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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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Young Indiana Jones 3.7 – Paris, 1919

Well, I knew this one would be over our son’s head. Indy has made his way home only as far as Paris, and he gets distracted by a job with the US State Department working as a translator during the peace conference. If you’ve ever spent any time figuring that Georges Clemenceau, played here by the great Cyril Cusack, was an irredeemable asshole, this story isn’t going to persuade you otherwise.

The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, as played by Michael Kitchen, isn’t much better. And while the two of them get to crawl around on the floor drawing new lines all over maps of the Middle East like the godawful colonialist greedheads they were, President Woodrow Wilson, who was probably ten times the jackass either of them were, just sighs and gets out of their way, too weak to tell them to cut the crap and get out of Arabia and Vietnam.

Our son had no idea what was happening. Pretty much like most of the planet in May 1919, actually.

Anyway, this was the third and final appearance of T.E. Lawrence in the show. Douglas Henshall again plays the character, and while this is a good hour of political drama for grownups all around, Henshall dominates the story, and Sean Patrick Flanery really just gets out of his way. Which makes sense: you get out of Lawrence of Arabia’s way if you’ve got any sense. The friends have a great farewell scene at the end, considering what could have been, and what a better world they could have begun to build in 1919 if the old men hadn’t got in the way. It’s great stuff, but wow, is it ever not for seven year-olds.

Anyway, he and I had a much better time talking about MacGuffins earlier tonight. When we watched Guardians of the Galaxy the other morning, he noted Star-Lord mentioning the Ark of the Covenant and the Maltese Falcon and said “Hey! I understood that reference!”

So we talked about how the Ark and the Falcon and the Infinity Stone and the Peacock’s Eye are all examples of MacGuffins. I explained that one of the things that separates a MacGuffin plot from a plot of conflict (like, say, Buck Rogers versus a space vampire) is how the hero usually has the agency to stop searching for the MacGuffin, just like how Indy was able to give up his search for the Peacock’s Eye. However, there’s often a consequence for abandoning the search, like how Indy was left in the South Pacific with no easy way back to New Jersey. Hence him working his way back to Europe and getting a job that would pay for the passage home. That was a nice transition which he certainly enjoyed more than tonight’s story!

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Young Indiana Jones 3.6 – South Pacific, 1919

There is so much to love about the second half of “Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye.” It gets the rollercoaster treasure hunt over and done with surprisingly quickly, and our son absolutely loved it when our heroes get chased off one island and escape with their lives. It then settles into a long, almost meditative groove as this kid we’ve been watching becomes Indiana Jones. It’s a fantastic performance by Sean Patrick Flanery.

I feel this is a good companion piece to the “Congo” story, where Indy met Albert Schweitzer. I like the way that Indy occasionally meets these thoughtful father figures who quietly show him the love and the heart that his own father never did. Here, Indy and Remy spend a few days in the company of a tribe in the South Seas, and go with them on an important cultural exchange to another island. There, they meet Bronislaw Malinowski, the father of participant observation anthropology, who is living with the second tribe. Malinowski is played by Tom Courtenay, who has a huge part in Indy’s life. He’s the one who simply and logically convinces Indy it’s time to go home and pursue his own dreams at last.

Remy doesn’t take this very well. They have another clue to the location of the diamond, and Remy is perfectly content to spend the rest of his life searching for it. This brings their story to a bittersweet end. But that’s not quite the last we’ll see or hear of the Peacock’s Eye…

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Young Indiana Jones 3.5 – Egypt & Java, 1918-19

The “Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye” TV movie, which was shown in 1995 on the old Family Channel, answers the question of what Indiana Jones did for the six months between the Armistice in November 1918 and the Paris peace talks the following May. Reunited with Remy in the closing days of the war, they pull a treasure map off the body of a traitor right as the “stop shooting each other” whistles are blown, and then gallivant off in search of a whacking huge diamond.

