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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 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!

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Young Indiana Jones 1.11 – Princeton, 1916

In this blog, I’ve occasionally joked about the fun of watching television from parallel universes, and wondering about the shows that we could have watched if only our selfish TV companies had made them. With this in mind, I suggest to you that somebody in the multiverse got to enjoy at least a couple of seasons of actress Robyn Lively starring as Nancy Drew in adventures and mysteries set in the late 1910s after her no-good boyfriend abandoned her and went off to Europe. I bet that show was huge fun.

It’s perhaps a little unfair to start talking about the guest star instead of the new format for Young Indiana Jones, but it’s their own darn faults for making the earliest chronological appearance of the 17 year-old Indy a story where the guest star just steals the show from him. Sean Patrick Flanery takes over as Indiana Jones in this story, which was first shown on ABC in the spring of 1993, and Lloyd Owen is still here, briefly, as Indy’s father.

We’re in Princeton, where Indy is juggling his high school studies, time on the baseball team, an afterschool job as a soda jerk, and being boyfriend to Nancy Stratemeyer. Nancy is a fictional character, although her father, Edward Stratemeyer, was a real person. In 1916, he was renowned for his children’s books, principally the tales of the Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift. Later on, he would devise the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Nancy here is clearly meant to suggest that the fictional Nancy is based on his own daughter.

The episode was written by Matthew Jacobs and directed by Joe Johnston, and it’s a delightful tribute to all sorts of adventure fiction for kids. The mystery is all about some important plans that have been stolen from Thomas Edison’s nearby laboratories, and it’s got foreign agents and Naval intelligence and car chases and bad guys who conveniently talk about their secret schemes while our heroes are hiding right behind them. Of note among the actors, Clark Gregg, later to play SHIELD Agent Coulson, is here in a small part. Mark L. Taylor and James Handy, who had appeared together in the delightful Arachnophobia three years previously, are also among the cast. Director Johnston also cast Handy in small roles in his films The Rocketeer and Jumanji.

Our son enjoyed this much more than the previous ten episodes, though he was concerned about why they stopped making the “world tour” stories. This is the sort of development he’d better get used to. You can’t look back at classic television without looking at a lot of aggravating cancellations!

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Young Indiana Jones 1.10 – Peking, 1910

In the chronology, the Peking episode is the last of the ten hours to feature Corey Carrier as Younger Indy, but I think that it might have been the third one produced, and it also might have been planned as the third one with this cast to air.

When ABC first gave The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles its six week run in the spring of 1992, they showed the Curse of the Jackal movie (“Egypt, 1908” and “Mexico, 1916”) and five one-hour installments. Merchandising takes a little while to get circulating, and it wasn’t until the summer that we started seeing tie-in material. There were chapter books and coloring books, sticker albums and magazines, and trading cards issued by a company called Pro Set. These were very interesting: the cards told the storyline of the episodes of the first season, except they added the Peking adventure, which was written by Rosemary Anne Sisson, before the show’s closing two-parter.

Did ABC originally plan to show six episodes after the movie? We can only speculate, but ever since I saw those cards, I have believed that they intended to show this story on April 1 1992, with the German East Africa/Congo 1916/17 episodes on April 8 and 15. The network got cold feet after the poor critical reception to the first half of Jackal, and quietly moved this one into limbo. It finally aired in June 1993, after the show had been canceled.

It’s really too bad that the Younger Indy stories weren’t better received, but they’re still not being very well received in our house today. This isn’t a very talky episode, but it’s more of a drama for grownups. Indy gets incredibly sick while the family is miles from a city, and it will take several days for the nearest American-trained doctor to be brought to the house where they’ve found refuge. The only real drama comes from waiting for Indy’s mother to swallow her pride and agree that a local doctor can treat him with acupuncture.

All ends well, of course, but our son seems pretty glad that they’ve ended, period. I’ve assured him that the rest of the series would have a little more action in each hour. Not every one of them, mind you, but we’ve got some spies and criminals and enemy soldiers for an older Indy to tangle with starting about six years after the family left China…

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Young Indiana Jones 1.9 – Benares, 1910

The India episode of Young Indy was among the last ones shown by ABC in the summer of 1993. The program had already been canceled and they were just burning off some of the hours they’d paid for already. It was written by Jonathan Hensleigh and by far the most interesting part of it was the beginning, where Indy teaches a group of local kids baseball, and they teach him a little about cricket.

The show is a gentle introduction to the major world religions, as the city of Benares was once known for being a place where all faiths worshiped with peace and respect from their neighbors. The exception would probably be the Theosophists, and it’s their young figurehead, 14 year-old Jiddu Krishnamurti, who gives Indy the nickel tour while Miss Seymour unsuccessfully tries to convince the Theosophical Society’s president that one of their number is a fraud and a charlatan. I think the show was kind of doomed to failure here. The main characters in this story are all actual people from history, even if they’re ones that have long passed into obscurity. It’s an interesting choice to make Charles Leadbetter the villain, but since Annie Besant never renounced the man, it isn’t going to happen here. Maybe they could have invented somebody else, and a fictional reason for Besant to do the right thing.

And maybe they could have spent a little more time playing baseball and cricket. That’s the best part of the hour.

After the episode, we had a family discussion about treating people of all faiths respectfully, even if we don’t necessarily agree with any of them. Even the theosophists, with all their talk of universal evolution, occult powers, clairvoyance, and auras, deserve kindness and courtesy, even if we certainly don’t agree with what Miss Seymour calls “flim-flam!”

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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.

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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.

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Young Indiana Jones 1.6 – Florence, 1908

It amazes me just how much they spent on this program. This time out, it’s not just all the costumes and the extras and the copious amount of location filming around Florence and Pisa, including a trip to the Leaning Tower, but there’s a production of the opera La Boheme as well as rehearsals for Madame Butterfly, and the fellow who wrote them became one of our son’s most hated TV villains.

Make no mistake, he didn’t like anything about this story of a romance that, mercifully, doesn’t blossom. But Giacomo Puccini, played by French actor Georges Corraface, had our son absolutely fuming. With Indy’s dad off to a conference in Rome, his mother gets swept off her feet by Puccini while Indy stays mostly oblivious and Miss Seymour worries about the right thing to do for somebody in her place. At last, Indy spots his mother having lunch with Puccini in a cafe and our son was off the sofa like a rocket, shaking his fist right in the TV screen. “I HATE him,” he growled. “He should LEAVE HER ALONE!”

Production-wise, Young Indy, particularly the 1908-1910 segments, was a truncated mess produced in a nonsensical order, but this segment was badly overdue. Indy’s mother and father are badly underused in the first episodes. We needed to see more of this family unit and see what makes them tick and love each other. We really could have used more time before Puccini got thrown in like a grenade. It ends well – at the very least it ends before Anna crosses a very bad line – but there isn’t a passing line in any of the Harrison Ford movies where Indy grumbles that he hates Madame Butterfly, and this episode makes you kind of wish there was.

I was mentioning how Matthew Jacobs wrote the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, where Madame Butterfly is a curious little plot point, but amusingly, this wasn’t actually one of Jacobs’ Young Indy segments. Jule Selbo wrote it, and Mike Newell, who made the film Enchanted April shortly before this, was the director. Phyllida Law has a small role as the owner of the large house where the Jones family is staying. But for all this talent and money spent on it, the episode was only shown in a few European countries, and not in the United States. Bootleg tapes did the rounds for a while, but most people never had the chance to see this until the DVD came out in 2007. And as far as our boy is concerned, nobody should have seen this, ever. There was “way, way, way (x 14) too much romance in that,” he said. And the bad kind, too!

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