In London during the Second World War, Lieutenant David Halloran, an American B-25 bomber pilot with the Eighth Air Force based in England, and Margaret Sellinger an English nurse, meet on Hanover Street in a chance encounter.
The following day, Halloran's squadron is sent to bomb Rouen. The plane's starboard engine is hit, but the fire is put out. Cimino, the bombardier, begs Halloran to let him drop the bombs early and turn back, but Halloran does not care about the danger and orders him to wait until they are over the target, prompting him to angrily exclaim that he hates Halloran.
They meet again two weeks later in a secret assignation on Hanover Street. Although she is married, Sellinger and Halloran rapidly fall in love. She tries to resist, but is drawn to the charismatic American. By contrast her husband Paul Sellinger is, by his own description, suave, pleasant, but fairly dull. A former teacher, he is now a trusted member of British intelligence.
During the next few missions, Halloran orders Cimino to drop the bombs early, as he is scared of death because he now has "a reason to live", much to Hyer, the co-pilot's, anger and disappointment. Weeks later, before take-off, Halloran hears something odd in the engine and turns back, forcing Patman to go in his place. That night, it's revealed that Patman's plane was hit in the bomb bay with the bombs still on the plane, killing all on board, and that if it wasn't for that engine, it would've been Halloran.
Ashamed of his actions, Halloran volunteers for an undercover mission in Nazi-occupied France to deliver a British agent. At the last moment, Sellinger takes the place of the agent, and himself joins the mission. His reasons are initially unclear, but he slowly reveals that he wants to prove himself.
Flying over France, his aircraft is hit, with the crew being killed, except for the sole survivors, Halloran and Sellinger. In occupied France, the two have to work together, especially after the agent injures his ankle. Sellinger's mission is to arrive at the German headquarters in Lyon and, posing as an SS officer, photograph an important document that lists the German double-agents in British intelligence. Halloran agrees to help Sellinger. Making contact with the local French resistance, they disguise themselves as German SS officers and steal the documents. SS troops raise the alarm but the pair manage to escape after a lengthy car chase, and make it back to the same farm where they had received assistance. However, they are betrayed by a collaborator and are forced to flee again, pursued by hundreds of Nazi troops, but successfully make their escape.
In London, Sellinger's wife finds out that Halloran and Sellinger are together and have come back home, with her husband wounded, but alive. Going to visit him in the hospital on Hanover Street, she meets Lieutenant Halloran for the last time. They embrace and kiss, and he tells her that he loves her "enough to let her go", she goes in to see her husband, while he goes out into Hanover Street, where the love story had begun.Harrison Ford as Lt. David Halloran
Lesley-Anne Down as Margaret Sellinger
Christopher Plummer as Paul Sellinger
Alec McCowen as Maj. Trumbo Marty Lynch
Michael Sacks as 2nd Lt. Martin Hyer (Halloran's co-pilot)
Richard Masur as 2nd Lt. Jerry Cimino (Halloran's bombardier/navigator)
John Ratzenberger as Sgt. John Lucas (Halloran's engineer/turret gunner)
Jay Benedict as Cpl. Daniel Giler (Halloran's radio operator/waist gunner)
Eric Stine as Farrell (Halloran's tail gunner)
Patsy Kensit as Sarah Sellinger
Max Wall as Harry Pike
Shane Rimmer as Col. Ronald Bart
Sherrie Hewson as Phyllis
Jeff Hawke as Patman (cameo)
Peter Hyams' career was in a slump after the failure of Peeper (1975). He wrote the script for Telefon but was not able to direct it. He then wrote Hanover Street and said "that was a script that got a lot of attention and people wanted. I was offered an absolute fortune to sell the script but not direct it. I was running out of money and I had a wife and two babies." Hyams said his wife told him that "if you sell that script I'm going to leave you' so he decided not to sell the script.
The success of Capricorn One enabled Hyams to direct Hanover Street.
The film was said to have been inspired by the 1940 film Waterloo Bridge and "other pix of that ilk." Kris Kristofferson was cast as the male lead in the film. He was intrigued by the aerial sequences he had read in the script, as he had served as a helicopter pilot with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army for five years. However, he dropped out of the film. Harrison Ford, in Europe working on Force 10 from Navarone with Robert Shaw, was persuaded to take the lead role. Lesley-Anne Down replaced Sarah Miles, who dropped out after Kristofferson's departure.
Although United States Army Air Forces North American B-25 Mitchell bombers were featured prominently in Hanover Street, the aircraft was a rare sight in England during World War II. The typical bomber in use was the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber. The filmmakers were forced to use the B-25 due to the few B-26 Marauders in existence.
In the film, Margaret Sellinger emerges from a Piccadilly line tube station called "Hanover Street". In reality there was no such station and, since Hanover Street links upper Regent Street and Brook Street; this would not, in any case, match the alignment of the Piccadilly line, unless there were a fictitious spur similar to that which ran from Holborn to Aldwych from 1907 to 1994.
The aerial sequences were mostly filmed at the by then-disused Bovingdon airfield using five North American B-25 Mitchell bombers flown over to England from USA specially for the filming.
Hanover Street benefited at the box office from Harrison Ford's post-Star Wars fame, but received decidedly mixed reviews from critics. Vincent Canby referred to that fame in his review:
"Every now and then a film comes along of such painstaking, overripe foolishness that it breaks through the garbage barrier to become one of those rare movies you rush to see for laughs. What Peter Hyams has achieved with Hanover Street, his new film about a wartime romance set in the London of 1943, is a movie that is almost as funny as Woody Allen's What's Up, Tiger Lily? which, if you remember, was a straight-faced Japanese spy picture that Woody took over and dubbed with a hilariously knuckle-brained English language soundtrack. The clichés were everywhere, but always just slightly out of place and inappropriate. This pretty much describes the unfortunate method of Hanover Street, which looks as if Mr. Hyams had studied every popular romantic drama, from A Farewell to Arms to Love Affair and Love Story, and then, when he left the screening room, had been hit on the head with a brick. ... [Ford's] more of a comic-strip character here than he was in Star Wars, which was a live-action cartoon."
Variety said the film is "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." It also notes: "Down again distinguishes herself in a role that doesn’t seem up to her standards, while Ford back in the pilot’s seat again projects an earnest, if dull, presence. Rest of the cast is under-utilized. John Barry has contributed a score that evokes Douglas Sirk's glossy tearjerkers of the 1950s." Film reviewer Leonard Maltin had a similar critique, calling Hanover Street, "slick, but contrived and unconvincing."
The film has developed a following among film fans and aviation enthusiasts due to the flying sequences.
Patsy Kensit was nominated for, but did not win, the Best Juvenile Actress in a Motion Picture award for 1980 from Young Artists Awards.