Jule Selbo’s story is a real delight. It’s one crazy problem after another, with Adrian Edmondson playing it straight as a one-eyed villain named Zyke who’s also on the trail of the diamond. Zyke has several other fortune hunters financing his quest, and when he turns up dead in Batavia, with something important missing from his hotel room, Indy and Remy have several dangerous suspects. They’re all on a steamship bound for the South China Sea…

Our son was really pleased with this one, because it’s almost non-stop intrigue and translations and working out the meanings of ancient Greek clues that lead treasure hunters to remote Indonesian temples filled with monkeys and snakes. It starts with explosions in the trenches and it’s got a pair of terrific brawls before ending with our heroes chasing after their treasure, which some pirates have unknowingly swiped. Our kid didn’t even mind the cute flirting between Indy and guest star Jayne Ashbourne, who might be the only production letdown in this great story. Her acting is just fine, but she looks remarkably 1995 for a character who’s supposed to be around in 1919.

And speaking of acting, a round of applause for Sean Patrick Flanery for his work in this one. I’ve always enjoyed watching him in this show, but the note-perfect impersonation of Harrison Ford he pulls off here is amazing. The way he speaks more quietly, muttering a little as he stops blinking while he figures out some old translation… he still needs some courses and some instruction to go along with his field work – I don’t think he’s actually met Abner Ravenwood quite yet – but those character scenes in the Hotel du Nil, with his “Henri Defense” identity discarded and back to being Henry Jones Junior, are just fabulous.

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Young Indiana Jones 3.4 – Transylvania, 1918

Happy (belated) Halloween! Tonight we watched the seasonally appropriate tale of Indiana Jones’s first encounter with the supernatural, as written by Jonathan Hensleigh. Indy and an American officer are ordered into Transylvania to investigate reports that a General Targo is amassing a separatist Romanian army.

I hadn’t seen this story before, but what I did know led me to wonder whether this was about to become a tip of the hat to a classic serial from the pages of 2000 AD called Fiends of the Eastern Front, written by Gerry Finley-Day and drawn by the late, great Carlos Ezquerra. That’s about a mysterious company of Romanians who turn out to be vampires.

Sadly, General Targo is not an earlier incarnation of Fiends’ Costanza, but he is, of course, a vampire. He’s either a new incarnation of Vlad the Impaler or he really admires the guy’s style. The tone is pure early seventies Hammer – I was most reminded of Countess Dracula – and it’s very gory and very graphic and it creeped the absolute life out of our son, who first went behind the sofa and ended up in another room.

While I mention Hammer, that’s only to note the look and feel. The script is based on the original legends of vampire behavior, and the incredibly specific way to kill them (stake through the heart at a crossroads, for example) rather than on 20th Century film versions. But if I might be allowed one more Hammer comparison, Bob Peck is interesting as Targo, but he’s no Christopher Lee!

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Young Indiana Jones 3.3 – Istanbul, 1918

I kind of admire the way this episode, written by Rosemary Anne Sisson, throws you in at the deep end. In continuity terms, Indy’s been stationed in Istanbul under the identity of a Swedish journalist called Nils Andersson for something like five or six months. This is a proper trenchcoats-and-fedoras spy story, with Indy trying to determine which of six agents in his command is working for the Germans. Unfortunately, director Mike Newell gave it away far, far too early. It could have been a great, paranoid thriller, but when the audience knows more than the lead character, that’s kind of hard to manage.

The audience also knows that Indy’s latest romance won’t last. In Young Indiana Jones terms, it’s by far his longest relationship. He and an American girl named Molly, who works at an orphanage, get engaged, which kind of dooms her. Indy also has the gall to propose to her when she still thinks that he’s a Swede named Nils, which is more evidence for the “Indiana Jones is a complete jerk” argument. Nevertheless, her inevitable death is still a little bit tragic, unless you’re our favorite seven year-old critic. “Was that sad?” I asked him as she died in Indy’s arms. “Nope,” he said, unimpressed.

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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. That’s a lot, Indy.

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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.

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