Revisiting Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Feature Simon Brew 30 Jan 2014 - 06:53

The lightest, funniest Indiana Jones movie generally ranks second, behind Raiders of the Lost Ark. Simon takes a look back...

This article contains spoilers for Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and The Untouchables.

Go by the general law of Indiana Jones movies, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark is regarded as the best, Last Crusade is second, then there's a gap to Temple Of Doom in third, and the other one is fourth. I looked at Temple Of Doom earlier in the week, here, after I watched the movie with my ten-year old son. After that, we popped The Last Crusade on. And it left me wondering: is Last Crusade's stranglehold on second place fair?

Certainly by the time my ten-year old sat through it he'd have said so. He guffawed, was excited, and enjoyed the hell out of it. I don't blame him, either, and certainly he was less terrified than he was come the end of Temple Of Doom. Yet I still wonder if Temple Of Doom will stay him with a little stronger as time progresses.

Still, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a look back to the third adventure of Indy, back in 1989...

"Who's Gonna Come To Save You, Junior?"

In more than one sense, there's a feeling that there was unfinished business when George Lucas and Steven Spielberg embarked on Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. George Lucas had wanted a trilogy of these films almost from the start, whilst neither he nor Steven Spielberg were particularly happy with how Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom turned out. And as we discussed when we covered that film, there was a feeling that it was way too dark, not very Indy, and quite harrowing for the younger members of the audience. Steven Spielberg would eventually say that he made The Last Crusade to apologise to Lucas for how Temple Of Doom ended up.

One sidenote: I do feel that Spielberg did some excellent work in Temple Of Doom, and it's shame he feels so badly towards it (although he seems to feel worse towards Hook). I certainly think it's a much better film that its reputation may suggest (and many who commented on the last article herald it as their favourite Indy film). But it was very clear nonetheless that come the next film, a very different approach would be taken.

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade is therefore, almost inevitably, a much lighter film. Some cite it was their favourite of the trilogy, and it's certainly the funniest. And whilst I'm one of those who really likes the film an awful lot - and I really do - I do wonder if it makes not-dissimilar mistakes to Temple Of Doom in one or two ways. That in trying to not be like Temple Of Doom, it veers a little too far the other way. There's an earnestness in that certainly, and there's an argument that it barely hurts the ultimate enjoyment of the film. I just think it's something that becomes a little more pronounced on repeat viewings.

Still, this isn't an article about grumbles. Quite the contrary, in fact. Because Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade gets an awful lot of things right. For sometimes, you just need a father figure to throw a fresh perspective on things.

"That Belongs In A Museum"

It takes 48 minutes before we first see Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr, but from the moment he appears (we hear him right at the start of the movie, but we're not allowed to see him at that point), The Last Crusade shifts as a film. To that point, it's been enjoyable, but not exceptional. The opening with the late River Phoenix as young Indy racing along a circus train has its moments, and any time we get to spend with Denholm Elliott's Marcus Brody is always very, very welcome. Furthermore, it has a lot of fun: the library stamp, some rats, and how X never, ever marks the spot. But for me, the opening never really feels like vintage Indy. Until Connery turns up.

Whereas Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Temple Of Doom both see Indy's primary companion being a love interest - Karen Allen's Marion and Kate Capshaw's screaming Willie - for the second half of Indy 3, it's his father. We've had the duplicitous Elsa, played by Alison Doody, to keep things ticking over, but her role isn't a great one. That said, it is in part responsible for arguably the best, most understated line in the whole film, when Senior reveals to Junior that "she talks in her sleep". But the relationship beween Indy and Elsa, in spite of the twist, feels like ground trodden before.

His dad? That was fresh territory for the series. It was the idea of screenwriter Jeffrey Boam to hold back the introduction of Henry Jones Sr for so long (although it'd be Tom Stoppard who would go in and effectively write his dialogue), and when he does, the two particularly memorable facets of The Last Crusade are ignited.

"You Left Just As You Were Becoming Interesting"

Firstly, the combination of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery is, was, and always will be comedy gold. Notwithstanding the fact that they're just 12 years apart in Earth years, in screen time, they're arguably the most memorable father and son team in modern day blockbuster cinema.

