• YEAR: 1985
  • DIRECTOR: Peter Weir
  • KEY ACTORS: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis
  • IMDB SCORE: 7.4

SEX SCORE: 3.5/5

❌ I’ve made a decision to fail all movies where I have to think about the fine details of the Bechdel Test to determine if it has passed. This is such a low bar that unless it’s a clear pass, it’s going to fail. So this fails the Bechdel Test. There are only two named female characters who have only one verbal exchange. It isn’t explicitly about a man but it does mention a man and, damn, it is not good enough!
✔️ But it is definitely rewatchable! Intense, entertaining and surprisingly excellent.
✔️ And yes, I would fuck the cast. Absolutely. Definitely. Yes.
❓The fantasies question is difficult. Because the fantasies that it did inspire are so vague – letting someone watch you, desiring something you can’t have – that I’m not sure they can really be credited to this movie. Half a point!
✔️And this is definitely sex positive. Consensual, beautiful and hot!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Amazon Prime (rent £2.49, buy £3.99), YouTube (from £2.49). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

This is the third movie in my Movie Stars series but I am already concerned that I have peaked too soon with the superlatives. In the very first of the series, I described Tom Cruise as the ultimate movie star and while I stand by that definition in isolation, what does that make the subject of today’s film? Surely Harrison Ford is the ultimate movie star!! The dictionary definition, the ideal version.

A smiling and hot Harrison Ford, wearing a suit and sunglasses

It’s possible that I feel that way because Ford has been a defining part of my movie watching career and it is likely that I have been in love with him for my entire life. What a truly beautiful man. (Which is why I’m going to flood the early part of this review with a series of hot photos of him from the 70s and 80s. They are my gift to you.)

But despite this long standing love, I never think to include Ford in lists of my early crushes – Tom Cruise and Leo DiCaprio usually take that crown – but I think that’s because I was simply in love with Harrison Ford in the background the whole time. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the first grown up movie that I remember seeing, hiding behind a sofa, and I wanted to travel the universe with Han Solo, a rebel and outlaw with the same appeal as Robin Hood. I never developed a crush on him because he had always been there.

A famous image of Harrison Ford in a blue blazer, brown shirt and tan sunglasses, looking like the sexiest man alive

I also wonder if I don’t remember Ford when listing crushes because he’s always been…grown up. Undoubtedly the handsomest man in the world for decades at a time but still grown up. Adult. Not quite teenage crush material as he was always definitely older and more mature than me, no matter his actual age in the movie I’m watching.

Because Ford is almost as famous for playing husbands or fathers as he is for playing heroic or romantic leads. Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises aside, when I think of Ford’s best movies, I think of Air Force One. I think of The Fugitive and Patriot Games – all movies where his role as loving husband and father is crucial to the plot. And after these, we’re into the phase of Ford’s career when he is definitely an old man – Morning Glory and Cowboys vs Aliens etc. Even his romantic roles lean into the idea that he is old and settled. Ford is the dull and workaholic older brother in Sabrina and the grizzled and grumpy pilot in Six Days, Seven Nights. It’s genuinely fascinating that a man with such onscreen charisma and such beauty had a career like this! 

Born in 1942, Harrison Ford had been working in the background in Hollywood for several years before his career finally took off, and it was almost too long! The apocryphal story of him working on the Star Wars set as a carpenter before being cast is, sadly, not true but it is true that he had essentially given up on acting by the early 70s as he wasn’t happy with the roles he was offered and really was working as a professional carpenter instead. According to Wikipedia, his carpentry clients included writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, and they became friends, introducing him to casting director Fred Roos who then recommended him to George Lucas and, well, the rest is history! It really is all about who you know…

An image of Harrison Ford likely from an Indiana Jones movie, white shirt open and smiling

After a breakthrough role in Lucas’s American Graffiti in 1973, the size of Ford’s roles increased through the 1970s until 1977’s Star Wars launched him into the stratosphere. Bill Simmonds on The Rewatchables podcast places a lot of value in an actor’s run – the number of successful films in a row or within a certain time period – and Ford has a run to die for. In the twenty years from 1977 to 1997, Ford made about 24 movies, half of which reached the top ten in the box office for that year and six were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Just look at this:

