Time once again to go Fishing in the Discount Bin! I've been working my way through the Indiana Jones franchise, and today we get to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This appears in my notes at October 27, 2013.
Last Crusade has to be my favourite of the Indiana Jones films. The action scenes just seem more plentiful and more refined than Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it's definitely lighter and funnier than Temple of Doom. But probably what makes it so good is Harrison Ford and Sean Connery as Joneses Jr. and Sr. Their banter and exchanges almost make this a bit of a cop buddy movie of sorts.
This came along in 1989...5 years since we last saw Indy in Temple of Doom. Apparently, the original plan with Paramount Studios was for 5 Indy films, but Lucas decided to follow the example of Star Wars and end it as a trilogy. Despite my near-obsession five years earlier with Temple of Doom, Last Crusade didn't register much on my radar in the summer of 1989. Film historians already agree that the summer of 1989 was one of the most overstuffed when it came to event pictures....with Batman, Ghostbusters II and Star Trek V, Last Crusade was actually pretty low on my wish list of films to see that summer. Once, when we were planning a family outing to see a movie, I remember suggesting to see it, the rest of the family going, "Nah," and that was the end of that. I finally did see it some months later, when it was finally on video, and we rented it from the corner store.
And of course, it was awesome.
There's just so much in this film to like. It all starts with the opening sequence, featuring a young Indiana Jones -- played by the late, great, River Phoenix -- doing battle with a group of treasure hunters led by an awfully familiar-looking, fedora-wearing archeologist. While this man is identified in the end credits as "Fedora," apparently earlier drafts of the screenplay identified him as Abner Ravenwood, the archeologist that Indy studied under and was mentioned quite a bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Another trivia bit: Harrison Ford recommended River Phoenix for the part, because he felt Phoenix was quite convincing playing his son in The Mosquito Coast. I know quite a few are dismissive of the opening sequence, because they find it highly unlikely that Indy would have gathered all his defining characteristics in just one day, but again, I like it. It makes it a classic origin story. As the Joker said, "All it takes is one bad day."
We cut 20 years into the future to the Indiana Jones we know and love. Indy is summoned by a millionaire philanthropist named Walter Donovan, who has found an artifact that he believes leads to the final resting place of the Holy Grail...the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper, and was used to contain the blood of Jesus during his crucifixion. Legend says that those who drink from the Holy Grail are granted eternal life. Donovan has put together an expedition to find the Holy Grail, but the expedition's leader has gone missing. Jones reminds Donovan that the true expert of Grail lore is his father, and Donovan says that the missing expedition leader is Indy's father. In that case, Indy can't help but take the case, and he's off to find his missing father.
That's one of the reasons that makes this film a little different from the other Indiana Jones films. The difference is summed up after Indy's done battle with a secret society sworn to protect the Grail. The leader asks Indy why he searches for the Grail, and Indy responds with, "I'm not searching for the Grail, I'm searching for my father." Reading up online, apparently we can think screenwriter Jeffery Boam for that. Feeling that series was lacking in character development, Boam switched the focus from the search for the Grail to the relationship between Indy and his father.
Speaking of, you have to love the scene where Indy first rescues his father from the Nazis. After finding the next clue to the Grail's whereabouts in Venice, Indy sends his friend Marcus ahead to meet up with Sallah and start the hunt for the Grail, while Indy goes to rescue his dad. After sneaking into the room where Henry Jones is locked away, Indy gets his head bashed in with a vase. And out of the shadows steps Henry Jones and simply says, "Junior?"
And of course, that leads to the great gag at the end of the film where we finally learn Indy's true name.
Sallah>> Why do you always call him "Junior?"
Henry>> Because that's his name...Henry Jones Junior
Indy>> I like Indiana.
Henry>> We named the dog Indiana.
Sallah>> (laughing) You are named for the dog?
Indy>> I've got a lot of fond memories of that dog....
But right away, we see the relationship between Henry and Indy and how it's an odd couple of sorts. Indy is the man of action...Henry is the bookish sort. While Indy was out there, searching for these ancient artifacts, Henry always had his nose buried in his research....something that was established very early on in our prologue. And as Jones Sr and Jr go on this adventure, it's interesting to see Indy really trying to reach out and be part of his father's life. I also love the scene on the zeppelin, where Indy laments that they've never had a real conversation. Henry then challenges his son to have one with him. Finally presented with this opportunity, Indy doesn't know what to say...so they go back to talking about work. And Henry seems blind to his son's efforts until, you know, a near-death experience battling Nazis, as these this are usually conducted.
And that's what makes this my favourite of the Indy films. In addition to the more polished action scenes and the humour, but it seems as though Indy has an actual character arc as he's finally able to reconnect with his father. We come for the action, but we stay for the characters. As with real life, it's not the adventure, but those we share it with.