Young Indiana Jones 3.2 – Morocco, 1917

The Morocco installment is one of the hours made a couple of years after the show’s cancellation exclusively for home video. Jonathan Hales wrote it as a companion piece to the previous story, which required a little real-world continuity fudging, because Ernest Hemingway’s wounding in Italy actually happened almost a year after the writer Edith Wharton’s goodwill and charity tour of French Northern Africa. It was filmed around 1997 and released on VHS in 1999.

The story this time is that Indy has been assigned a cover story as a captain in the French Foreign Legion to find out who’s smuggling rifles to Bedouin rebels, and then he gets another cover story atop that as an escort to Mrs. Wharton as she visits the small city of Hidran, where the guns are supposed to be locked away securely, so none of the French garrison at the armory will suspect he’s there to find a traitor.

The episode is honestly terrific, with gunfights and a great bit of spying and deduction, and it ends with a fabulous swordfight that our son and I both loved. He was also really taken with the bit where the traitor tries to avoid getting called out in front of all the other suspects. There are secret tunnels and last-minute escapes… and a lot of talk, some of it about smooching, which he didn’t enjoy so much.

Edith Wharton is played by Clare Higgins, who I think I should have recognized. Wonderfully, Higgins had a small role in a film adaptation of Wharton’s novel The House of Mirth a few years after making this. The one actor I did recognize was David Haig, but it took me a minute to place him. He was in the first series of Cracker.

Edith Wharton would have been around 55 at the time of this adventure, and Indy just 18. They get very close and obviously have a connection, but it’s one they can’t act on, leading to a sad and inevitable farewell. There’s an unusual amount of continuity referencing previous episodes, because Edith asks Indy what a nice boy from New Jersey is doing in the French Foreign Legion, figuring that a broken heart must be involved, and opening his heart in a way even Indy himself grumbles is out of character, he spills his heartbreak over Nancy, Vicky, Mata Hari, and Giuletta to his new friend. I can’t help but love the way the name Mata Hari just sticks out of that sentence like it was on fire.

Great. Now I’m going to have “Ex-Girl Collection” by the Wrens stuck in my head for a week. Thanks a lot, Indy.

Young Indiana Jones 3.1 – Northern Italy, 1918

Back to Young Indiana Jones and the first story on the last DVD set, which was the second hour of the series directed by Bille August. I was a little concerned that our smoochy-stuff-hating seven year-old would not like this episode, but while it features plenty of wooing, there’s only a small amount of actual smooching. Our son rolled his eyes for a couple of minutes, but rapidly came around when we learn that Indy and some other fellow, a no-good rat, are courting the same young Italian lady. The competition escalates until the inevitable revelation that the rat is, of course, none other than the same man who’s been egging Indy on, his pal Ernest Hemingway. Then it stops being a competition and becomes war.

Our son enjoyed this a lot more than I honestly thought he would, thanks of course to the series of pranks and obstacles that Indy and Ernest throw in each other’s way. But there’s also a scene where the two rivals are forced to share a meal together with Giuletta’s family and, in foolhardy drives to impress her mother, they eat their combined weight in pasta and red sauce. I had to spare a thought for poor Sean Patrick Flanery and Jay Underwood, who plays Hemingway, and hoped that August got this scene in as few takes as possible. Remember the “that’s a spicy meatball” commercial for Alka-Seltzer? I sure did.

“It’s a good thing they didn’t invite me to dinner,” our kid told us, “because I would totally eat all that pasta.” He’s still at the age where he doesn’t need Alka-Seltzer.

Young Indiana Jones 2.15 – Palestine, 1917

In 1987, Simon Wincer directed a film called The Lighthorsemen, about the Australian mounted infantry pulling a stunning surprise at the Battle of Beersheba in October 1917 and suddenly switching to cavalry tactics before the Turkish artillery could react. The Turks couldn’t lower their cannons quickly enough and the Australians stormed their trenches.

So five years later, when Lucas was putting together writers and directors and concepts for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, once Wincer was hired, it was a natural idea to put Indy behind the lines in Beersheeba so that Wincer could reshoot the core battle with new actors while also bringing in lots of footage from his earlier film. The result is an episode that looks like it cost several million more dollars to make than it really did. It’s absolutely seamless.

And speaking of reshoots, the original one-hour episode, which, like the last one we watched, was never shown in the United States, then underwent yet another change before making its way to home video. Writer Frank Darabont and Wincer went back to the drawing board and seriously beefed up their original story. Between expanded footage from The Lighthorsemen and new material with Indy getting to know some of the frustrated Aussie soldiers waiting for their chance to be sent into action, the original forty-five minutes or so is bulked up by an additional half-hour to make the movie version, Daredevils of the Desert. And it’s a corker. After the two comedy episodes and the two political ones, our son was badly in need of something completely thrilling, and this totally satisfied him.