  • 1977 – Star Wars
  • 1978 – Force 10 from Navarone
  • 1979 – Apocalypse Now
  • 1980 – Empire Strikes Back
  • 1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 1982 – Blade Runner
  • 1983 – Return of the Jedi
  • 1984 – Temple of Doom
  • 1985 – Witness
  • 1986 – Mosquito Coast
  • 1988 – Working Girl
  • 1989 – Last Crusade
  • 1990 – Presumed Innocent
  • 1992 – Patriot Games
  • 1993 – The Fugitive
  • 1994 – Clear and Present Danger
  • 1995 – Sabrina
  • 1997 – Air Force One

Fucking hell, THAT is a career! So much so that I don’t care that he hasn’t really done much of note since the highs that we saw in the late 80s/early 90s. He’s been described as one of Hollywood’s most private actors and I really think he’s earned it! 

But as I alluded to above, Ford didn’t really lean in to the possibility of being a sex symbol in any of these movies. Hero, absolutely. Romantic lead, maybe. But sex symbol? Not so much. Did Ford ever have a proper sex scene? I certainly couldn’t think of any! When thinking of his movies, the sex was always very PG – implied but cut away before anything actually happened beyond passionate kissing. I remember a worryingly non-consensual pre-sex scene in Blade Runner that has not aged well and sex is a key plot point in Last Crusade, but I don’t think he ever actually had sex on screen.

Realising this has made me look again at how I judge and define movie stars. Because I am in no doubt that Harrison Ford fucks. In my mind at least, he absolutely fucks! I remember squeaking with glee when I discovered that Carrie Fisher had had an affair with Ford during the filming of Star Wars, because who wouldn’t want to fuck Han Solo-era Ford?! (Although I should add that I don’t think Ford comes out well from the revelation of this affair – she was 19 and describes herself as ‘very infatuated’ with him, and he was married, 14 years older, and clearly not as keen…). But despite never seeing him in a sex scene, I do consider Ford to be one of the sexiest movie stars ever. Not just beautiful, sexy

A photo of a young Harrison Ford, picking up a glass from a draining rack and looking back over his shoulder, and yet managing to look like the sexiest man alive

Obviously, I know that actors are literally actors and nothing that they do on screen says anything about who they are in reality or what they like and want in real life, but I would be lying if I said that what is on screen doesn’t influence how I think of them. I know that Sharon Stone, say, isn’t necessarily as kinky as her character in Basic Instinct and Willem Dafoe may not have the Big Dick energy in real life that oozes off screen in Body of Evidence, but I definitely assume that they fuck, in whatever way that they want and enjoy, and I don’t know that I make those assumptions about actors who haven’t been in movies like this nearly so often. 

Does this mean that I’m transferring my fantasies onto a man who seems to have gone out of his way to avoid sex on screen, which I’m not sure is a good thing, or is it simply a testament to his physicality and charisma that he can be fucking sexy without doing, well, anything?!

A black and white image of a bearded Harrison Ford, looking hot as he stares straight at the camera

And this is important because, while I have no idea if Ford has these particular concerns, I do strongly believe that no actor should feel obliged to perform sex scenes if they don’t want to so I love love LOVE that Ford is so hot and SO sexy without having to cross that line. Was it a deliberate decision or simply a consequence of the type of wholesome action movies that he has perfected? Who knows and frankly I don’t care. Harrison Ford fucks.

Don’t believe me? Watch Witness.

My word, Witness is a sexy movie! There’s no sex and only one kiss but, fucking hell, this is a hot and erotic movie. In exactly the reverse of some of the bad erotic thrillers I’ve reviewed recently (sorry Body of Evidence), Witness doesn’t show you anything but makes you feel everything. Ford has never been so hot and the chemistry between him and Kelly McGillis is so electric that it’ll burn your eyebrows off.

