Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)


One of the reasons George Lucas gave for making Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a prequel was that he didn't want to have to bring the Nazis back into the story.  Much of Raiders of the Lost Ark was a race between Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Hitler's minions, as they were ramping up the Third Reich, to obtain the legendary artifact that would make a country invincible against all other armies.  For once, although Temple of Doom did not turn out to be a great movie, Lucas was right.  Another movie with generally the same enemies would have felt like a carbon copy at the time.

There were a number of reasons Temple of Doom didn't work, and one of those was that the story was way too dark.  There were many serious moments in Raiders, but there was a lot of comedy as well.  Temple of Doom may have had the action but it didn't have the sense of adventure that the first one did.  After giving Indy a few years off both Lucas and director Steven Spielberg were able to bring back that original feeling of the old serials that inspired the series while at the same time keeping the action and pacing from Temple of Doom.  

It's 1938 and, after returning with another priceless artifact, Indiana Jones is contacted by Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), a rich antiques collector who has stumbled across a marker stone that includes information on the supposed location of the Holy Grail.  It turns out that the search for the Grail was the obsession of Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery), and he has gone missing in Venice while following one of the clues.  Before going missing he mailed Indy his diary on the subject, and so the younger Jones, along with Brody (Denholm Elliott), flies to Venice and meets with his dad's assistant Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody).  

He indeed finds clues to the location and also finds out that his father is being held at a castle in Austria.  After rescuing his father and losing the diary to an SS officer named Vogel (Michael Byrne) it is off to Berlin to take it back from the Nazis and then off to the Republic of Hatay, where the Grail lays hidden.  However, as everyone involved finds out, finding the location of the Grail is only part of the journey. 

When this came out, despite the second movie not being up to the first, about all Spielberg and Lucas had to do was say that Sean Connery was playing Indiana Jones's father.  The thought of seeing Harrison Ford and Connery together was enough to get people to the cinema, and they do not disappoint.  This isn't like a lot of films where the main stars get together near the end for a brief interaction; Ford and Connery for the duration are not Ford and Connery, but Jones Jr. and Jones Sr.  The casting of Connery may have been largely to get people to come back and give it a chance, but he delivers one of his best roles as an eccentric professor.  

John Rhys-Davies is back as Sallah, which is welcome, as is Denholm Elliott getting a larger part in the movie.  River Phoenix is also brilliant in the little time he has on screen at the beginning as a younger Indiana Jones, which kind of shows how much better the The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles could have been if it had been more like the opening scenes of Last Crusade.  Indy's love interest this time around is Elsa and, while at least Alison Doody isn't annoying like Kate Capshaw was, the character itself is nowhere near as interesting as Karen Allen's portrayal of Marion.  It also follows too predictable a plot line, but thankfully the father/son dynamic and the central race to get the Grail are in the forefront with the romance remaining a mere subplot. 

Where Last Crusade does suffer a little is when it comes to enemies.  For all intents and purposes the enemy here is the Third Reich itself, with a recurring Nazi foe in the shape of Vogel.  In that area it finds itself with the problem many of the James Bond movies have where the henchman is more interesting, and more memorable, than the one who is supposed to be the big villain.  The motivation of the actual bad guy is to sit around, immortal, enjoying his wealth, but he is not developed at all and doesn't even go in for campy moustache twirling.  

It is a testament to the quality of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that this flaw, which would hurt most films, barely even registers with the rest of what is going on.  It has some of the best stunts of the time, great cinematography and generally the whole sense of fun that was missing from the second film is back.  Although I had not seen it in a long time I found that, like the original, I still pretty much remembered a good part of the film, and that is because there is so much in here that is not only classic Lucas and Spielberg, but also classic American cinema.  

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Time: 127 minutes
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, Michael Byrne
Director: Steven Spielberg

 

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