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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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Young Indiana Jones 2.15 – Palestine, 1917

In 1987, Simon Wincer directed a film called The Lighthorsemen, about the Australian mounted infantry pulling a stunning surprise at the Battle of Beersheba in October 1917 and suddenly switching to cavalry tactics before the Turkish artillery could react. The Turks couldn’t lower their cannons quickly enough and the Australians stormed their trenches.

So five years later, when Lucas was putting together writers and directors and concepts for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, once Wincer was hired, it was a natural idea to put Indy behind the lines in Beersheeba so that Wincer could reshoot the core battle with new actors while also bringing in lots of footage from his earlier film. The result is an episode that looks like it cost several million more dollars to make than it really did. It’s absolutely seamless.

And speaking of reshoots, the original one-hour episode, which, like the last one we watched, was never shown in the United States, then underwent yet another change before making its way to home video. Writer Frank Darabont and Wincer went back to the drawing board and seriously beefed up their original story. Between expanded footage from The Lighthorsemen and new material with Indy getting to know some of the frustrated Aussie soldiers waiting for their chance to be sent into action, the original forty-five minutes or so is bulked up by an additional half-hour to make the movie version, Daredevils of the Desert. And it’s a corker. After the two comedy episodes and the two political ones, our son was badly in need of something completely thrilling, and this totally satisfied him.

The Palestine installment has always been one that genre fans had been interested in watching because of its stellar cast. It not only features future James Bond Daniel Craig, as seen in the top photo, but also the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, as a British general, as seen in the second one. There’s also Catherine Zeta Jones as another intelligence operative, Julian Firth as the colonel who we met in the German East Africa two-parter, and Douglas Henshall as the second actor to play TE Lawrence. We’ll see Henshall again in one of the later episodes.

One other note: if you enjoy fistfights in movies, Sean Patrick Flanery, Daniel Craig, and their stunt doubles have an absolutely amazing one in the climax of this story. If I might quibble, I think the sound effects people kind of turned the volume of their impacts a little too loud, because it sounds like they’re hitting each other with enough force to break granite into dust, but that aside, the brawl is just wild, an absolutely desperate struggle between two men using anything they can lay their hands on to pummel the other. My eyes popped out of my head.

Actually, you remember the beginning of Casino Royale when Bond was going after that French bloke who does parkour and Daniel Craig just charges straight through a wall? When they were casting the role, the Bond people probably looked at this fight and concluded Craig was their man. It’s that wild.

That’s the end of the second Young Indiana Jones collection, so we’ll take a short break to keep things fresh. We’ll start on the third box set in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned!

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Young Indiana Jones 2.14 – Prague, 1917

As changes of pace go, this one makes the Barcelona episode look deadly serious. It’s a comedy episode where Indy gets an assignment to wait in an apartment for a phone call that’s so important that the law of comedy mandates it will be a bust. Only the apartment’s phone is missing, leading our hero down three days of labyrinthine Czech bureaucracy that’s such a trial that only some assistance from a ministry clerk named Franz Kafka, played by Tim McInnerny, can help.

Before we got started, I gave our son a crash course in what “bureaucracy” is, but the humor in Indy’s weird situation was still way over his head. The middle of the episode was particularly bizarre to him. It’s a tip of the hat to both the original short novel of The Trial and to Orson Welles’ uncomfortable and unpleasant film adaptation from 1962. Fortunately, things devolve into wild physical humor, with filing cabinets crashing down endless staircases and runaway cannons knocking down phone poles. Most of it works, and my son and I both laughed a great deal during the mayhem. Some of it, centered around a dimwit called Colonel Clouseau played by Nickolas Grace, doesn’t come off nearly as well.

This episode was one of those made for ABC but was never shown in the United States. It’s set in August 1917, but as with the Petrograd installment, it was clearly made during a much colder month. There’s even snow on the ground in one establishing shot! There are a pair of shoulda-been-recognizable faces in the cast. Both Colin Jeavons and Bernard Bresslaw are here in parts so tiny they don’t even qualify as “spit and cough parts,” so I didn’t notice either of them at all, unfortunately.

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Young Indiana Jones 2.13 – Barcelona, 1917

“I didn’t understand that at all,” our son grumbled. Who can blame him? This is a story about politics delivered by men talking very fast in outrageous accents. Usually while running very fast and getting stuck in doorways three at a time. It’s wonderful.

I’ve read that Terry Jones is in very poor health, and that did kind of hang over tonight’s story for me. Jones directed this lovable, ridiculous comedy escapade written by Gavin Scott. Indy gets sent to Spain to work with a trio of mostly competent spies, looking for some way to cause a breach in the neutral government’s favor one way or the other. For cover, Indy bumps into his old friend Pablo Picasso, played again by Danny Webb and who we met before in Paris, nine years earlier, who gets him a job at the Ballet Russe as a eunuch.

The spies are played by Jones, Timothy Spall, who you may know best as Wormtail in Harry Potter, and Charles McKeown, a frequent collaborator of the Pythons who appeared in Life of Brian, Fawlty Towers, four episodes of Ripping Yarns, Erik the Viking, and at least three of Terry Gilliam’s movies. They hit on a great scheme to make the Count of Toledo believe that the German cultural attache is making moves on the countess. But then a dancer at the Ballet Russe’s production of Scheherazade, played by Amanda Ooms, lets Indy know that she may be Russian, but she’s working for American intelligence, and putting these two men at odds is going to create an entirely different kind of international incident.

I love this episode. I think it’s completely ridiculous and hilarious. My wife and I chuckled and laughed all the way through the thing while our poor son scratched his head and asked what was so funny. Well, you can’t always please the entire audience!

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