The Palestine installment has always been one that genre fans had been interested in watching because of its stellar cast. It not only features future James Bond Daniel Craig, as seen in the top photo, but also the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, as a British general, as seen in the second one. There’s also Catherine Zeta Jones as another intelligence operative, Julian Firth as the colonel who we met in the German East Africa two-parter, and Douglas Henshall as the second actor to play TE Lawrence. We’ll see Henshall again in one of the later episodes.

One other note: if you enjoy fistfights in movies, Sean Patrick Flanery, Daniel Craig, and their stunt doubles have an absolutely amazing one in the climax of this story. If I might quibble, I think the sound effects people kind of turned the volume of their impacts a little too loud, because it sounds like they’re hitting each other with enough force to break granite into dust, but that aside, the brawl is just wild, an absolutely desperate struggle between two men using anything they can lay their hands on to pummel the other. My eyes popped out of my head.

Actually, you remember the beginning of Casino Royale when Bond was going after that French bloke who does parkour and Daniel Craig just charges straight through a wall? When they were casting the role, the Bond people probably looked at this fight and concluded Craig was their man. It’s that wild.

That’s the end of the second Young Indiana Jones collection, so we’ll take a short break to keep things fresh. We’ll start on the third box set in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned!

Young Indiana Jones 2.14 – Prague, 1917

As changes of pace go, this one makes the Barcelona episode look deadly serious. It’s a comedy episode where Indy gets an assignment to wait in an apartment for a phone call that’s so important that the law of comedy mandates it will be a bust. Only the apartment’s phone is missing, leading our hero down three days of labyrinthine Czech bureaucracy that’s such a trial that only some assistance from a ministry clerk named Franz Kafka, played by Tim McInnerny, can help.

Before we got started, I gave our son a crash course in what “bureaucracy” is, but the humor in Indy’s weird situation was still way over his head. The middle of the episode was particularly bizarre to him. It’s a tip of the hat to both the original short novel of The Trial and to Orson Welles’ uncomfortable and unpleasant film adaptation from 1962. Fortunately, things devolve into wild physical humor, with filing cabinets crashing down endless staircases and runaway cannons knocking down phone poles. Most of it works, and my son and I both laughed a great deal during the mayhem. Some of it, centered around a dimwit called Colonel Clouseau played by Nickolas Grace, doesn’t come off nearly as well.

This episode was one of those made for ABC but was never shown in the United States. It’s set in August 1917, but as with the Petrograd installment, it was clearly made during a much colder month. There’s even snow on the ground in one establishing shot! There are a pair of shoulda-been-recognizable faces in the cast. Both Colin Jeavons and Bernard Bresslaw are here in parts so tiny they don’t even qualify as “spit and cough parts,” so I didn’t notice either of them at all, unfortunately.

Young Indiana Jones 2.13 – Barcelona, 1917

“I didn’t understand that at all,” our son grumbled. Who can blame him? This is a story about politics delivered by men talking very fast in outrageous accents. Usually while running very fast and getting stuck in doorways three at a time. It’s wonderful.

I’ve read that Terry Jones is in very poor health, and that did kind of hang over tonight’s story for me. Jones directed this lovable, ridiculous comedy escapade written by Gavin Scott. Indy gets sent to Spain to work with a trio of mostly competent spies, looking for some way to cause a breach in the neutral government’s favor one way or the other. For cover, Indy bumps into his old friend Pablo Picasso, played again by Danny Webb and who we met before in Paris, nine years earlier, who gets him a job at the Ballet Russe as a eunuch.

The spies are played by Jones, Timothy Spall, who you may know best as Wormtail in Harry Potter, and Charles McKeown, a frequent collaborator of the Pythons who appeared in Life of Brian, Fawlty Towers, four episodes of Ripping Yarns, Erik the Viking, and at least three of Terry Gilliam’s movies. They hit on a great scheme to make the Count of Toledo believe that the German cultural attache is making moves on the countess. But then a dancer at the Ballet Russe’s production of Scheherazade, played by Amanda Ooms, lets Indy know that she may be Russian, but she’s working for American intelligence, and putting these two men at odds is going to create an entirely different kind of international incident.

I love this episode. I think it’s completely ridiculous and hilarious. My wife and I chuckled and laughed all the way through the thing while our poor son scratched his head and asked what was so funny. Well, you can’t always please the entire audience!

