Movies of the Week: The Indiana Jones Trilogy (1981 / 1984 / 1989)

Steven Spielberg directs Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Denholm Elliot, John Rhys-Davies, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Sean Connery, Alison Doody and River Phoenix in this action adventure trilogy where a whip cracking archaeologist races around the 1930s globe against the forces of evil to recover magical artefacts.

I’m going to let you peek behind the curtain of doing this blog for five years now. A secret confession. Sometimes I miss a film. Often it is an accident. I watch something like Wish You Were Here and forget to add it to my list to write up. Sometimes my reasoning is more purposeful. I want to write an essay on Last Action Hero, for example… I’m just not ready yet. But what am I gonna do… not watch Last Action Hero for half a decade?! Pffffff! With Raiders, I’ve watched it a few times while committing to review every film I watch. It is a perfect movie. The flawless summer blockbuster. The apex pinnacle of location and studio magic making. An unassailable combination of stunts, practical effects, art direction, cinematography… fucking glorious A-Grade Hollywood tale telling. I LOVE IT!

You don’t want me just writing a 500 point check list of all the eternally brilliant bits Spielberg and Lucas and Ford gifted us during our formative years. And the sequels, while a little looser, hold that unimpeachable quality standard. It truly is the perfect boxset. I’m not gonna bore you by cataloguing 6 jam packed hours of fabulous moments. Not gonna man crush on Ford’s self effacing but rousingly heroic lead turn ad nauseam. Not gonna hum John Williams thumper of a theme tune in your ear.

Below is my solution to blogging about Jones…

Raiders of the Lost Ark – 10/10

Earliest Memory: My Dad was away on a course and my Mum let us stay up late to watch it in our little front room in Hanwell. Way, way past our bedtime late! We had to stay awake through the elongating adverts and the 30 minute interruption of The News At 10 at the midway point. The shot with a shock of lightning illuminating the Well of Souls giant Anubis statue shat me up and the fear has stayed with me. We used to have a shit brown, corduroy settee in that room. I no doubt fell asleep before the ghostly finale on it. I remember watching the sequels on those awful coarse cushions with a Club Orange or Mint Viscount often. When I wouldn’t be caught and told off, I’d clamber over it and bounce around on it pretending to be Indiana dodging traps and Nazis. Probably until I was twelve, when we moved to a bigger house on a nicer street and didn’t need a rough, firm little two seater settee anymore. The new three piece suite was far too precious to treat roughly like Marion’s bar or the boulder chase!

Favourite Moment: Indy fighting Pat Roach’s gigantic German mechanic under a spinning Flying Wing. You could pick any set-piece from the first two films. They all play out the same. Indiana needs to perform a dangerous task. Things escalate wildly out of control but in increments. If he stops for a moment to self- congratulate or breathe a sigh of relief things get a hundred time worse. Ford’s goofy mugging sells these escalations hilariously. Every beat of an Indy action sequence is a riff on that moment when Han Solo chases off a few stormtroopers on the Death Star… only for a battalion to return fire around the corner. This trilogy however contains far more complex tension devices. A small mistake he or a compatriot makes to survive a few steps earlier snowballs into an even bigger threat before the end. Here Indy has to dodge slicing propellers and crushing wheels while punching a man who can’t be knocked out. There is a pistol wielding pilot and a wrench wielding assistant who both pop in and out of play to add bonus threat. Marion enters the machine to blast up some arriving reinforcements but causes a fireball… only to get locked in the cockpit. Then the wing of the unmanned moving plane knocks the lid of a petrol truck off, causing a spill that races towards all our players and the fire. Spielberg’s meticulously storyboarded planning of this sequence mean we know exactly when and how and who any moving part is… it is complex but given to us in such clear and impactful increments, we know exactly what is exacerbating the set piece. It is clean, crisp, masterful direction. Slow when it needs to be nail biting, rushing with triumphant flourish (the score reaches a crescendo) when victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. A diamond of a mini-thriller that could be a self-contained movie in its own right. A minute before Indy and Marion were escaping the impossible tombs of Tannis and a minute later we are chasing a truck on horseback. Any other franchise would kill for just one of these sequences. Raiders has them queued up. All killer, no filler. Any could have made the top spot on a different Easter weekend.

