrison Ford the definitive Jack Ryan.
“Presumed Innocent” features one of Ford’s most complex roles. In the film, he plays a criminal prosecutor named Rusty Sabich, a leading attorney accused of murdering his mistress, Carolyn (Greta Scacchi). Circumstantial evidence indicates that Rusty is guilty, and rival lawyers pounce on his vulnerability, although the extent of Rusty’s involvement with the crime isn’t fully revealed until the jaw-dropping final scene.
Director Alan J. Pakula reveals details about Rusty gradually; the affair between Rusty and Carolyn is only one secret of many that Rusty’s wife Barbra (Bonnie Bedelia) isn’t privy to. For his part, Ford’s brilliant performance ensures that viewer doesn’t know if Rusty is guilty or innocent. Rusty isn’t inherently threatening, and flashbacks reveal his genuine affection for Carolyn, but he’s so well-versed in the legal process that he could feasibly conceive of a murder that would fool his experienced colleagues.
However, while Rusty knows enough courtroom conduct to appear unflustered when faced with inflammatory questions, his insecurity grows as his allies abandon him. The intimate character work from Ford and the rest of the cast elevates “Presumed Innocent” above more simple courtroom dramas.
“American Graffiti” is a time capsule, not only as a sample of ’70s independent filmmaking and a representation of ’60s teen culture, but as a very different stage in the careers of both writer-director George Lucas and Harrison Ford. Before “Star Wars” dominated both of their careers, Lucas showed that he could craft realistic characters, drawing on an adolescence spent cruising in cars and blasting rock and roll to write this coming-of-age film. Ford wasn’t a household name yet, and didn’t expect to become a movie star, so his eccentric comedic performance in the film serves as a stark contrast to where his career eventually headed.
In “American Graffiti,” which follows a group of close friends on their last night together, Ford pops up as loudmouth hooligan Bob Falfa. Falfa challenges John (Paul Le Mat) to a race, drunkenly lambasting him with increasingly ridiculous insults. Falfa’s weirdness gets under John’s skin, and John decides that a decisive defeat is the only way to shut the guy up.
While comically written, Falfa does become more threatening as he stalks John throughout the night. His threats to John’s twelve-year-old passenger, Carol (Mackenize Phillips), are menacing, and they’re essential to show how John becomes empathetic despite his hotheaded nature. Avid Ford fans will definitely want to check out Lucas’ extended cut, which includes Falfa’s a cappella rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening.”
In 1993, Ford stepped into the role of legendary “The Fugitive” protagonist Dr. Richard Kimble and made the classic television character his own. The original series, which debuted in 1963, was a landmark drama known for its extended storylines. Ford’s adaptation condenses the whodunit mystery into a relentless cat-and-mouse thriller.
Tommy Lee Jones may have won an Oscar for his surprisingly sympathetic depiction of Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, but it was Ford who made the doctor wrongfully accused of murdering his wife a relatable action star. Ford never loses the vulnerability he shows when Kimble discovers his wife’s body, and his subsequent imprisonment is tough to watch. Kimble retains his shell-shocked state throughout the film, making his daring attempts at avoiding authorities more exciting.
Ford finds Kimble’s inner strength over the course of his search for the culprit, and he dramatically handles the shift from heartbreak to anger when Kimble realizes that one of his own friends is to blame. The meticulous pacing makes Kimble’s escape from the prison truck and his iconic jump into the waterfall stand out. It’s a great performance; all of these years later, it still feels like Ford was snubbed when he wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award.
There are few character introductions as iconic as Indiana Jones’ iconic first dash through that booby-trapped Peruvian temple. Dr. Henry Jones exemplifies the very best of Ford’s abilities: He’s a vulnerable hero whose nobility limits his fame. Indy never was just an ass-kicking action star. He’s a brilliant professor with an anti-authority streak who outsmarts his opponents just as often as he beats them up.
Ford’s mix of gravitas and humor is integral to making Indiana Jones the star he is. While Ford can pull off physical gags, such as Indy’s quick kill of the haughty swordsman, he’s also more than capable of tackling the more serious romantic moments with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). His physicality seems believable, too, even when he’s brawling with a muscle-bound mechanic outside of an airplane or being dragged through the dirt by a truck. Indy frequently gets his butt kicked; unlike other action heroes, he always seems like a real, regular person.
Ford is just as good in the rest of the series. Although Spielberg was dissatisfied with “Temple of Doom,” Ford played up Indy’s darker side, and the brilliant “The Last Crusade” gave him an excellent onscreen dad in Sean Connery. Ford even managed to maintain his dignity in the disappointing “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” and expectations are high for the upcoming fifth installment from director James Mangold.
This content was originally published here.