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.
“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!
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.