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom – 10/10

Earliest memory: I would have been five years old (younger than when I watched Raiders) and at my grandmother’s house. My sister and all the older cousins were taken to go see Temple of Doom but I was deemed too young for its heart ripping, child slavery fuelled, monkey brains tasting delights! Instead I had to watch telly with my Nan playing my consolation prize, hand me down toy. One of those games where you have to patiently roll five little ball bearings into their holes. It was fucking impossible to get two in simultaneously, let alone five. Every other commercial on telly that afternoon was for Indiana Jones 2!

Favourite Bit: I’m going to start this by saying I’m a Marion Ravenwood Guy all the way. I need a woman who can drink me under the table and knock a mercenary out with a frying pan. Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott is whiny, screechy and causes more problems than she avoids. As a running joke she’s a sexist caricature, a dumb blonde joke. A consistent joke however, that absolutely kills. Indy has it hard enough this adventure what with being poisoned, brainwashed and having the soles of his feet burned off by a runaway mining cart. It is hilarious that the showbiz princess he allows “to tag along” throws away his gun minutes after the front credits roll and gives away their position with every scream. The Five Minutes To Love sequence is so funny. Indy and Willie flirt, then their hubris gets in the way. Even though they both wanna get their fuck on, they argue their way out of a night of passion. The foreplay as argument has the same witty back-and-forth as a screwball romance. Hepburn V Tracy. Bogart V Bacall. Feel the heat and the wit. Willie gives Jones 5 minutes to give up and get in. And then they wait each other out. How frustratedly they wait… Just as times up and he might give in… an assassin appears. Indy is fighting for his life while Willie nags him through the door. “I could’ve been your greatest adventure!” Well Willie, probably not… but it is a tremendously playful, funny, silly highlight. Temple of a Doom is a scrappier film, not as solidly constructed as Raiders but it has more room for crowd pleasing daftness like this sequence or the Busby Berkley credits or the grotesque Pankot Palace banquet. I really appreciate these risky lurches into lunacy, no matter how distasteful and sexist. “You call him, Doctor Jones! DOLL!”

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – 9/10

Earliest Memory: The first one I went to see at the cinema. Though in all honesty I was way more excited about Back to the Future 2 and Ghostbusters 2 coming soon. I remember the brilliant teaser trailer for this. Them showing the production in the desert and Harrison Ford’s trademark fedora keeps coming off during the action thus ruining the take! I don’t love Last Crusade quite as much. The action until we get to the desert feels more subdued and spaced out. We are probably only one big set-piece away from it matching its predecessors though.

Favourite Moment: Minor gripe aside, I adore the iconic final section. Indy trying to solve the deadly puzzles to reach the grail room. I could quote it verbatim. I love the moment of PG-13 body horror when sneaky, slimy turncoat Walter Donovan drinks from the obviously wrong cup and ages a thousand years in 10 seconds. “He choose… poorly.” Fuck yeah, he did old knight dude! The Trilogy has these wonderful bursts of gruesomeness that belong in far more adult films. Practical FX showcases that Craven or Fulci would give their left nuts to be able to afford. Indiana Jones is a franchise that offers family friendly spectacle with a cheeky insert of raw terror. Faces melt as ghosts from the bible swirl, still beating hearts are ripped out, aliens can pop by for a cameo. Anything is possible in the last 10 minutes of a Spielberg / Lucas blockbuster whether you like it or not. “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory!” I also like to think about that poor old crusader who has to go rebuild and reset his booby traps every time someone tries to find the holy grail. Moving the headless bodies, repaving the suspended letter slabs, brushing the dirt and dust off the leap of faith. Hard job, living forever.

Check out my wife Natalie’s Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

One comment

  1. PatrickWhy · April 24

    Great stuff! In my opinion, the greatest trilogy of all time. And rating Crusade lower than Temple? Hot take! Temple of Doom is my favorite. I wrote a piece on my blog about it.

    Like

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