Book interviewing Samuel, the young Amish boy, in Witness

Witness is also one of those movies that I’d love to have been in the pitch meeting as I would love to have seen someone suggest sending Harrison Ford to join an Amish community because it is such a bizarre concept! Ford plays a homicide detective in Philadelphia, John Book, who interviews a young Amish boy called Samuel who has witnessed a murder. Unfortunately, the murderer turns out to be a crooked cop (Danny Glover) and so none of them are safe. Book flees with Samuel and his mother, Rachel (McGillis), back to their home, hiding within the Amish community where, conveniently, their avoidance of modern technology means that the cops can’t find him. He has to learn their ways, she gets to experience some modernity. It’s explosive and wonderful and wholesome and truly erotic. I love it.

Before I get into this movie properly, there is one casting choice that I have to acknowledge as it almost, almost, ruins the movie. Alexander Godunov plays Daniel, the Amish man who is clearly positioned as Rachel’s potential next husband after she is widowed. I think we’re supposed to be wary of him as a man with desires for Rachel that she doesn’t share and as Book’s rival, but I spent much of my first viewing of this film wondering why I found him so creepy and was constantly expecting him to explode with fury. He was unsettling rather than simply a concerned and kindly neighbour. There was something familiar about his intense and somewhat intimidating stare…and then I realised that he had played Karl in Die Hard! I talked about platonic ideal characters in my Body of Evidence post and he is so absolutely Karl that I can’t take him seriously as a pacifist!

An image from Witness of Alexander Godunov and Kelly McGillis

Anyway, Karl’s potential violence aside, I feel that Witness does portray the Amish relatively sympathetically. The Amish are a self-sufficient, pacifist, rural Christian community that choose to separate themselves from modern life, shunning technology and wearing plain and simple clothes to avoid vanity. They are a bit of a curiosity in the modern world, and not always in a good way. I remember a reality TV show when I was at university about Amish teenagers dumped into the excesses of LA, which, with retrospect, was very exploitative – expecting them to fall apart and watching them for laughs. But Witness doesn’t hold back from showing how intrusive and unpleasant the ‘tourists’ can be and how well the Amish live in their simplicity. Their community spirit is celebrated, their skills and abilities are valued, and their moral stance is given space in a way that approaches preaching but isn’t excessive. While not always in line with our modern sensibilities, their opinions do start to look more reasonable compared to the gun happy cops!

Kelly McGillis in Witness, dressed in simple Amish clothes and holding up Book's gun in disgust

But more importantly for a love story, setting the movie in this old-fashioned and simple community allows Witness to explore and experience the best of both ‘worlds.’ This isn’t a period drama – it has all the thrills and twists of a modern police drama – but there is still the opportunity for candle lit scenes, for fire lit baths, for all the soft romantic lighting you could ever want. Rachel can mop Book’s brow when he is feverish and he can help raise a barn, showing off the strength of his arm. And sweat on his brow. And that he is skilful at practical tasks and good at using his hands, with a tongue-in-cheek reference to his past as a carpenter. Honestly, it’s like they’re ticking off a list of things that I find hot…

An image from Witness of the Amish community raising a barn

Witness is such an incredible love story because, for both of them, this is all brand new. Sure, they’ve been in love before but only with people from within their own communities. They’ve not had the chance to be themselves in a way that is entirely new to the other person. Nothing about them or what is important to them is known or expected, and so they get to explore their shared ground together.

As an example, my absolute favourite scene is the one where Rachel is helping Book mend his car one night. The barn is lit by the headlights and he manages to get the radio to work, playing Sam Cooke’s What a Wonderful World, and they dance. Ford has never, never, looked as attractive as he is when he is dancing and smiling here, carefully leading her through spins and turns, holding her close at times and then pulling back when she is looking overwhelmed. It is obvious that they can both feel the connection between them when they dance, both want to do more than just dance. But Book doesn’t take it too far. Unlike later scenes when she has clearly made her choice and is more obvious with her desire, Rachel is still hesitating and so he doesn’t push it. He doesn’t make a big deal about it but he moves slightly further away, and they carry on dancing. If I wasn’t in love with him before, I definitely am now!