What's particularly impressive too is that they both know when to shut up and allow the other to step forward - Connery in particular. His face when Ford is racing away from Nazis on his motorbike is a picture for instance (that being a scene added once principal photography was done, to inject more action into the picture), and the non-verbal ticks that both actors bring in are priceless. They bounce off each generously and successfully, with the simmering, distant father/son relationship brought majestically to life. Heck, Indy even gets a catchphrase of sorts, not least when he bellows out "don't call me Junior". Every time he says it - or even part says it - it raises a smile. A big one, in fact.

What's interesting is that the power in their relationship keeps shifting slightly. In the early stages, Senior's disapproval of Junior bringing the Grail diary to the castle is there to be seen. Then, when Senior manages to shoot down the plane that they happen to be in at the time, it's very much Junior who's in control. But then that's how they work: both are clever, but it's Junior who does the action, Senior who gets the bulk of the quips and the dialogue. Full credit to Harrison Ford for stepping back and allowing that to be so, too. It's hard to find too many leading performances in big films that are quite as generous.

"Our Situation Has Not Improved"

Perhaps even more importantly than the humour though, the second thing that the introduction of Jones Sr facilitates is a deepening of the film. It's an obvious conclusion, demonstrated by when Henry Jones Sr is willing to let the Holy Grail go at the end of the film, but what the pair are actually hunting for changes as the film progresses. Lucas and Spielberg realised that another quest for another object would be potentially retreading the same ground, and they chose wisely when trying something different here.

For by the end, Henry Jones Sr is willing, without questioning it for a second, to let his life's quest go, because of something more relatable and important: his son. More to the point, he's connected with his son, and vice versa, a feat that neither would have expected come the start of the film. Bringing this back to my own son, it was particularly joyful to see how engrossed he was in this part of the film. That as much as he enjoyed the action sequences (which I think, on the whole, are decent but not great), they didn't seem to be his favourite part (although the fireplace sequence, a quite outstanding marriage of comedy, a bit of slapstick, understatement and fire, had him in cahoots).

You can't help but root for the two Joneses as their bond quietly (in the metaphorical sense) gets stronger, but what really makes this work are the one or two less busy moments that they share.

"Dad, I Was The Next Man"

That's why MacGuffins are crucial to Indiana Jones movies. As demonstrated here, they allow the film to be about one thing, but then reveal themselves to be partly about another. In this case, the quest as it turns out wasn't for the cup of Christ. It was for a father and son to get back together. For me, the absolute proof that it was all working - and this gets me every time - is when Henry Jones Sr is suddenly shot. Even though I know there's a happy ending, it still upsets me. My ten-year old looked crestfallen, on the verge of tears. It'll be some years until I show him The Untouchables, that's for sure.

Not to double bag the point, but to quickly touch on those final three challenges that Indy must face: had the film been about the headline quest, the film would have been entertaining. But in the end, those three tests became about one man trying to save his dad. And that instantly feels far more relatable (interestingly, the 'magical' leap of faith works, because of everything leading up to it. It proves again that these films can do something that stretches credibility, and get away with it).

One of the disappointments of Crystal Skull, appreciating that some people are far fonder of it than I, is that it tried to shoehorn some deeper family ties into the Indiana Jones series, but fails miserably. It missed what made the third film work so well. The reunion with Marion was welcome, but ultimately never felt like it meant that much. And now's not the time to get into the issue of Mutt. We'll come to him another day.

Back to Last Crusade, though, and how intelligently it puts the brakes on. That it remembers to slow things down, and spend some time with its characters. For starters, I always like the moments in the Indiana Jones films when we see Indy back teaching - it somehow grounds him a little more than if he were another action hero.

Yet the crucial scene for me - going back to the point about the growing bond between father and son - is when the two Joneses are flying away from Berlin on the zeppelin (following the rather excellent 'no ticket' gag), and they have a moment to have a drink with each other (for a change), and to stop and talk. I'm grateful to IMDB for informing me that the pair wore no trousers whilst filming that scene due to the oppressive heat, but more to the point, there's a tenderness to their conversation. It's where they discuss their strained relationship as they grew older, and you see them connecting by choice, rather than as a consequence of lots of Nazis chasing after them. Then, once it's made its point, it doesn't over egg it, the zeppelin turns, and the adventure kicks back in.

