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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.

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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?

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The calendar tells me that I must have been nine when the mother of my school friend Sean phoned my mother and asked whether I wanted to go see a movie with her boy that afternoon. I’d never heard a single word about Raiders of the Lost Ark, or seen a TV ad, and spent the next couple of hours ready to see my buddy but very skeptical about the film. I’d half-convinced myself it was going to be an old documentary about Noah’s Ark shown at Sean’s church. That ended up being possibly the best movie-going experience that anybody’s ever had.

I almost pulled off the same blind spoiler for our son last night. I was slightly foiled by Lucas’s decision to quasi-rename the movie on the DVD menu – mercifully not on the print of the film itself – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. So since we’ve been watching Young Indy (we’re halfway through and will pick back up in a couple of weeks), he knows who the character is and I did tell him some time back that at some point we’d meet the adult Indiana Jones.

Of course, as entertaining as Young Indy often is, there’s little in that show to prepare anybody for what a mad, wonderful rollercoaster this movie is.

It would be about accurate to say that Raiders blew our kid’s mind. He jibbered and jabbered when it finished, after having spent giant chunks of the previous two hours with his jaw on the floor, and couldn’t decide what his favorite part was. He eventually settled on the fight at the airplane – that scene does, of course, feature explosions – but I think he loved practically every minute of it. Even after having watched this movie something on the order of forty or fifty times, I remain so impressed by the pacing. Not one of the exposition scenes – call ’em “talky scenes” when you’re looking at them through a kid’s eyes – goes on too long for a typical child’s attention span. There are spiders and snakes and truck chases and blood and skeletons and one delicious fight after another.

I confess that the “overly concerned parent” gene came out toward the end. I suddenly worried whether that climax was finally going to be the scene that was far too gory and shocking for our kid. Was I, at last, being a downright irresponsible dad letting this poor innocent baby see Ronald Lacey melt into a puddle of candle wax and red nail polish? I dismissed the thought, but it took a minute. Then when those angels turn into eighties ILM skeletons, I diverted my eyes from the screen and watched him. Ronald Lacey wasn’t the only one who melted. I use the phrase “jaw on the floor” a lot. I’m not kidding this time. I also think the word “melt” is remarkably appropriate. His eyes were open wider than I’ve ever seen them, his mouth open wide in shock, and when it ended with Paul Freeman exploding, the kid turned into liquid and slid off the sofa and onto the floor, absolutely stunned. There was a gasp and a “Wh – WHOA!” and he stood up, shaking his head, mind as blown as mine was, yours was, everybody in 1981’s was.

It was a sight to see.

Anyway, this silly blog wouldn’t be this silly blog if I didn’t praise some actors and point out an odd coincidence or two. One of the most curious things about the casting of Raiders is that among the Nazis, you’ve got Ronald Lacey as the black-suited Toht and Tutte Lemkow as the fellow with the eye patch. They also play two of the obsessed treasure hunters in the Avengers episode we watched last weekend, “Legacy of Death.” The actors do not share any screen time in either story. And because George Lucas enjoys working with the same actors, we have seen Paul Freeman, who plays Belloq, twice in Young Indy in the role of big game hunter Frederick Selous. And we’ll see John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, and Karen Allen again in some of the other movies.

Incidentally, the rumor was that had Young Indy continued as far as our hero starting his university career in 1922, we were supposed to meet the young Belloq as a recurring foe. That’s an awful missed opportunity. But we’ll look at a few more adventures of the younger Indy before we get to the next film a few months from now.

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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 2.4 – Paris, 1916

The episode where Indy has a brief romance with Mata Hari was one of my favorites from the show’s original run. ABC originally screened it in July of 1993, one of the eight they burned off that summer after canceling the program. The hour was written by Carrie Fisher and directed by Nicholas Roeg, and guest stars the unbelievably beautiful Italian actress Domiziana Giordano as Mata Hari.

Our son was largely indifferent to the episode, when he wasn’t hiding his eyes from all the smooching. Indy handles this affair very, very badly, which is not unexpected. A seventeen year-old boy isn’t going to have his first physical relationship with a woman who is twenty-three years his senior and it end well. So we found some amusing common ground in discussing how Indy’s jealousy and envy led him to act stupidly and rashly. Not that Mata treats him all that well. After all, she’s romancing various old politicians and generals when she’s not with him.

Somewhat lost in the main story is the interesting casting of the Levis, old friends of Indy’s father, who pull strings and arrange Indy and Remy’s leave. I wouldn’t say that I’m really a fan of either Ian McDiarmid or Jacqueline Pearce, but it is kind of neat to have Senator Palpatine and Supreme Commander Servalan at the same table. (Perhaps even more interesting, there’s an episode of The Zoo Gang where Pearce’s husband is played by Peter Cushing. I guess she likes the Empire…)

And also overshadowed is the interesting note that Indy’s father has sent, suggesting that he will abandon his insistence that Indy study at Princeton if he’ll just come home. This is a little quandary. There’s absolutely nothing keeping Indy from going AWOL. “Corporal Henri Defense” doesn’t exist. As soon as he takes off the uniform and the dogtags, he could just be the American Henry Jones Jr. again and catch the next steamship for New York. But he doesn’t. He has a duty and an obligation. Home is still a long way away.

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