Thursday, April 9, 2020

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Indiana Jones's search for his missing father propels him on a quest to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis do. 

Memorable Quote:
He chose...poorly.  ~Knight

The middle third of the movie beginning in Castle Brunwald and ending with Jones Sr. rousing the seagulls is 35 straight minutes of pure glory. Scenes include:
  • Discovering the Nazis in the castle and finding Jones Sr. 
  • Elsa and Donovan's reveal
  • Escape through the fireplace
  • Motorcycle chase, accompanied by the incomparable Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra
  • Conversation between Junior and Senior in the sidecar by the signpost
  • Going into Berlin (the lion's den) and coming face to face with the FΓΌhrer himself (my favorite scene of all of these)
  • On the Zeppelin
  • Plane chase ending with the seagulls
I don't really have much to say about these scenes individually because I'd say the same thing for each one: iconic...masterful dialogue and script...tremendous action and adventure...legendary soundtrack... amazing acting...memorable quote after memorable quote...suspenseful....humorous. I could go on and on.

Basically, each of these individual scenes is a tour de force in their own right, and each could be the highlight of the movie. But when you combine them all right in a row, it's unreal. 

A large part of why this all works so well is due to the villainous Nazis. As the great Joe Passman said on my podcast, "There's just this special thing about hating Nazis. It's just so great. It's just so wonderfully presented...the disgust and the hatred of Nazis." Additionally, there's the always exciting plot of one man versus an army, so when you take the All-American hero and put him up against the Nazis in their own backyard -- I mean, can you ask for any more in a story?  The answer is yes, by adding the quest for the Holy Grail and the idea that if the Nazis get the grail, the "armies of darkness will march all over the face of the earth," resulting in the highest stakes imaginable. 

I don't know why Brody and Sallah were made to be so stupid. It's good for a few laughs, but I wish Sallah especially was more like his character in Raiders where he was a legitimate wingman to Indy instead of a buffoon. In particular, the part where Indy emasculates him with the "No Camels!" line is hard to watch.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Tom Stoppard was paid $120,000 to re-write dialogue, specifically the lines for Henry and the Henry-Indiana exchange. After this movie's release and subsequent success, he was paid another $1 million as a bonus. In "The Last Crusade: An Oral History," an article published in Empire Magazine in 2006, Spielberg said about the "Junior" and "Senior" conversations: "It was an emotional story, but I didn't want to get sentimental. Their disconnection from each other was the basis for a lot of comedy, and it gave Tom Stoppard, who was uncredited, a lot to write. Tom is pretty much responsible for every line of dialogue."