"You Should Have Listened To Your Father"

If you're looking then for where Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade particularly scores over Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom then, it's in character as well as the humour. Indy himself feels like the version from Raiders Of The Lost Ark (within ten minutes of Temple Of Doom, he felt like a different version of the man). Bringing back Marcus Brody and Sallah broadens Indy's background, and proves Elliott's excellence as a supporting character actor, capable of generating very big laughs. And then there's Sean Connery of course. Temple Of Doom had the mighty Short Round, it had Indy, and it had Willie screaming a lot, but not too much besides. The Last Crusade does a much better job in this regard. Heck, it even has Mr Bronson as Hitler, in a particularly chilling moment.

But to come back to the point I made earlier, where The Last Crusade does suffer very slightly is in trying just a little too hard to compensate for Temple Of Doom. I'm not the first to make this criticism, but it increasingly strikes me as the one where Spielberg lets his actors go a little. He knows he's struck gold with the pairing of Connery and Ford, and once or twice, it feels as though his foot comes off the gas to spend time with them, instead of progressing or fleshing out the adventure. That he's somehow just a little less in control.

Ford and Connery's relationship has very significant benefits to the film, but it does also mean that - narratively at least - it's still some distance behind Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Raiders was always going to be a tough act to follow, but every time I rewatch it, I'm struck by how tight, how flowing and how constantly exciting it is. I'm loathed to use the word 'perfect', but I genuinely still can't think of a way it could be made better. I love The Last Crusade and appreciate why some like it the most. It's so wonderfully entertaining for most of its running time (particularly the second hour) it's pretty much impossible to resist.

"I've Got A Lot Of Fond Memories Of That Dog"

However, the skill of Raiders Of The Lost Ark is that it had the disparate ingredients of both of its successors in one. Temple Of Doom went for darkness, a little bit of horror, and at-times non-stop action. The Last Crusade went more for comedy, for character and for a deeper quest. Raiders proved that these didn't have to be mutually exclusive (the opening of the ark at the end is as chilling a sequence as the whole series has delivered to date), and it's for that reason - as well as one or two others - it stands tall above the rest. For me anyway.

It's also why I think that comparing Temple Of Doom and The Last Crusade isn't quite fair: they're trying to do, tonally, different things. The Last Crusade is certainly the easiest one to like, but Temple Of Doom takes more risks. Fortunately, the bylaw insisting you have to pick one over the other has long since been abolished, so I'll happily like them both if it's all the same.

As for my son? Well, in common with Steven Spielberg, this is his favourite of the Indy movies. He flat-out loved it, and is thirsty for more. Inevitably, he's asked about watching the next one, which is one of the most testing moments for any parent. In terms of difficult questions, 'can we watch Crystal Skull?' is up there with 'where do babies come from?' We will come to the film shortly on the site. For now, both he and I really enjoyed watching this one together. 1989 didn't produce many better comedies, and certainly no better double act (Turner & Hooch included).

One last bit of trivia to leave you on: if Sean Connery had turned the role down, Jon Pertwee was one of the back-up choices for Henry Jones Sr. You're welcome...

See also: revisiting Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

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These Indy stories with your father/son notes have been pretty fun to read so far. It makes reviews for films like this feel fresh.

Last Crusade is It has some dark moments sure, but it feels exactly what the original idea was with the Indy films, to be this kind of Saturday morning matinee entertainment. Raiders is superior I think, but Crusade deserves that second place strangehold.

Everything about this film was spot on.

I remember my mum managed to get us tickets to the London Premiere, I was 8 and the most excited I had ever been about anything in my life.

Such a fun film, from young Indy (a great idea to start off with that opening scene), to having Hitler sign Indy's journal, to his dad bringing down a Nazi plane with an umbrella. Love this film, and it's probably my favorite of the 3. (Crystal Skull DIDN'T HAPPEN!)

However, I do remember having a lot of nightmares about the scene when that Nazi 'chose poorly'. Scary stuff. But again, no CGI made that scene amazing.

I like the film a lot, I have huge problems with the fact that Marcus Brody (a man who in Raiders gives the impression that he was exactly like Indy in his earlier days) and Sallah are turned into Nigel Bruces Watson and comedy Arab for the sake of the jokes. I personally will always prefer Temple of Doom even though Last Crusade has an awful lot to like. I just think it fails by going for the easy options too often.

I do like the trivia that Ronald Lacey appears as Heinrich Himmler in the Berlin scene.