Young Indiana Jones 2.12 – Petrograd, 1917

Well, our son didn’t enjoy this one much at all. Set in an abnormally cold Russian July – it was actually filmed in March 1992 in Prague and St. Petersburg – it is a very talky and very political episode written by Gavin Scott. It’s also one of my favorites. It’s a heartbreaking story that sees Indy squatting with some young revolutionaries while bringing them food from the French embassy. One of them, played by Austrian actress Julia Stemberger in one of only a few English-language roles, has fallen in love with Indy, and her feelings are sadly not reciprocated. Indy’s also balancing his job and friendship, trying to get intelligence on the forthcoming Bolshevik revolution without pressing his friends.

I’ve grown used to watching these hours without the original broadcast bookends with George Hall as Old Indy, and will concede that some of them were pretty silly. But this one had by far my favorite, and I really miss it. The bookend had Indy telling a docent at a museum that one of the pictures at their exhibition on the October Revolution is mislabeled, and this one was taken in July. It began with Indy pointing at a hazy black-and-white photo of a character that we’d meet later and tells the docent that boy had only a minute to live, which gave the hour an almost unbearable air of doom, because we knew that Sergei, a charming deserter who has become Indy’s best friend in Russia, wasn’t going to make it to the end credits.

And then, magically, the original episode ended with a charming bit of whimsy, as Old Indy concluded his story by explaining how so many people had died so pointlessly in the July 1917 riots, and then pointed at another hazy black-and-white blur on the photo. The photographer had captured Indy in his futile run to try and save his friend from the snipers and machine gun nests. “Reckon that must be me,” Indy smiled, before taking his leave.

Young Indiana Jones 2.11 – Austria, 1917

When ABC first showed the Austria episode, written by Frank Darabont, in September of 1992, I was most impressed by the casting of Christopher Lee as a conniving diplomat in the Viennese court. Today, I remain incredibly happy to watch Lee be magisterial and perfect, but the real star here is Joss Ackland as “The Prussian,” an evil, silent official in the secret police. He’s almost like a proto-Toht, if you remember Ronald Lacey’s character in Raiders. The Prussian is menacing and Ackland commands every shot he’s in without a line of dialogue. It’s a shame Indy’s spying activities didn’t take him back to Austria for a rematch. Amusingly, we saw both Lee and Ackland in different episodes of The Avengers earlier this month.

Our son got a little lost with the court intrigue this time. The story involves getting a letter from Emperor Karl I of Austria out of the country, but the letter that the emperor’s foreign minister (Lee) prepares doesn’t quite offer the concessions necessary for a separate peace with that nation. So after some mostly lighthearted chase scenes, the talk of diplomacy went straight over our seven year-old’s head.

Things picked up in the final act, when the chase scenes take on a much more serious edge. I think the cinematographer had a ball creating all the shots with looming shadows and long dark alleyways. It ends with a terrific scramble across the border into Switzerland, a good episode that probably could have been written a little more evenly and with at least one more big set piece in the first half, but entertaining all the same.

Other actors of note this time include a couple of faces that I recognize from ’80s Doctor Who: Elizabeth Spriggs as the mysterious Frau Schultz, and Patrick Ryecart as Karl I. Ryecart’s probably very familiar to fans of contemporary TV. He has recurring roles in both Poldark and The Crown.

Young Indiana Jones 2.10 – France and Germany, 1917

The first half of the Attack of the Hawkmen story was pretty entertaining, but the second half is great fun! It starts a little slow, and I was a little worried about our son’s attention span, but he was extremely pleased.

Indy’s second mission as “Captain Defense” for French intelligence is to get an offer in the hands of the Dutch aircraft designer Anthony Fokker, who is working for the Germans, and await a reply. But he misses Fokker in Hanover and must follow him to an aircraft manufacturing plant outside Ahlhorn. Fokker is accompanied by General Von Kramer – Jon Pertwee! – and so Indy has to sneak around and pose as Fokker’s valet to get the letter to him. But Indy can’t leave just yet. The Swiss designer Villehad Forssman is also at Ahlhorn with his prototype of a gigantic airplane, which Indy feels he needs to photograph. Then a familiar face turns up, somebody who could recognize him: Manfred von Richtofen!

How could you not love this? It’s terrific fun, watching Indy think on his feet, improvise, and take on new identities. He’s forthright and bumbling at the same time, and as events spiral out of control – you don’t introduce a huge room where hydrogen is being extracted from water and where cigars are banned without planning to blow it up real good – our son was in heaven. This ends with a terrific fight, lots of fire, and, of course, some wonderful explosions. Fortunately, when Indy secreted away his means of escape, we saw him check to make sure he picked one with a full tank of gas.

This was Jon Pertwee’s last television performance, incidentally. I think it was made in the summer of 1995, and first shown on American TV in October. He passed away in May of 1996. Pertwee was actually the second Doctor to appear in Young Indy. Colin Baker appears in one of the earlier-produced episodes (1992-93, I think) that was never shown in the US. It’s set seven months after the events of this hour, and we’ll get to it in about three weeks.

