Happy 80th birthday, Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford has played some of the most memorable and iconic characters in the history of cinema. Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Rick Deckard in the Bladerunner films despite making their first screen appearances, decades ago, and still remain audience favorites.

In addition to the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Blade Runner series, Ford has starred in many hugely successful films, such as The Fugitive, Air Force One, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger.

But the downside of superstardom is that some among Ford’s efforts were dwarfed, not because of their lack of eminence, but because of the tendency of audiences and critics to focus on the blockbusters and the iconic characters.

On his 80th birthday,  let’s revisit some of Harrison Ford's underrated films, in no particular order of importance.

Witness (1985)

When a young Amish boy witnesses a murder, the investigating officer (Ford) goes into hiding with the boy and his mother in Amish country. The film is notable for the endearing love story that develops between Ford’s detective and the boy’s widowed mother. This is arguably Ford’s finest acting moment and that earned him his only Academy Award nomination, so far.

The Mosquito Coast (1986)

Ford is enthralling as Allie Fox, the cynical but genius inventor who relocates his family to the jungles of Central America because he is sick of the decadence within the U.S.  Fox is selfish, unpleasant, humorless, and egocentric to the point of madness.  As he goes deeper into the jungle, he begins to lose his sanity.

The film is dark and disturbing, and also a fascinating character study.

It makes one wonder what Ford's career would have been like in the absence of his superstardom.  He would have excelled playing a wider variety of parts that were not necessarily virtuous. 

Frantic (1988)

Ford plays a surgeon on a trip to Paris, whose wife disappears mysteriously.  Ford finds himself dealing with rude French officials, unhelpful American embassy personnel, crooks, smugglers, junkies, and a prostitute with a heart of gold as he frantically attempts to make sense of the maze he is trapped in.  Ford is brilliant as the ordinary man caught in extraordinary circumstances. 

Presumed Innocent (1990)

Based on Scott Turow's bestselling legal thriller, Ford plays Rusty Sabitch, an attorney assigned to investigate the murder of a female colleague with whom Rusty once had a passionate affair.  This was a challenging part, and Ford excels as a murder suspect who puts on a brave face despite suffering an implosion. 

Sabrina (1995)

Sydney Pollack's remake of Billy Wilder's classic from 1955.  Ford plays a mega-corporation boss, Linus Larrabee.  Linus's younger brother David is set to marry the daughter of an important business magnate.  The marriage will lead to a merger that Linus is looking forward to.  When David begins to fall for the family chauffeur's daughter, Sabrina, and places the merge in peril, business-minded brother Linus intervenes to distract Sabrina

Ford is superb as the workaholic business tycoon who is known as the world's only living heart donor.  It earned Ford a Golden Globe nomination.

The Devil’s Own (1997)

An IRA terrorist, Rory Devaney (Brad Pitt), flees from Belfast to the U.S. to procure arms for the conflict in Ireland.  An Irish-American judge gets him a place to live, in the home of an honest beat cop, Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford).  O'Meara is unaware of his guest's past and his mission.  In time, Devaney almost becomes a member of the family until Devaney's secrets begin to unravel.  This is an engrossing drama-thriller with a strong performance by Ford.

What Lies Beneath (2000)

Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer are a married couple whose daughter just moved to college.  In time, Pfeiffer's character, who is often all by herself, becomes convinced that their house is haunted by the ghost of a young woman.  The question is, could this be a manifestation of her loneliness, or could an evil spirit be lurking around?  This is a nice old-fashioned spooky horror-thriller that simmers before it approaches its boiling point.  And yes, the ending will surprise many.  Ford's and Pfeiffer's presence elevates this piece greatly.

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

This is based on a true story set at the height of the Cold War.

A newly launched Soviet nuclear submarine, K-19, suffers a major malfunction in its nuclear reactor as it nears the U.S. coast.  It is now up to Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Ford) to avoid a nuclear disaster. 

Does Vostrikov seek help from the Americans and risk upsetting his Kremlin bosses and being branded a traitor, or does he ignore the malfunction in the reactor, which would give the Americans the impression that it is an act of war by the Soviets?

This is a riveting drama thriller, and Ford is terrific as the stoic Russian submarine captain who is conflicted between his patriotism and the well-being of his crew members.  This is the only time Ford doesn't play an American on screen, apart from perhaps Han Solo.

Extraordinary Measures (2010)

Two sick children suffering from Pompe disease have less than a year to live.  Their father (Brendan Fraser) decides to opt for an unconventional path and seek help from a maverick scientist (Harrison Ford) who may have a cure.  Ford as the irascible, eccentric scientist turns in an excellent performance.  The film is engaging, warm, funny, and uplifting.  It deserved a bigger audience.

42 (2013)

Major League Baseball boss Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) drafts African-American Jackie Robinson as a player, making Robinson the first non-white player to play for Major League Baseball.  This was an important milestone in the civil rights movement.  In 42, Ford doesn't play Rickey; he becomes Rickey.  From the mannerisms to the bushy eyebrows to the tone of speaking and the cigar, Ford captures every aspect of Rickey.  He deserved an Oscar nomination for this one.

Finally, this is Harrison Ford on Conan O'Brien's show, revealing that a studio executive once told him he didn't have what it takes to be a movie star.

Photo credit: YouTube screen grab (cropped).

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