In the weird way these things happen i seen this before Raiders. I loved this but when I finally seen Raiders I was a bit older and I appreciated the balance a bit more but I could happily watch both anytime. ToD I need to be in the mood for and what is great the Blu Ray box set has a coaster for you to put your drinks on while you're watching them

If memory serves, that scene at the end did have a little bit of digital work in it (one of the first of its ilk to do so). But it's a long, long way removed from a full-on CGI moment! - Simon

While I can say that, objectively speaking, Raiders is the best of the Indy films, Last Crusade will probably always be my favourite.
And its probably for the very reason you critique it, the freedom Spielberg seems to give them with their characters over the plot. Yes it does mean the plot doesn't feel as tight as Raiders was in that regard, but it gives us some of the strongest character moments and performances in the Indy series.
If you want to pick an Indy film to hold up and show why it is a vital piece of Cinema history, Raiders is the film to go for. If you want to relax for a couple of hours in the afternoon with Dr Jones and Co, this film is the more enjoyable option.

Damn it DoG! That's just shattered my childhood memories!

I thought it was all model work and stop frame animation.

Thursday... ruined.


I have thoroughly enjoyed these Indy articles, and I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say about 'it'. I remember being very young and watching Last Crusade with my dad. It was the first Indy film I ever saw, and now I have something of an Indy collection. A couple of years ago, we went to the Prince Charles and saw it on the big screen - first time for both of us. It was a wonderful time and it was great to see it in a cinema with my dad, who introduced me to my favourite films.

PS: I was 5 when my brother was born and I was adamant that my parents name him 'Dad'. Unfortunately, that is not the peak of my fanboyishness for these films.

Any chance of a series like this with BTTF? that would be great :-)

The Mighty Short Round??? He haunts my nightmares!
I think your son will enjoy Crystal Skull. He's ten!

Just looking at those stills makes me wish wish wish they'd made another one or two in the early nineties with lots of practical effects and stunts and everybody still quite young.

No mention of the music? The Grail theme in particular is outstanding IMO.

Very good coverage, thanks. I feel like I've been meaning to rewatch these films for years. I thought Crystal Skull was a mess, but I get that there were trying, among other things, to do something different, so it wasn't just another action film.

You really like the word "whilst."

There will be no viewing of the Crystal Skull. How many times do we have to remind people that it doesn't exist and anyone who insists they saw it is suffering from a hallucination?

Several different puppets used, with a (incredibly well judged) morph between them done – an advancement of the effect done in Willow.

To me, Last Crusade is the best one over Raiders because of one thing: The Story. Raiders always bothered me by the end... Funny enough, I didn't quite understood why until I realized that in Raiders Indy does nothing in the final act, he's totally inactive and passive... Heck even in the Big bang Theory they pointed out how pointless he is to the story (and is true) So Last Crusade earned a few more points in my book. Actually, to me, the order is: Last Crusade, Temple of Doom, Raiders and Crystal Skull.

Anyway, love these reviews, great job!

What I'm wondering now is, has his son also seen The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles?

Too many mentions of the writer's son, I think. Too soppy. And I think Crusade is better than Raiders, as Raiders' is good, but repetitive (kidnappings/capture galore!)

Indy is a different man in Temple, as its set before Raiders. I always looked at it that his experience in Temple moved him away from the "fortune and glory" path and turned him into the person we meet in Raiders

I've always treated the films as four different sides of the same coin. With each film adding another layer. ROTLA - Youthful adventure, IJATTD - Horror, IJATLC - Comedy and finally IJATCS - Gluttony!!

I can't wait for the episode-by-episode reviews of the Indiana Jones Chronicles.

I have really enjoyed reading these reviews,the father son thing makes it far better than just a standard revisit blog.
Just a couple of things if i may...LC is my favorite of the films,mostly becuase i remember seeing it four times in the cinema when it came out and most of it was with my dad(he loves connery and he hates watching the untouchables too to this day)..i will agree that raiders is the better film in terms of balance but with Indiana jones i think nostalga plays a part in why we like these filsm as much as we do...temple of doom of raiders etc...They are all excellent.
KOTQS i agree is tricky but it does have its moments and i do enjoy watching it..i think mutt and Indy work well together before the return of Karen me the reintroduction was forced and one of the films major faults.
As for comedy films of 1989..double acts..Lethal Weapon 2....mel and danny...joss and his south african accent...need i say more.

Really enjoying these articles - not easy to find a fresh take on such well-known films! Although I'm afraid my inner nitpicker must question your statement that the fireplace scene had your son "in cahoots". In cahoots with whom? ;)

It's one film that cannot be converted into 3D without one of the main effects shots at the end being completely ruined.
In fact, if you think about it, it should never have worked in real life unless all the characters had monocular vision.
You know the bit I'm talking about.....