It's interesting to read about the evolution of the script. It went through many iterations, at one point centered around a haunted mansion and later around an African Monkey King and a garden of immortal peaches. Once it got to Jeffrey Boam (who has screenplay credit), the plot was close to what we're familiar with. But read this great article by editor/producer Mike Fitzgerald about Stoppard's rewrite and see how infinitely better the movie was thanks to Stoppard's uncredited contribution (which was way more than just dialogue). I'm not sure why Stoppard wasn't involved with Crystal Skull -- apparently he was consulted at one point but didn't contribute. Bummer. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The opening 10 minutes is the best opening 10 minutes of a movie that I've ever seen. The idea of using young Indy was brilliant, and it was perfectly, I repeat perfectly, executed.
    • Beautiful setting amidst the red rocks of the American West.
    • The misdirection of seeing someone who's dressed like Indy but isn't Indy, followed by the reveal of Indy as a teenager. 
    • John Williams's magnificent score. 
    • The chase on the train, which is both exciting and important to Indy's origin story, as we see his fear of snakes, use of the whip, and scar on his chin.
    • The masterful performance of River Phoenix. With respect to Sean Patrick Flanery, who is an outstanding and likable actor, Phoenix brings an edge that's more in keeping with Harrison Ford's portrayal -- in fact, Phoenix worked with Ford on The Mosquito Coast and admitted to studying his traits. When he climbs the rope with the cross and turns to deliver a sly smile, it feels like we're watching Ford.
    • The brief interaction with Henry Jones Sr., which sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
    • The passing of the hat. "You lost today, kid. But it doesn't mean you have to like it."  
  • If things had broken right, the college museum could have had the Ark of the Covenant, the Cross of Coronado, and the Holy Grail. Not too shabby. 
  • A little weird how the students filed calmly out of Prof. Jones's class but then swarm him in his office a few minutes later. They're going to be pretty stressed when they realize that he'll be gone for a month. 
  • Julian Glover, the actor who plays Donovan, is British, but you'd never know it from his convincing portrayal of American magnate Walter Donovan. 
  • I can remember as a kid going to my local library looking for books about the Holy Grail after watching this movie. I vaguely remember signing one out, but there were no clues about a knight's tomb or a canyon of the crescent moon. 
  • Irish actress Alison Doody (Elsa) was only 22 when this movie came out (Ford was 46). The age gap isn't as noticeable on screen. 
  • Goof: As Indy makes the hole in the library floor, the giant X no longer appears. Also, the floor doesn't look like it's from the 1100s.
  • Rankings of what I would least like to be stuck in a room with: 1-Bugs, 2-Rats, 3-Snakes. 
  • Despite being in an 800 year-old tomb, Indy can open his eyes underwater and see just fine. 
  • I could do without the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword guys -- seems kind of weird that they'd go around shooting people with machine guns in the name of protecting the grail. 
  • When I was a kid, there was a picture in my Sunday paper TV Guide of Indy fighting Kazim, and the caption said something like "Indiana Jones battles the Nazis..." As a result of that picture and caption, I thought for several years that the Brotherhood guys were called Nazis (pronounced Nah-zizz in my head), because I had thought that the real Nazis were spelled like Knotsies.
  • A few of the numerous memorable quotes from the middle third of the movie:
    • Nazis. I hate these guys.
    • Germany has declared war on the Jones boys. 
    • I find that if I just sit down and think....the solution presents itself. 
    • My boy, we're pilgrims in an unholy land. 
    • All I have to do is squeeze. All I have to do is scream. 
  • Indy's boat diversion would have worked much better if he would have waited an extra minute before driving off in the sidecar. 
  • I said that the Temple of Doom soundtrack was one of the best ever, and this soundtrack is even better -- it might be the best soundtrack of all time. 
  • It's amazing that Indy is able to locate Elsa at the rally. 
  • Terrible decision by the Brotherhood to attack the Nazis when and where they do. The only thing they have going for them is the element of surprise, and they give that up to launch a feeble attack that accomplishes nothing except getting themselves killed. 
  • The guy who plays Vogel (the Nazi commander) is really good and is actually British, not German. 
  • I'm not sure who set up the grail booby traps (maybe God/Jesus?), but whoever did had kind of a bleak worldview. You'd think the grail is this holy thing that should be celebrated happily, and yet here they are decapitating people, 
  • It makes sense that Indy figures out that he should kneel under the first blade, but how does he know to roll over the second blade coming up from the ground? 
  • The "leap of faith" is arguably the most epic moment in movie history, although it did occur to me that if he had gotten down on his knees and reached out with his hands, he could have felt the bridge and would not have needed faith. 
  • Shouldn't Donovan have at least asked Elsa, "What made you pick this one" before taking a drink?
  • "Indiana, Indiana, let it go." What a line...what a moment...what a metaphor...what a movie. 
  • If Indy could use his whip to grab his father on the tank and to grab Willie's pants in Temple of Doom, couldn't he have lassoed the grail? It was at least worth a try. Then it could have gone in the college museum next to the Cross of Coronado. 
  • Kind of rude of the Joneses not to wave back to the knight when he waves to them -- show the guy some respect, he's 700 years old! 
  • Riding off into the sunset = the perfect ending to the series. Wait, it's not the end? They made another movie?  

    Final Analysis:
    Not much to say here, other than this is the best movie of all time. 


    1. So having watched both movies so closely together, are you sticking with "Last Crusade" as your favorite over "Temple of Doom"? I'm on record last time saying that while "Temple of Doom" tickled my erogenous zone a little more perfectly, "The Last Crusade" is at least as solid if not a tick tighter in terms of broader execution. Most movies that are wall-to-wall kinetic energy as this one is tend to exhaust me because the story doesn't have enough time to breathe, so it makes it all the more impressive that this movie managed to keep the pacing dialed up to 11 yet still served up a solid story that I was engaged with from the opening moment to the closing. And as always, the location work was amazing, bouncing from one great scene to another with such a dazzling array of imagery and geographic backdrops.

      Agreed on the great opening with Young Indy getting his first taste of the archaeology business with his attempt to wrangle the Cross of Coronado from Indy's early 20th century counterpart. Great sequence all around and I agree River Phoenix was outstanding in the bit. Were you aware that River Phoenix co-starred with Richard Dean Anderson in RDA's first primetime series "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" on CBS in 1982-83? River played RDA's (you guessed it) younger brother.

      Point of personal privilege....I went to this movie with my mom at the theater on Memorial Day weekend in 1989. I was 11 years old. It was the first of the three Indiana Jones movies she saw. We had these two "free movie passes" my dad won somewhere, but the theater refused to let us use them on anything but B movies so we had to pay to get in and see it. From that point after, the ad for the theater in our local paper always put an asterisk next to movies where it didn't allow "special passes or reduced admission". Clearly the entire operation was a racket.

      Back to the movie, I was always intrigued with the idea of X marking the spot with the giant roman numeral in the Venice library. I incorporated it into one of my "Alex Burrows" adventure stories I wrote in high school.

