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!

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.

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…

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!

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. Thanks a lot, Indy.

Young Indiana Jones 1.13 – Ireland, 1916

We slightly baffled our son by pointing out the difficulty that Indiana Jones and his friend Remy were in at the end of the Mexican episode. They planned to go to Europe and enlist in the Belgian army, but had no money to get there. So they stowed aboard a liner bound for Ireland, were caught the first night out, and put to work as deckhands for the rest of the trip. Then they catch a ride to Dublin, where they find work in a pub to save up the money to get to London.

But Indy soon starts burning some of their cash when he spots a cute girl named Maggie, and, after some fisticuffs, befriends her brother Sean. They’re played by Susannah Doyle, who is best known for her role in the comedy Drop the Dead Donkey, and Darragh Kelly. This won’t be a very long-lasting friendship. Sean’s among the crowd that takes over the central post office during the Easter Rebellion.

Our son was pleased by all the action of the rebellion sequence, where the British army brings in enough firepower to level half the city and turn public opinion solidly against them while catching the rebels. It really is impressive, ominous, and sad. Sean’s not coming out of this alive. Even if he isn’t killed in the street fighting, a firing squad waits for him.

We also pointed out to our son how a lie of omission can be just as bad as a lie of commission. Maggie and her friend Nuala assume that our hero is an American millionaire, and he foolishly doesn’t correct them. You allow little fibs like that to go on, and you end up buying a lot of cream cakes and seats at the music hall for silly girls.

Young Indiana Jones 1.12 – Mexico, 1916

I remember vividly just how ridiculous ABC’s promotional department was, promoting their new show in late February and March of 1992 with a clip of Indy composing a letter to his father. “I’ve joined the Mexican revolution. Sorry about high school.” I thought that was entirely the wrong tone to take, and surely viewers who tuned in to Young Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jackal looking for that sort of goofy humor switched off two hours later completely baffled. This was not the wacky “TGIF”-style show that the ads suggested.

If only the show could have been this wild and exciting every week, though! It’s really fun. Indy follows bandits into Mexico after they’ve attacked a border town, but ends up captured and only escapes death because General Pancho Villa is in a good mood. Also riding with Villa is an increasingly disillusioned Belgian man named Remy Baudouin, who has been hoping for vengeance since federal Mexican troops killed his wife some time previously. Remy is played by Ronny Coutteure, who effectively takes Lloyd Owen’s place as co-star in the series.

Indy is inspired by Villa’s drive for justice and resolves to aid in his revolution, but he joins Remy in losing his drive. This isn’t his war, and it isn’t his country. Remy wants to return to Belgium and fight the Germans, and the hour ends with Indy accompanying him.

But getting there is full of superbly directed gunfights and action, lots of explosions, and far, far more action than any typical American TV drama of the period, even the better ones like China Beach that spent a lot of money on extras and location filming each week. Our son was in heaven; he says this was by far the best episode he’s seen so far, and I think he’s right.

Incidentally, getting there also means wrapping up the loose end of the killer who got away with the lost treasure in episode one, and Indy killing somebody for the first time. I think that this had a little more weight in the original broadcast when both halves of the jackal adventure were shown together. The story flowed better and there’s more of a sense of righteousness in seeing the villain get his just rewards in the same movie. It also had one of the better bookends of the broadcast episodes, which reveals that Indy did ensure that the stolen jackal treasure made its way to a museum.

I enjoyed the surprise of learning who played the very small role of an American soldier early in the hour. It was Ed Bishop, who spent the sixties and early seventies as one of the go-to American actors in the ITC adventure shows, and providing voices and occasional onscreen roles for Gerry Anderson. I kicked myself for a second for not recognizing him, but I guess there’s one part of my brain that stores “UK TV 1960s/70s” data, and another, much smaller part of my brain that stores “US TV 1990s,” and it never occurs to me that some actors can indeed make their way across the decades and continents to keep finding work!

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.

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.

