Revisiting the Indiana Jones trilogy has been like hopping into a time machine and traveling back to my youth. Yes, I know there was an awful fourth movie, but what ardent Indy lover actually embraces that train wreck? But the three original films are so deeply connected to my childhood. They led to me trying my hand at cracking a whip (a toy one, but a whip nonetheless) and desperately wanted a brown fedora. For a brief time they even had me wanting to be an archeologist because everybody knows those movies were accurate depictions of archeology, right?
The third film, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, is a near perfect picture of blockbuster moviemaking done right. It’s wildly entertaining from start to finish, plump full of big action and infused with a steady stream of humor. All three Indiana Jones films have their witty and playful moments but this one has the most laughs by far. The gags are so well written and delivered through Harrison Ford and Sean Connery’s seamless chemistry and the impeccable comic timing of supporting players Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies. I had forgotten how funny this movie is.
Written by screenwriter Jeffrey Boam from a story by George Lucas and Menno Meyjes, “The Last Crusade” opens by introducing us to a young Indiana Jones (played by the late River Phoenix). Set in 1912, the fun high-energy prologue plays like a legend’s origin story of sorts. It reveals how Indy developed his fear of snakes; how he got his signature brown fedora, the whip, even Harrison Ford’s real-life scar on his chin. And at a young age he already has that very Indy-like conviction that every archaeological treasure belongs in a museum.
Jump ahead to 1938 and we meet Ford’s Indy, fighting off pirates near the Portuguese Coast and still teaching archaeology to starry-eyed college girls. He’s reunited with his university colleague Marcus (Elliott – hysterical throughout) who connects him with a wealthy collector named Walter Donovan (Julian Glover). Donovan has unearthed part of a sandstone tablet believed to reveal the resting place of the Holy Grail, Christ’s cup from the Last Supper. Authurian legend states that whoever drinks from the Grail is granted eternal life.
Indy agrees to help Donovan find the other half of the tablet only after hearing that his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) was part of a team that recently went missing while searching for the Grail. His adventure starts in Venice where he meets up with Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), an associate of his father’s, then it’s off to Austria, Berlin, and Hatay. Soon Nazis are hot on their heels, we meet a secret society of Holy Grail protectors, and fan-favorite Sallah (Rhys-Davies) pops up to help his friends. Toss in some great action including a boat chase, a terrific motorcycle sequence, a daring escape on a German bi-plane, and a thrilling fight in and around a moving German tank. It’s such a blast.
Following some mixed reviews for the second film “The Temple of Doom” (a really good movie but the weaker of the three) Spielberg lightened the tone of this third Indy outing and looked to recapture the spirit of the 1981 original “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. While the third installment has a feel all its own, it definitely rekindles the magic that made the first film such a delight. It’s not as good as “Raiders”, but that’s an incredibly high bar.
While rewatching the Indiana Jones films I was struck by how remarkably well the three movies hold up. There are a couple of moments in “The Last Crusade” where you can see the blemishes in the early digital effects. But overall the movie looks great thanks to the fantastic cinematography, stunt work, and Spielberg’s big-budget touch. And of course it’s led by Harrison Ford whose natural charisma and hero’s charm turned Indy into a household name. And now he’s putting on his fedora for one more Indiana Jones adventure. I pray it leans into what made the original three movies great and gives us a proper send off to one of cinema’s most fun and iconic characters.