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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Young Indiana Jones 2.6 – German East Africa, 1916 (part two)

This is such a fun story! “The Phantom Train of Doom” might just be the best of all the Young Indy adventures. There are still some very good ones coming up, but this just runs rings around almost every other story that they made. It’s just a classic Indiana Jones adventure, with our hero getting caught up in escalating nonsense and a story that requires fast thinking, improvisation, and, of course, a blatant disregard for the laws of physics.

It follows the first part of the story quite closely, with all of the same cast. The “Old and the Bold” gang returns to the British lines and are immediately given a new assignment: to kidnap a German colonel. They agree to escort Indy and Remy back to the Belgian lines with a formal explanation for their absence and an apology from the British general. They just don’t tell Indy and Remy about their new mission. Everything that can possibly go wrong does, hilariously, and before long, Indy, Remy, and their prisoner are making their way across the veldt on foot.

The colonel is played by Tom Bell, who I remember seeing in Prime Suspect as DS Otley. I spent all of the nineties hoping that when Doctor Who ever did get resurrected, they’d cast Bell as the Master. There’s a parallel universe where he enjoyed some good scraps with Paul McGann’s Doctor, I’m sure.

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Young Indiana Jones 2.5 – German East Africa, 1916 (part one)

This one’s absolutely delightful. We all chuckled our way through the whole thing. Indy and Remy have been transferred to Africa, but because neither of them can read train timetables all that well, they end up hopelessly lost, at least three hundred miles from their unit in Victoria, and bump into a “battalion” of in-the-way old codgers and geezers played by character actors like Freddie Jones and Ronald Fraser.

They call themselves the 25th Frontiersman Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, and before he knows what’s hit him, the summers that Indy spent shoveling coal on a New Jersey train, and his fluent German, have him “volunteering” for an oddball mission to track down a mysterious German train with a massive cannon mounted on a flatbed car. The British general who’s asked for the group’s help promises to send a nice commendation to Indy and Remy’s commander, if they can ever get out of this mess…

This two-part story was first shown on ABC in the summer of 1993 under the title “The Phantom Train of Doom,” which is a silly and pulpy name, but this is a silly and fun story. Our son was in heaven. It’s full of explosions and secret bases and fights, and Indy doesn’t smooch even one silly girl. The first “part” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger. It’s really two separate stories with most of the same cast, including Julian Firth in his other 1916 role, as a British military intelligence officer who’s grateful for this company of the “Old and the Bold” to pull them out of the fire.

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Young Indiana Jones 1.8 – Athens, 1909

You have to admit that Lloyd Owen had a pretty thankless and very difficult task in playing the role of Indiana Jones’ father. Sean Connery created the role in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, set in 1938, and Owen had to get some sympathy from the audience as a worried father while most of the audience knows that these two characters are going to spend most of their adult lives not speaking.

This segment is really, really talky. Indy and his dad get some bonding time when they go to one of those hanging monasteries outside the Greek town of Kalambaka – the same one where they filmed the climax of For Your Eyes Only – to translate some medieval books in their library. Henry Sr. decides to introduce his son to Aristotlean logic. It’s not the most exciting thing we’ve ever watched. Later on, some goats eat their clothes while they’re bathing. At least that got our son giggling.

As with the previous hour, this segment was originally shown as part of the TV movie Travels With Father on the old Family Channel in 1996, with the script for both segments credited to Frank Darabont, Jonathan Hales, and Matthew Jacobs. The TV movie was cut and edited at least somewhat differently for its DVD release.

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Young Indiana Jones 1.7 – Russia, 1909

After ABC canceled The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, another network came in to save the day. The Family Channel (later ABC Family and, today, Freeform) ordered four TV movies, three with Sean Patrick Flanery and one with Corey Carrier. The two-and-a-bit stories that made up the Carrier film, Travels With Father, were filmed in 1994 and shown in 1996.

The original movie, its script credited to Frank Darabont, Matthew Jacobs, and Jonathan Hales, had lengthy bookends with Flanery returning home in 1919 after the four years of globetrotting that we’ll see later, and trying to mend fences with his father. Those have been excised from the final DVD version of this series and used to form a separate story on its own. Nothing annoys like George Lucas and his constant tampering.

Our son enjoyed this episode more than the last pair we saw, and it gave us a fun moment of perspective to discuss. Indy has been misbehaving and, accident prone, has caused one spectacle after another, culminating in dropping a chandelier on a wedding cake. Afraid of his punishment, he runs away and meets up with another apparent tramp making his way through the Russian countryside: Leo Tolstoy, who’s trying to get away from his annoying family. They have a remarkable meet-cute – Indy shoots him in the rear with a slingshot while aiming for a weasel, much to our son’s delight – but they bond and decide to work together to get to Russia’s eastern shore and make their way to New Jersey. Michael Gough is terrific as Tolstoy, and I thought this was one of the more entertaining segments as well.

We were amused to learn that our son thought that Indy was perfectly justified in running away and worrying his parents to death, because his father was mean. We protested that Indy’s father didn’t actually do anything other than tell him to stand in one place out of the way – which he promptly ignored – and send him to bed. Yes, he told us, but it was his father’s tone of voice that was the problem. “He sounded mean!” We had to suggest that maybe the destruction of so much of their host’s property, and embarrassment at a wedding might spark a mean tone. Grudgingly, he had to agree a little with us there.

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