"She talksh in her shhhleep."
There, fixed it for you.

"Only the penitant man reverses the polarity of the neutron flow"....Pertwee? Wow.

Amazing way to look at it. Best point of view ever!

How Doom can vie for second place ? It's one over top scene with over the top screening after another. The last crusade does have the flow of raiders but it's pretty good and it's fairly warm father/son work and although skull has so many other weak points to cover I never liked it's take with Indy as Dad.

That's exactly what they were going for with Temple. Problem is, the scenes with young Indy in TLC make it a little confusing. In that, he's saying 'it belongs in a museum' as a kid and as an adult. We can only assume that something happened between young Indy and Temple to make him - temporarily - jaded and selfish...

Crusade is better than Raiders. for me it's Crusade, Raiders, Crystal Skull, Temple.

What's your source for Jon Pertwee? Never seen that before, even in JW Rinzler's book.

The whole point of these articles was me revisiting the film, and a 10-year old seeing them for the first time. Apologies if that wasn't made clear, but it's hard to avoid referencing his reactions as a consequence of that!

True. In just over 2000 words, I used it three times. I prefer the words 'defenestration', 'ostrich' and 'lawnmower', but couldn't find a way to work those in.

It is a good visual gag, though. And any argument against 3D conversions is welcome.

Wikipedia has it under Cast Notes and the source for the Wiki info is.... The IMDB trivia section. Hmmm.

I put Temple of Doom first, Raiders a very close second and then Crusade a bit of a drop down from those.
Temple and Raiders have the Indy films feel, even though one is darker and the locations are very different.

Crusade is great, but feels like a watered down Raiders and I don't think it quite recaptures the feel... it's very close, but it feels like someone making an Indy movie who has been given a list of instructions as to what the movie should have...

I think if they had done a much more drastic location change, that would have helped give it its own personality more and it would have made it seem less of a rehash.

I realise I'm probably in a majority of one here, but if you take the central relationship of father and son out of the movie, The Last Crusade would rate below Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull as my favourite after Raiders. The reasons are originality of plot and laziness of execution. The story structure of Last Crusade mimics Raiders to a large deal and this made the film feel very samey to me, whereas Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull both go in very different directions when compared to Raiders. The Last Crusade was also the first of the films in which I noticed glaring continuity errors, such as the tank losing its turrent and regaining it again as it hits the ground after its cliff plunge. Some of the matte effect work is very shoddy compared to both Raiders and Temple of Doom, although not as bad as the CGI in Crystal Skull. These elements made me feel that Spielberg was working on autopilot without the passion which make Raiders and Temple of Doom so enjoyable. I also miss the dark elements which are in both of these films. Other than the final aging effects in The Last Crusade and the rats, we have no squirming moments. We even get a bloodless beheading. For all its faults, at least Crystal Skull gave us a new period setting for the adventures of Indy and the execution was very apt for this setting, a Fifties cold war sci-fi movie. The Last Crusade is largely a retread of similar elements to what we've seen before. Only the relationship of Connery and Ford makes the film as fun as it is.

I almost fell off my chair :o)

I enjoyed this review. Great idea to re-watch it with your son, although it might have been nice to get more of his reactions, possibly with some quotes as surely the idea is to try to help us see the films again for the same perspective we had seeing them for the first time as kids? Still, overall it was a nice piece. One thing though:

"although the fireplace sequence, a quite outstanding marriage of comedy, a bit of slapstick, understatement and fire, had him in cahoots"

I don't think 'cahoots' means what you think it means :P

How about 'defensive'?

Yes, a bit. It's a bit dispiriting to put lots of hours into a piece, to write a couple of thousands words, and be picked up on the repetition of one of them. I don't want to censor anyone doing that though, but figured I was allowed a quick reply on this one! - Simon

I always thought Last Crusade by far the weakest of the trilogy- felt rather cheap and lazy in execution. Also the fact they make Marcus Brody and Sallah into parodies of their brilliant characters in Raiders is just ridiculous.
Long live Temple of Doom- a ballsy adventure with Indy as a complete badass rather than the watered down tie wearer of Last Crusade- yep, it's better for kids but that unto itself is no argument.
Of course since Crystal Skull this film looks like a masterpiece!

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