      As for your ranking of what you'd least want to be stuck in a room with, does #1 mean the worst or the least bad? Rats creep me out the most, especially big slimy sewer rats. I always have to brace myself when that scene comes up. With that said, I'd imagine the most risk would likely come from a room (or pit) full of snakes. I've never had any real visceral aversion to snakes, but I live in the Upper Midwest where most snakes aren't poisonous so I haven't lived the true snake experience. Not sure if I've passed this along to before or not, but I'm an ornithophobe. I have a phobia of birds....especially those that are some combination of big, mean, and ugly. If there's a turkey vulture circling laps over my head, I'm in a total panic. All I have to do is see one from 10 football fields away and I can feel myself tense up.

      Agreed that the age gap between Harrison Ford and Alison Doody did not jump out at me. She looked older than 22 and he looked younger than 46. They certainly didn't seem to have as much of an age difference as MacGyver and Victoria what's-her-face from "The Enemy Within"!

      I agree with you that Brody and Sallah seemed needlessly dumbed down in the movie. They went for some cheap comedy relief at the expense of their characters' seriousness.

      I'll cut this one off before I'm informed my post exceeds the character limit...

      1. I'll still put this one a hair over Temple of Doom, but it's very close. I didn't know that River Phoenix worked with RDA. As for the rankings, I meant that bugs would be my least favorite. I agree that snakes would be the most dangerous, but from a "feeling grossed out" perspective, the bugs crawling all over me would be very unpleasant -- at least snakes and rats I would feel like I could try and get away from easier.

        That movie theater sounds like a real racket -- is it still in business?

        I've never heard of ornithophobia before -- is that due to a specific incident from when you were a kid or is it just natural?

      2. I think ornithophobia was hard-wired into me. My mom remembers some chickens running after me as a small boy at a petting zoo but I think there's more to it than that. Birds have always freaked me out...and it's a relatively odd mix and match that bother me compared to not. I have problems at all with ducks but get nervous around geese, as one example of birds I have to walk past on walks in my neighborhood. The invasion of the turkey vultures into the Upper Midwest in the last few years has been problematic for me though. Everything about those things creeps me out to my core. It's a relatively common phobia. My coworker's daughter has it. William Shatner recalled how "T.J. Hooker" co-star James Darren lost it doing rooftop chase scenes if there were pigeons around.

        The movie theater is about the only thing open in Albert Lea in 1989 that's still in business ironically....and it's inside a mall that's otherwise 95% abandoned. I just read that my favorite pizza place in town is closing permanently. It's getting to the point where we should remind the last business left in town to turn the lights out before it officially becomes a ghost town.

      3. And yes, RDA actually made a statement after the River Phoenix death since they'd worked together on that 1982-83 CBS show.

    2. Interesting bit of trivia about Tom Stoppard. Was it a case of the existing dialogue being replaced or Stoppard coming up with the dialogue from scratch? He definitely got the tone right, and I thought Ford and Connery had good chemistry in pulling it off. I think I can speak for both of us in saying I'm glad the movie didn't follow the early iterations of being about a "haunted mansion and later around an African Monkey King and a garden of immortal peaches". "Indiana Jones and the Garden of Immortal Peaches" sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit rather than a movie. It's kind of amazing they were able to put together such a quality movie with such an uninspired foundation.

      You thought Nazis were spelled Knotsies....while I was little I thought the word was spelled as it appears phonetically (Nah-zis) based on my reading of a TV Guide episode description of season 5, episode 4, of "The Fall Guy" from October 1985.

      I haven't seen either movie since 2017 but I'm inclined to watch them both to compare soundtracks and see if I agree with you that "Last Crusade" upstaged "Temple of Doom" in the soundtrack department.

      The booby-trapped temple leading to the Holy Grail was fun and all, but certainly the point where the movie drifted into the supernatural as all Indiana Jones movies at the end. I still really enjoyed it though, and to this day find myself saying "You chose....poorly" in reference to the grail keeper's darkly humorous line following Donovan's unpleasant demise.

      I never thought of it but you're right...why didn't Indy just use his whip to get the Holy Grail.

      They really should have ended the series at the end of this movie. I was always under the impression that Indy and father now had eternal life after being touched by the water from the Grail, so having another movie seemed kind of pointless, but I guess as viewers we were supposed to disregard their acquisition of eternal life at the end of "Last Crusade".

      I always walk into any viewings of the Indiana Jones movies thinking that the "Temple of Doom" is the best, but every time I watch "Last Crusade" I think to myself....this was just as good. If only they'd quit while they were ahead....but of course Hollywood isn't known for its discipline with that sort of thing.

      1. With Stoppard, it was both replacing existing dialogue and also cutting scenes and creating new ones. Mike Fitzgerald (who wrote the article I linked to) has every edit on his website (over 100), and every single one seems to be for the better.

        I also have used the "You chose poorly" line -- it really is one of the best lines ever, and with perfect delivery.

        On the eternal life thing, the reason they don't have eternal life is because they didn't stay in the temple (that was part of the deal). Also, when Elsa disobeyed the knight's orders and took the grail past the seal, that might have ruined it for everybody (including the knight) -- I'm not sure about that part.