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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Over Labor Day weekend, we got to see Raiders on the Lost Ark on the big screen, at Chattanooga’s wonderful old Tivoli Theatre. They started a film series that I didn’t know about as early as I should have – we missed The Goonies, and wouldn’t that have been a fine movie to see in a theater? – but I’ll be paying attention to what they announce for the Bobby Stone Film Series next year.

I mentioned that I’m very glad that we reacquainted our son with Raiders, so that the characters played by Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies would be fresher in his mind. You can never tell with kids. After we finished, I asked him whether Last Crusade was a million times better than Temple of Doom and he had to be reminded what happened in that one. I also reminded him of a couple of key moments in Young Indiana Jones, particularly the end of his relationship with his father.

But yes, Last Crusade is a million times better than its predecessor. It ticks all the boxes that Temple didn’t, especially the one where a movie like this needs a charismatic bad guy, this time played by the wonderful Julian Glover. Most importantly, it’s a fun movie, never dark or frightening. The kid couldn’t decide what his favorite scene or favorite line was. He jumped for joy throughout practically the whole film. Castles on fire, underground crypts, boat chases, motorcycle chases, tank chases, Flaming airplanes passing cars in tunnels… this movie’s got it all. It’s nearly as good as the original, and Sean Connery’s wonderful as Indy’s grouchy father.

I really enjoyed our son recognizing a famous landmark, but not for the same reason I did. The treasure hunt takes our heroes to an ancient city, the same one seen in 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. But our son leaned over and whispered “That’s a real place!” because he’d seen the facade – Al-Khazneh in Jordan – in a documentary recently. Some things register a little more strongly than Sinbad movies, I suppose!

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Young Indiana Jones 3.14 – Hollywood, 1920 (part two)

And so, Young Indiana Jones rides off into the sunset in this funny final hour. Matthew Jacobs handled the script for this installment, where Indy takes a job as John Ford’s assistant as the flamboyant stylist goes to shoot a western. Then one of the actors dies and Indy gets to saddle up in his place. Then, with all the stuntmen carried back to Universal on stretchers, Indy gets to learn how to climb underneath a runaway carriage after being dragged behind it. That’s exactly the sort of skill that comes in handy when you’re clawing your way around speeding trucks trying to hijack the Ark of the Covenant eighteen years later.

More than anything, this story is yet another love letter from George Lucas to all the movies that inspired him. It kind of makes you long for the days when a director like John Ford could shoot from sunup to sundown in six days and make a feature. Stephen Caffrey is terrific as John Ford, and he frankly steals the story completely from Sean Patrick Flanery. This really is just about the actor’s weakest performance as Indy. He’s too immature, too possessive, too petulant, and too indecisive for a character who’s lived through everything that he has. It’s not a very good final outing for Young Indy, but to be fair, everybody hoped that there would be more than this.

Sadly, after the Family Channel decided against ordering any more stories, there was only enough in the budget to finish up what they could to put the 22-film package together. 44 hours isn’t anything to complain about, and a lot more than many series get, but I still wish they’d have got Indy into his late twenties for a couple of them.

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Young Indiana Jones 3.13 – Hollywood, 1920 (part one)

You might make the case that with only four last TV movies budgeted, George Lucas might have been better off not spending one of them on another lightweight comedy. Young Indiana Jones and the Hollywood Follies was the first of the four TV movies shown on The Family Channel from 1994-95, and chronologically, it’s the final adventure made for our hero. What comes next is a fifteen year gap before the events of Temple of Doom. So we never get to meet Abner and Marion Ravenwood or René Belloq or Marcus Brody. But we do get to meet John Ford, without whom…

…but I’m getting ahead of myself. In the first hour of this adventure, John Ford only appears in a couple of short scenes. It opens in New York, just a couple of days after the finale of the previous adventure. As feared, Gloria has had Indy fired from Scandals of 1920 and he only has about a month to cobble his next semester’s tuition together. So George White points him toward a job at Universal that will pay $600: shut down production of Erich von Stroheim’s runaway motion picture Foolish Wives, which has already cost the studio a million dollars and shows no signs of wrapping.

Allied with his latest girlfriend Claire, played by future Spy Game star Allison Smith, and mogul-in-waiting Irving Thalberg, played by Bill Cusack, Indy tries every trick he can to sabotage or put an end to von Stroheim’s excesses. There’s kidnapping, horse tranquilizers, and marbles all over a tile floor. It’s funny, and a little silly, but it’s not the most essential hour of the series!