Young Indiana Jones 1.1 – Egypt, 1908

The first problem with Young Indiana Jones is the remarkably curious way that it was produced. George Lucas and his team assembled a timeline and chronology for Indiana Jones between the ages of about 8 to 25, cast Corey Carrier as the younger Indy and Sean Patrick Flanery as the teenager and young adult version, and then made the episodes in nothing that even remotely resembled chronological order. Even if a network had been willing to run each hour of the show as it was delivered, even assuming they agreed to hop between a Carrier episode one week and a Flanery the next, the order would have wrecked any casual viewer’s ability to follow it. The May 1916 installment was made before the February and April 1916 episodes, for example.

The second problem with Young Indiana Jones is the downright idiotic way that it was broadcast. ABC gave it a six week tryout in the spring of 1992, where it did decent numbers, averaging about 17 million viewers. Each hour was bookended with an introduction and wrapup featuring George Hall as the 93 year-old Indiana Jones in the present day, reminiscing about his youth. The show could be exciting, although action was not the total goal of each hour, but also educational. The obvious place in the fall 1992 lineup for a family show like this was Sundays at 7 pm, the old home of The Wonderful World of Disney. Madly, ABC renewed the treacly family dramedy Life Goes On, which already had that slot, and eventually canceled it and gave the hour to America’s Funniest Home Videos. Young Indy instead got MacGyver‘s awful old slot before Monday Night Football for all of four weeks. ABC gave up and, months later, burned off 17 of the (then) 21 remaining hours on Saturday nights.

And the third problem with Young Indiana Jones is the astonishingly aggravating way it was released on DVD. 44 hours of the show were eventually completed, but the broadcast versions don’t exist anymore. They’ve been reassembled into 22 compilation movies, with all of George Hall’s bookends deleted. The DVD sets were criminally expensive when they were first released, in part because the sets are absolutely bloated with special documentaries about the subjects of each story. Lucas apparently envisioned these sitting on the shelves of every high school history class or something. Set one contains fourteen hours of TV across twelve disks, along with dozens of hours of background material that can all be safely skipped.

So, what we’re going to do here is watch one hour at a time, chronologically, stopping each of the compilation movies at the halfway point. I see us doing this in five or six “seasons.” Mind you, some of these were originally shown as two-hour movies on ABC or The Family Channel, but most of them were always clearly two separate hours linked together. “The Scandal of 1920” and “The Phantom Train of Doom” were probably the only ones that really felt like proper feature-length stories.

“Egypt, 1908,” for example, originally saw life as the first half of the 1992 TV movie Young Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jackal, both parts of which were written by Jonathan Hales. Now it’s the first half of the DVD-only movie My First Adventure. We’re going to label it “1.1,” which looks like it means “season 1 episode 1,” but it is really “DVD set 1 first half of movie 1.”

And George Lucas occasionally wonders why everybody loves Star Wars and Indiana Jones but would still love the opportunity to punch him in the nose.

So anyway, the first ten hours of Young Indy star Corey Carrier as our hero, who was born on July 1, 1899, and are set between 1908 and 1910. Indy is globetrotting around the world while his famous father, played by Lloyd Owen, is on a lecture tour. Ruth de Sosa plays Indy’s mother, and Margaret Tyzack is Miss Seymour, who had been Henry Jones Sr.’s tutor at Oxford and has come along to instruct Indy.

Since there’s a limit to how much an eight year-old kid can do to save the day, these earliest adventures see him in the company of others who carry the action and the rough stuff. Joseph Bennett makes the first of a couple of appearances as Indy’s pal T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) here. Some other recognizable faces include Oliver Ford Davies, who Lucas evidently remembered as he later got the small role of Governor Bibble in the Star Wars prequels, and Tony Robinson, best known as Baldrick in Blackadder.

Revisiting this, it seems really slow, but it’s paced pretty well for kids. There are a couple of mild frights in a tomb, but the actual plot – a murder mystery and the theft of a ruby-eyed jackal from a secret room – takes up surprisingly little time because there’s so much setup for the family’s voyage around the world. Our son enjoyed it, but I don’t think anybody has ever been crazy about it. Things get much, much more fun when Sean Patrick Flanery steps in, but hopefully we’ll enjoy getting there, revisiting so much that I’ve forgotten, and seeing a few hours of the show that I’ve never seen.