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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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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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