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Young Indiana Jones 3.11 and 3.12 – New York City, 1920 (parts one and two)

I always enjoy selecting an image from the story that we have watched, and wondered what could possibly best illustrate tonight’s minor disaster. In this feature-length story, first shown on ABC as Young Indiana Jones and the Scandal of 1920, Indy goes to New York for a summer job and ends up romancing three beautiful women. He’s immediately in over his head, since he’s living with one, working with another, and the third’s father is signing the paychecks. And yes, as the billiard balls shown above so cheerfully symbolize, they’re a redhead, a brunette, and a blonde. The background for this calamity is the production of the second year of George White’s Broadway spectacles, Scandals of 1920, although our son protested that the destruction of an amazing-looking cake toward the end of the picture is the real scandal.

This is lightweight stuff, but it’s unbelievably entertaining and very, very funny. There are great slapstick moments and wonderful comedy-of-errors-and-manners moments. Tom Beckett plays Indy’s latest famous friend, George Gershwin, and while Gershwin has a ball with Indy’s situation, he also does an exemplary job running interference for our hero… at least until the inevitable, and hilarious, climax.

Jeffrey Wright and Jay Underwood also have teeny scenes as Indy’s pals Sidney and Ernest, giving a little continuity tie to the previous story, but the real joy is in the casting of the women, who are all portrayed as so incredibly likable that it’s no wonder Indy finds making any kind of decision about them a nightmare. Alexandra Powers plays the rich Park Avenue socialite, Jennifer Stevens, in her only role of any real substance, is the singer, and Anne Heche gets the fun role of the bohemian poet and literary critic. Heche’s character would be the obvious pick – she’s intellectual, sexy, and has a seat with Woolcott, Parker, and their crew at the Hotel Algonquin – but the others are also wonderful. Stevens plays a sweetheart, and she gets to steal the opening night of Scandals with an anachronistic but amazing performance of “The Man I Love” (dubbed, actually, by Linda Ronstadt, to my surprise just now), and Powers may be playing posh, but she seems like the most fun companion a fellow could have for a summer in New York.

Indy doesn’t finish the scene in the photo that I chose by missing the three balls entirely and scratching into the corner pocket… he does that to himself a little later on, beautifully, perfectly, and scandalously.

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Young Indiana Jones 3.10 – Chicago, 1920 (part two)

Because Indiana Jones has to meet everybody, here he is at the funeral of Big Jim Colosimo. From left to right, that’s Indy’s old pal Ernest Hemingway, played again by Jay Underwood, along with Ben Hecht, Al Capone, and Eliot Ness. At this stage in his time in Chicago, Capone is going by the name Al Brown and nobody yet suspects that he might possibly have been the gunman who carried out the hit on Colosimo.

Our son enjoyed the second half of Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues far more than the first. Indy, Hemingway, and Ness team up to solve Colosimo’s murder, and run afoul of another Chicago gangster, Dion O’Bannion, while also finding the local cops to be completely corrupt and in the pocket of the mob. No wonder Ness would end up forming the Untouchables about ten years later.

The story’s huge fun and it features a terrific sequence where our heroes bumble their way out of a warehouse with vital evidence while avoiding about ten thousand bullets, ending with wrecked cars and crates of illegal hooch spilled everywhere. It’s played for laughs and our son howled all the way through it.

The story ends with a far, far too short bookend back in 1950 as Harrison Ford’s Indy finishes his story and uses his newfound saxophone to get out of trouble. It sure could have used another minute or so with Indy telling his friend a few more details of what became of the players, and confirming that Colosimo’s murder is officially unsolved to this day, but it’s hard to complain when Indy gets to exit the scene to his familiar theme tune!

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Young Indiana Jones 3.9 – Chicago, 1920 (part one)

I can tell you exactly where I was on March 13, 1993, when The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles started its third season on ABC. Like millions of other people, I was stranded by a massive winter storm. ABC had given the show its biggest publicity blitz yet for its new Saturday night home, hoping that bringing Harrison Ford in for a couple of “bookend” scenes set in Wyoming, 1950 would get audiences interested.

Then the snowstorm hit, and everybody was stuck at home, and ratings were massive. 18.2 million people tuned in. They lost half the audience the next week, because the ice had melted and Harrison Ford wasn’t in it. And as for me, I didn’t see it for several days. I was stuck at my parents’ house without any power. I had to ask somebody to tape it for me.

The first half of Jule Selbo’s Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues is a slow and entertaining introduction to jazz and gospel. Jeffrey Wright, who later played Felix opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond, plays Sidney Bechet, who befriends Indy and helps him stop being a gushing jazz fanboy and learn how to play soprano sax. Not much else happens in this hour. The music drove our son bonkers. He hasn’t learned to appreciate much music, and certainly not this. I thought it was all quite wonderful myself. There will be some gunplay in the next hour, he’ll be relieved to learn.

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

When I wrote about Raiders of the Lost Ark a few months ago, I retold the circumstances behind my first trip to see the movie, because I remember it very well. I also remember going to see 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom very well. We missed about the first half of the movie.