For me, Witness is a great example of how sticking to boundaries and understanding consent can be just fabulously erotic. Book definitely wants to fuck Rachel from the moment he really sees her but he can’t be certain that she wants him. Moreover, they are so different that he can’t trust the ‘signs’ in the same way that he might with a woman from Philadelphia, from the modern world. I may be judging Book too harshly but I’d imagine that, previously, he’d been the type of guy to kiss first and ask questions later but here, he can’t simply assume that she wants to be touched and he understands the consequences to her if he gets it wrong, so he has to be cautious. He has to respect her boundaries and let her take the lead. Frankly, her Amish background simply exaggerates and makes a focus of boundaries that everyone should respect until they know otherwise – don’t assume consent, don’t touch without asking etc – but it is a very effective device.

Which is why I defy you to find a scene as intensely erotic as the one when Book watches Rachel bathing. There is obviously not going to be any actual sex (it’s about the Amish and it stars Harrison Ford), but it really, really works. Without words, it is both consensual and within bounds that they are both comfortable with, and so there’s no ambiguity about how hot the experience is. In it, Rachel sees Book watching her outside as she walks to the bathroom and they make eye-contact (oh, the power of eye contact!) making it clear that she knows he might follow. She then washes herself with a sponge, with the camera following the water pooling across her feet and arms as she does so until she sees him watching her. She turns, topless – the first and only explicit shot of the movie – and just stands to let him see her. Of course, he looks away…but then he looks back and she is still holding his gaze, still standing there for him to see. 

God, I know that feeling! The physical gut punch of desire when you look away from someone you like and they’re still staring at you when you look back. What a powerful way to show that she wants him; what a powerful way to allow her, a woman from this famously passive and submissive culture, to show him her sexuality and her autonomy. She isn’t shy or embarrassed. She isn’t ashamed. It’s meltingly hot!

I was interested in one review that claimed that Book’s presence stirs a longing in her that ‘she’s kept suppressed all her life, due to her unconventional upbringing and the staunch religious views’ of the Amish, because I didn’t get that impression at all. Of course, Rachel’s choices are defined by her upbringing and background, but I didn’t feel like her sexuality was suppressed or that these sexual feelings were a surprise to her. She knows her body, she knows desire, and she is clearly not afraid of it. It’s so refreshing!

Because Rachel also takes the lead in their kiss. She knows what she wants! A frenetic and passionate kiss that, appropriately for this film, is shot in a way that feels like it wasn’t meant for the audience to see. It’s not quite in focus, not quite shot in the centre of the screen as if the rapidly-moving camera has caught something secret. It’s joyful but it’s their joy and that makes it even more glorious.

The kiss from Witness

This is supposed to be a review about Harrison Ford so it is fitting that John Book is literally the perfect role for Ford, and it is fitting that Witness gave him his only Oscar nomination. Honestly, he deserves the nomination for nothing but the look on his face as he watches Rachel! But more, this is the archetypal Ford role: it ‘allows him to play the tough guy we know and love but also someone who is genuinely good and kind, someone we really care about and root for.’ YES!

After this, sadly, reality has to force its way between them and, as you can imagine with any movie about American police, Witness ends with a shoot-out. As a thriller, this is also pretty good! The good guys win and the bad guys are either shot and arrested (presumably by good police). And then Book leaves.

Harrison Ford in Witness, looking dirty with his shirt open, holding a shotgun

I’ve been a bit torn about how I’d want Witness to end. Should Book have stayed and joined the Amish? Or should Rachel and Samuel have left with him, no doubt being shunned and having to leave her entire family and community permanently behind? Because there can’t really be a middle ground. It’s a cliche but they are simply too different, so it is much more realistic that he has to go and she has to stay but, damn, the missed potential for them is heartbreaking!

I’ll finish my review with Roger Ebert’s word as, in two sentences, he sums up this beautiful film in a way that would take me several paragraphs. He says that Witness is ‘a movie about the choices we make in life and the choices that other people make for us…It’s about two independent, complicated people who begin to love each other because they have shared danger, they work well together, they respect each other – and because their physical attraction for each other is so strong it almost becomes another character in the movie.’  

*swoon forever…*

Harrison Ford in Witness, looking like the sexiest woman alive

NEXT TIME… The Power of the Dog The Worst Person in the World

Copyright All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.