Young Indiana Jones 2.9 – France and Austria, 1917

We rejoin Young Indiana Jones in the first half of the Attack of the Hawkmen TV movie. This was one of the four films made for the old Family Channel in 1995 and it’s really fun. Our son enjoyed all the World War One flying ace stuff. I was very impressed with the production. If you squint hard, you can tell where they cut in some CGI material, but they also wrecked a couple of prop planes in fields. I’d like to think that the stunt pilots enjoyed the challenge!

In the episode, Indy and Remy have returned to Belgium after their months in Africa and have been reassigned to intelligence work. But Belgian intelligence is hopelessly, laughably, behind the French and the British, so Indy forges a transfer for the two of them to Paris. Remy gets a sweet job working with the resistance in Brussels, but Indy gets sent to work as an aerial reconnaissance photographer, and, on his first day out, his pilot gets shot down by “Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, who invites the young American back to his aerodrome for lunch.

We enjoyed the heck out of this one. The script for both hours within Hawkmen is credited to Matthew Jacobs, Rosemary Anne Sisson, and director Ben Burtt, but I’m not sure whether Jacobs wrote the first hour and Sisson the second, or if it was a true collaboration. Marc Warren, who would later play the amazingly creepy Man with Thistledown Hair – one of television’s greatest villains – in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, is the Red Baron, and while he doesn’t get a lot of screen time or opportunity to dominate things, he does get some pretty choice moments, especially when he makes eye contact with Indy in the air to let him know what he thinks of a photograph that had been taken a few days previously.

I mean, really, how could you not love an hour of TV where it’s revealed that Indiana Jones came up with the idea for Manfred von Richthofen painting his airplanes red?

Young Indiana Jones 2.8 – Congo, 1917

Indiana Jones’ adventures in Africa reach an end, for now, as this incredibly literate story wraps up with one horrible frustration after another. Everything about war is pointless and awful, but the price that they have to pay for those stupid guns will just make anybody’s heart sink. And thanks to Indy’s habit of meeting everyone of import in the 20th Century, it really gets driven home this time.

Indy’s garrison, dying on the river as malaria and fevers consume them, run aground near Albert Schweitzer’s first hospital on the shore of the Ogooué River. An Austrian actor, Friedrich von Thun, appears as Schweitzer. The following year, von Thun would appear in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. As the survivors slowly regain their health, Indy’s conversations with Schweitzer lead him to question the futility of war in a new way, and he comes to some painful realizations about society.

There’s a very striking scene where a local chief cannot imagine as many as ten men dying in a war, because the cost of compensation for that many lives would be more than any tribe could afford to pay. Indy’s first, quick reaction is that putting a price on human life is barbaric, before Schweitzer gently challenges him, asking whether it isn’t worse to afford no price whatever on life. And as the pointlessness of this mission becomes clear… well, it’s always tough for a seventeen or eighteen year-old to realize their world view is skewed. It’s far from the most action-packed thing you’ve ever watched, but TV is very rarely as intelligent as this.

We’re going to take a few weeks’ break from Young Indiana Jones, but we’ll resume watching “The War Years” in September. Stay tuned!

Young Indiana Jones 2.7 – Africa, 1916

We’re back, in time for one of the most bleak and thought-provoking stories that they did for Young Indiana Jones. This time, Indy gets a promotion to captain and then a horrible assignment. Under the command of Major Boucher, they have to lead a company across about two thousand miles to retrieve some badly needed machine guns after the boat ran aground on Africa’s west coast. Yellow fever and smallpox are rampant, and many, many people die.

An actor from Côte d’Ivoire, Isaach de Bankolé, has the key guest part of Sergeant Barthélèmy. Indy is spouting the lines about how once Germany gets kicked off the continent, then the Africans can begin their own rule, but Barthélèmy’s not buying it. This is a white man’s war. Things reach boiling point when the sergeant disobeys orders and brings along a small child, the lone survivor from a village where everyone has died of plague. The major can’t quell the brewing mutiny, and when Indy actually puts a gun to his superior officer’s head, you can cut the tension with a knife.

This and the next episode were written by Frank Darabont, and they were chosen to close the original six-week run of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles on ABC. I remember watching this part of the story in my dorm room just amazed that something so good, and so bleak, was on TV. It also probably explained to about nine million people what that line about “Belgians in the Congo” in that aggravating Billy Joel song meant. The spread of this war, the white man’s war, to Africa just isn’t known very widely here. This is why so many people have reacted so strongly and so positively to the depiction of Wakanda in Black Panther, which, incidentally, also featured de Bankolé in a very small role. When you see in stories as vivid as this just how monstrous and how pointless the history of colonizing was, it’s no wonder Panther found such acclaim. We certainly had a lot to talk about with our son tonight.