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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 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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