Throwback Thursday: Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)


Having had such fun writing about Temple Of Doom last week, I couldn’t resist following through with the rest of the Indiana Jones franchise; especially considering that the next film I get to talk about is my second favourite of them all, The Last Crusade. Having received such a critical and public backlash for the much darker previous instalment, The Last Crusade sees a return to the winning formula of Raiders of The Lost Ark. The Nazi’s are back as the central villains and Indiana is sent on another globetrotting adventure in the search of a religious MacGuffin, which takes the form of the holy grail this time around. Indiana’s quest is much more than the grail though, as he must search for his father who has gone missing whilst trying to find the artefact himself, making The Last Crusade the most personal film in the series.

From the opening set-piece, which sees a younger Indy (played brilliantly by the late River Phoenix) getting into trouble as usual, in a chase sequence through a circus train; the script by Jeffrey Boam attempts to get under the skin of our hero. In these opening moments, we get to see how Indy developed a fear of snakes, got the scar on his chin, began to use a whip, and even where his distinctive clothing style came from. It can be said that trying to explain every part of Indiana’s personality in this one moment is completely unbelievable, but this sequence is just the beginning of a character study of our protagonist. The introduction of his father is a great plot device, acting not only as a metaphor for Indy’s quest for the Grail, but as a window into Indy’s past and persona. It’s their relationship that is central to the story and the heart of the film, with less of a focus on the action and more on the drama. It’s arguably the least action focused of the series, to the point where Spielberg even went back to shoot the motorcycle chase sequence post-production, because he was so worried about the lack of set-pieces. The film’s centrepiece, which sees the intrepid explorer go up against a tank, is actually one of favourite moments in the series. Its’s inventive, exciting and Spielberg at his best, but compared to the previous films, The Last Crusade sits more in the realms of comedy than it does action.

Boam’s writing is filled with true wit, is often hilarious and still makes me laugh out loud, no matter how many times Ive seen the film. As soon as Sean Connery appears on-screen as Henry Jones Sr, the film is elevated to a whole new level of laughter. The dialogue between the two Joneses is relentlessly funny, helped in no small part by the natural chemistry of both actors; but it’s the sketch-like situations that the two find themselves in, where the film really reaches dizzying heights of hilarity (son, I’m sorry…they got us). The relationship works on many different levels though and raises the stakes considerably, especially in the film’s climatic scene, which finds Indy racing against time to save his fathers life. In the end, the Grail becomes a secondary, although essential objective in the grander scheme of things and that adds great gravitas that’s otherwise absent from the other instalments. Planned as the final chapter in the Indiana Jones trilogy; the character and story is brought full circle in The Last Crusade’s finale, not only because he must face the prospect of losing his father, but because he must face his own mortality too. After his supernatural experiences with the ark of the covenant and shankara stones, Indy must finally affirm his beliefs and take a literal leap of faith. It’s a moment that gives me goosebumps and reflects a massive change in the character who once said that he didn’t believe in all that ‘hocus pocus’ stuff.

The Last Crusade may not be as action packed as Raiders, or as brave as Temple Of Doom; but there’s a finality to it that makes it the most interesting film of them all. It still provides the thrills, the laughs and the adventure, but it’s all driven by character. Strip it back and it’s a film about a father and son re-connecting and putting their relationship before their obsession and that’s beautiful to watch, especially when accompanied with John Williams’ soft and lovely score. You couldn’t think of a much more fitting end to series, as our heroes ride off into the sunset to that classic, triumphant theme. It’s perfect.

And then came The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull….

Trivia Tidbit: For the scene at the Nazi rally in Berlin (where Indy confronts Elsa and steals back the diary), Steven Spielberg had all the extras who did the “Sieg Heil” arm salute also put their other arms behind their backs and cross their fingers.

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  1. I went to see Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade back in 1989, and over 25 years later, I can recall the occasion vividly. I can remember the theatre, where I was sat, the popcorn I ate, the Arachnophobia teaser trailer and my uncontrollable excitement being heightened by several hundred other eager viewers. In short I was in a cinematic state of awe.
    Thanks for reviving some happy memories.

    • What a lovely comment. I’m so envious of your experience. I’ve managed to see all of the films on the big-screen over the last few years, but never on opening night, in a packed screening. Well, except for The Kingdom of The a Crystal Skull and I’m sure you can imagine that was quite a different experience altogether!!

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