This time, it was the mom of one of my younger brother’s friends who arranged the trip to the theater with her two boys. She was a well-meaning woman, but kind of a hopeless dingbat. Three years previously, she’d taken the four kids to see the 3-D western Comin’ at Ya!. I’ve never seen a frame of that film since. All I remember was a topless woman jiggling in 3-D mere minutes into the movie and being dragged out with the other three kids. I don’t remember what we ended up seeing instead. Possibly Raiders.

So anyway, Atlanta once had a theater across the road from what used to be called Crawford Long Hospital. It was built in the 1920s and was renamed the Columbia in its final decade. It boasted the largest screen in the city, an 80mm screen larger than the Fox’s. (Astonishingly, Skips Hot Dogs, now in Avondale Estates, used to have a location on the same block!) I don’t know why Mrs. P wanted to take us downtown instead of one of the many theaters in our li’l suburb, but I’m glad she did, because it was my only trip to this piece of Atlanta history. And I didn’t mind walking in so late that the first thing we saw were the heads of monkeys being placed in front of the guests at some banquet or other. Suddenly there were chilled monkey brains and the same four kids who got shoved to the exit of that one theater were jumping up and down over the grotesque but awesomely cool spectacle of nasty food before we even got to our seats.

Mrs. P talked to somebody in charge and we got to see the movie in full after finishing the half we saw. We got to see the chilled monkey brains twice and were still talking about them when school started and they served us jello.

The gross-out factor of Temple of Doom remains its greatest calling card. Hours later, our kid was still wondering what animal gave up the eyeballs in the soup, and when he let out a typical “blech” when Indy and Willie embrace in the catacombs, he quickly clarified “I don’t think it’s gross because they’re smooching, I think it’s gross because of all those bugs!”

However, if you read the story about Raiders, you’ll recall that my Concerned Dad gene activated at the end of that movie. I couldn’t ignore it this time. When Mola Ram pulled that victim’s heart out of his chest, my hand was clamped over my son’s eyes.

Convention has it that Doom was the weakest of the first three Indiana Jones films. I absolutely agree. In fact, apart from the terrific opening scene in Shanghai (that diamond, by the way, is the Peacock’s Eye), Indy and Willie’s “five minutes” flirting, and the fantastic scene on the bridge, I don’t care for this one. It’s too long and too brutal. There’s too much glee in the torture, and no glee anywhere else. Kate Capshaw is wonderful and Harrison Ford gets to be memorable in a few places, but if I was in the government of India, I wouldn’t have wanted this patronizing, ugly, violent movie made in my country either.

But that bridge scene… I could suffer through a worse movie than this for that bridge scene. I was looking forward to the bridge scene a couple of days ago and it didn’t disappoint, which is more than I can say for the rest of the film.

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Young Indiana Jones 3.8 – Princeton, 1919

I’ve discussed how the home video version of Young Indiana Jones was assembled and reassembled, remade and remodelled, from a variety of sources. The Princeton installment is the most curious of them all. I think that the episode was mostly filmed in 1996, but the key pieces of the story were made about two years previously.

When the old Family Channel ordered the four Young Indy movies, they got three with Sean Patrick Flanery and a fourth, called “Travels With Father”, which contained a pair of Corey Carrier adventures. These stories were given a framework of Indy coming home from Europe and attempting to mend things with his father, who honestly couldn’t care less whether he came back or not.

I think that by the time the Family Channel finally got around to airing “Travels With Father,” the bigwigs at Lucasfilm had already decided to rebuild the series into the current format. So among the new stories made for home video is this big expansion of the frame story. They brought back Robyn Lively for a single scene as Indy’s high school sweetie Nancy. They probably filmed her scene in the newly-made bridge between that story and the Pancho Villa one the same day! Sadly, Nancy doesn’t seem to have got the chance to run off and have high school spy and detective adventures without her no-good ex-boyfriend Indiana Jones. We learn here that she married Indy’s rival Butch and already has a kid.

The bulk of the story is another doomed romance for our hero. He falls for a society girl named Amy, played by Brooke Langton, who was one of the ensemble cast of Melrose Place around this time. He also rekindles an old friendship with Paul Robeson, and gets to attend Robeson’s commencement from Rutgers, where, as valedictorian, he gave an electrifying speech about race in America. Kevin Jackson plays Paul, and he’s pretty awesome in the part. And Indy gets a glimpse of the future by working as a lab assistant to rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard, because of course, Indiana Jones has to meet everybody.

The rest of it’s entertaining – and we all enjoyed Indy and Paul ladling out the fisticuffs against three racist goons who get in over their heads in a big way – but the meat of the story is Indy’s doomed relationship with his father. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. We know from the film The Last Crusade how this is going to end, but seeing Indy leave Princeton, probably never to return, doesn’t make it any easier.

We’ll return Young Indiana Jones to the shelf for now, but we’ll check in to see how he’ll fare in Chicago next month. With a stopover in 1935 first…

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