Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989) Director: Steven Spielberg

★★★★☆

The Last Crusade offers a wonderful return to the high drama, action-adventure thrills previously established in the original movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plot of The Last Crusade alludes to all manner of archeological mysteries and Arthurian legends as well as the Crusades and medieval Christian romances. It has sometimes been referred to as Steven Spielberg’s apology for the darkly unpopular sequel Temple of Doom in 1984. For this final film (or at least what should have been a final film in the series), we see Indiana Jones again reprised by Harrison Ford as he teams up with his father, played by Sean Connery, in order to track down the Holy Grail before the Nazis do. The “Odd Couple” dynamic between Indiana Jones and his father plays well in this film, despite the fact that Sean Connery was a mere 13 years older than Harrison Ford at the time. In addition to a comical and quirky portrayal of Indiana Jones’s father by Sean Connery, we also see River Phoenix (Joaquin Phoenix’s older brother who tragically died of drug overdose a few years later in 1993) in the role of a young Indiana Jones.

The Last Crusade remains a fun installment in the Indiana Jones series. And no reflection on this film would be complete without mentioning John Williams’s genre-defining score. Apparently, George Lucas’s original concept for the film involved a haunted mansion and the search for the fountain of youth, but this was quickly scrapped (it was originally going to be title Indiana Jones and the Monkey King). Thankfully, this did not materialize.

The film is set two years after the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones has returned from an adventure at sea to his job as a professor, but he is mobbed by a large group of girls fawning over him. When he escapes out his office window Indy is stopped by a group of men working for Walter Donovan (Denholm Elliott), a wealthy businessman who is obsessed with the Holy Grail. Previously, Donovan had hired Indy’s father, Henry Jones (Indiana’s real name is also Henry but prefers Indiana like his and George Lucas’s dog) a noted expert on the Grail, to locate it but Jones Sr. has since gone missing. Indy visits his father’s home which has been ransacked but he discovers a diary that was sent home. It contains many notes and maps on the whereabouts of the Grail. Indy then travels to Venice with the diary where he meets with Elsa Snyder (Alison Doody, former Bond girl in A View To A Kill), Donovan’s colleague abroad, and they uncover the tomb of a knight of the First Crusade, but they are quickly attacked by a secret brotherhood that is tasked with protecting the Grail. Indy and Elsa are led to a German castle where Indy’s father is being held captive. They escape when they discover that Elsa has been working for the Nazis. Indy and his father track Elsa to a book-burning rally by the Nazis –and there is an amusing moment wherein Indy disguised as a Nazi, comes face to face with Hitler as he signs Indy’s father’s diary.

The ending to The Last Crusade contains the strongest echoes of Raiders. Indy’s father is shot by the traitorous Nazis –Donovan and Snyder– and he must pass a series of tests in a cavern (not unlike the beginning of Raiders) before arriving at the Grail to save his father. When he finally arrives there is a lone, elderly knight sitting in wait (played by 80 year-old legendary stage actor Robert Eddison). There are a series of false grails sitting around the room, and Donovan naturally selects an incorrect Grail leading to his crumbling death –an amusing allusion to the melting sequences in Raiders. Meanwhile drinks from a simple-looking cup that turns out to be correct. He uses it to save his father, but Elsa Snyder tries to steal the Grail leading the collapse of the cave and she falls to her death. Amidst the collapsing edifice Indy tries to save the Grail but he prevented by his father –“let it go.” Again, in The Last Crusade the true heroes relinquish their maddening quest to collect ancient sacred relics. Instead they prevent lesser people, like the Nazis, from empowering themselves. And the film ends with a wonderful scene of Indiana Jones and crew riding off into the sunset (this was shot in Texas).

Surprisingly, as time went by Harrison Ford (a man with a reputation for being a curmdgeon and who always seems to want his characters killed off) pressured George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to resurrect the Indiana Jones franchise, however the resulting film, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, was a massive disappointment –far and away the worst in the series.

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