Harrison Ford: A Natural Hero of the Silver Screen

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

There is a scene in Harrison Ford’s recent movie, Cowboys and Aliens, that nicely sums up his legacy as a legendary hero in motion pictures.  Prior to this scene, Ford’s character, Woodrow Dolarhyde, has been shown to be a rather unsavory character.  We see him as a ruthless cattle rancher who mistreats anyone standing in his way.  But now aliens from another planet threaten the world, and to defeat the aliens, Dolarhyde must cooperate with the chief of the Apache Indian tribe.

At first, the chief refuses to work with Dolarhyde.  But an impassioned speech given by Dolarhyde’s adopted Native American son, Nat, turns the tide.  Nat informs the chief of the heroic side of Dolarhyde’s character that we, the audience, haven’t seen.  Nat tells the chief that Dolarhyde saved his life as an infant, raised him, and infused him with love and wisdom.  Dolarhyde, exclaims Nat, is a man of action, integrity, and fearless leadership.

During Nat’s speech the camera zooms in on Harrison Ford’s face.  It is filled with Ford’s trademark emotional intensity.  An inescapable truth is made clear.  Despite appearances, Dolarhyde is the same hero that audiences have come to expect from Harrison Ford’s characters for almost 40 years.  He’s rougher around the edges than usual, but he’s tough as nails and will triumph over any adversity.  At this point in the movie, we pity those poor aliens who may be centuries ahead in technology but have crossed the wrong man in Harrison Ford.

Back in 1977, Ford’s breakthrough movie was Star Wars, in which he played the affable hero Han Solo.  He became a mainstay in the Star Wars sequels, and if one blockbuster movie franchise wasn’t enough, Ford also played the hero in the Indiana Jones movie franchise.  He then carried yet another movie franchise playing Jack Ryan, a CIA intelligence officer, in movies based on Tom Clancy’s spy novels.  Along the way, Ford was the hero in other wildly successful movies such as The Fugitive, Blade Runner, Witness, Air Force One, Sabrina, and Frantic.

Ford welcomed the Cowboys and Aliens role because it provided an opportunity for him to depart from his usual role of the hero with impeccable character.  When he read the script, Ford said, “I began to see an opportunity to play a different kind of character than I’m used to. To enjoy the pleasures of having a character where you don’t have to have anybody like you. He’s the richest man in town. He’s the most powerful man in town. He’s arrogant. He’s contentious. There’s no sign of Mrs. Dolarhyde. She must have fled a long time ago.”

We hope we’re not giving away the movie’s ending by stating that Harrison Ford, a mere 19th century cowboy, crushes the technologically sophisticated aliens in Cowboys and Aliens.  Did you expect anything different?

In our book on heroes, we describe the mental checklist that people use to determine whether someone they encounter is a hero.  For better or for worse, the physical appearance of a person is crucial – is the person tall, rugged, and good-looking?  Is the person charismatic?  Is the person selfless, smart, and courageous?  Does he show remarkable resilience in vanquishing the enemy? On screen and in virtually every one of his movies, Harrison Ford somehow meets every criterion on the mental checklist with almost effortless ease.  He may be the purest hero in the history of Hollywood.

Below is a clip from an interview with Harrison Ford about his role as Woodrow Dolarhyde in Cowboys and Aliens.

7 thoughts on “Harrison Ford: A Natural Hero of the Silver Screen

  1. I love Harrison Ford. 😀 He played one of my all-time favorite heroes: Indiana Jones. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hum the Indy theme to myself. 🙂

    I should point out, though, that Indy was always depicted as a hero with feet of clay (except perhaps in the fourth film). And I don’t just mean the snake phobia. In the first film, it is implied that he dallies with his female students; in the second, his priority is fortune and glory; and in the third he is sorely tempted by the Holy Grail until his dad snaps him out of it. These weaknesses only serve to accentuate his essential nobility. Among my favorite sequences is in Last Crusade is when he fights a battle across three decades for a priceless artifact because “it belongs in a museum.” 🙂

    I haven’t yet seen Cowboys And Aliens but it does interest me, not just because of the cross-genre appeal, but because of Harrison Ford.

  2. Harrison was really convincing in the Frisco Kid movie(also a western).Gene Wilder portrayed a Jewish rabbi traveling west while Ford’s cowboy character became his reluctant guardian(with some very rough edges).Harrison appeared as a bad guy in some early tv westerns, particularly a Gunsmoke episode, which was a takeoff on the movie Shane.

  3. Ford is a legend. I miss his young days 🙂

    Cowboys and Aliens is one of the movies i would love to watch again and again. I still have a clear picture of him when he acted in the 70’s in Star Wars.

    May God bless him 🙂

  4. I agree with you Ford is legend and the movie he did, all are fun to watch. weather a action movie, drama or sci-fi he is a genius actor.

  5. Harrison Ford is an incredible actor and I have loved him in Star Wars ever since I first saw them at a young age. I do not find that his acting makes him a hero, however. I admire him as a successful actor but from this blog I do not see that anything he has done in his personal life has made him truly worthy of being called a hero in my eyes.

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