RECAP: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989): Steven Spielberg

Five years after the slight letdown of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford return to their franchise’s roots: Nazis, Christian artifacts, and lusting co-eds. We have ’em all.

The Nazis still haven’t started their war, but are only months out. Indy manages to travel to Berlin, and even meets Hitler, in case you didn’t believe he was running things.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Indiana Jones teams up with his father to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis do. 

Hero (6/10)

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) has a problem with women. He specifically says that he doesn’t like “fast women,” by which he must mean fast runners, because he can’t possibly mean women who fall into bed with him quickly, because those are the only women he dates.

He meets one such woman in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a woman named Elsa (Alison Doody, try not to laugh), a beautiful doctor of history or archeology or some dusty liberal art who’s as obsessed with finding the Holy Grail as Indy’s father, Henry (Sean Connery).

So, Indy has a problem with women and with his dad. Both these personal problems collide in Last Crusade. Also, there’s the search for a cup granting immortality, and the Nazis are back to menace everyone. Should be a great time.

The third entry in the Indiana Jones series harkens back to its 1981 original. Right from the start, the movie graphically matches the Paramount logo with a peak in Utah. But before we reunite with adult Indy, we meet young Indy (River Phoenix). The year is 1912, and Indy is, if not a Boy Scout, its cinematic 1912 equivalent.

Henry Jones, Jr. becomes Indiana Jones.

Indy and a pal locate some tomb raiders at the exact moment they unearth the Cross of Coronado, a gold cross almost 400 years old. Indy formed his ideals young, because he takes one look at that cross and determines that “it belongs in a museum.”

Indy steals the cross and, after a long trip through a circus train, where Indy develops his fear of snakes and acquires his famous whip and a chin scar to match, he runs home to tell his father, only to lose the cross to the tomb raiders, because they were working for the legitimate owner of the cross, a foppish dandy wearing a white suit. Indy worked hard for that cross, but in losing it he gained something more valuable–an identity. Also his legendary hat.

So, we have Indy doing a mini adventure before his main adventure, like the original.

Skip ahead to the Portuguese coast in 1938. Indy has the same cross again and has it taken from the same foppish dandy again, who’s possibly wearing the same white suit. There’s a fight, and Indy escapes the ship with the cross and his life. The dandy loses his life when the ship explodes.

Revisiting another trope, Indy returns to teach his class at university to fawning women. He gives the artifact to his friend Brody, who will place it in his museum. Later that day Indy visits with a man who knows a buttload about a missing, legendary Christian artifact of divine power and would he like to help find it?

Father and son

Sounding familiar? Following five years after Temple of Doom, Steven Spielberg and company returned to the well that made Raiders the enormous hit–God gear and National Socialism. This time it’s a Nazi collaborator named Donovan (Julian Glover) and some actual Nazis chasing the Holy Grail, the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper. The grail allegedly grants eternal life to whoever drinks from it.

The grail has been missing for thousands of years, but its seekers have not forgotten it. One of those seekers, perhaps the one to come closest to finding it for 700 years, is Henry Jones, Indy’s father. Henry has gone missing in his search, under the employ of Donovan, who asks Indy to help find Henry and the grail.

Indy accepts, and it’s off to “Venice, Italy” (as if anyone would ever add the “Italy” to “Venice”). Indy meets Elsa, and together they find a marker toward the lost city of Alexandretta, a city destroyed in the Crusades and also very near the Valley of the Crescent Moon, where the grail is reputed to reside.

Turns out Indy was manipulated from the start by Donovan and Elsa. Henry sent his diary, the one with his lifetime of grail research, to Indy, so the Nazis wouldn’t get it. The Nazis captured Henry, but they needed the diary. So they convinced Indy to come aboard, Indy who stupidly brought the diary with him to Germany.

Donovan told Indy not to trust anyone, and that included himself, of course. Elsa, too. Herein lies Indy’s woman problem. In Venice, Indy finds his hotel room ransacked. He goes to Elsa’s room and finds hers ransacked as well. He finds Elsa in the bathroom, and she’s distraught at seeing her room in such a state. Somehow, Indy manages to believe, Elsa was in her bathroom and did not hear her room being destroyed.

Indy thinks so lowly of women–a doctor, no less–that he overlooks this obvious fact. He really is one of the dumbest heroes to ever achieve so much. We still love him. He’s like a loyal, stubborn dog, which is why it’s not a coincidence when Henry reveals at the end that “We named the dog Indiana.”

Villain (5/10)

Elsa has more screen time and more interaction with Indy, but she’s working for Donovan, so it’s his show. Donovan claims a passion for antiquities, but he’s mostly into the eternal-life-granting ones. He believes in the gift of youthful eternal life, he tells Indy, which says plenty about him.

Why does Donovan suspect the grail will grant that particular adjective? He assigns Indy his quest to find the grail, telling him “We’re about to complete a great quest.” But is he referring to the grail search or the Third Reich?

Until Indy reaches the Austrian castle to rescue his father we do not suspect Donovan, when he receives an all-time character reveal. Indy and Henry discuss their difference of opinion about Elsa, who turned out to be a Nazi. (She’s blond and blue-eyed; what did you expect?) Indy was too horny to notice. Henry, despite sleeping with her, asks his son, “I didn’t trust her. Why did you?”

All the characters stand in the castle’s large dining hall. Elsa walks to a high-backed chair to stand beside someone sitting concealed by it. henry asks his question, but it’s person hidden by the chair who answer. “Because he didn’t listen to me,” *** says the voice. Donovan reveals himself. He did warn Indy not to trust anyone.

We don’t see much of Donovan until the grail temple, where Donovan convinces Indy to capture the grail by shooting Henry in the gut. That was a smooth, villainous move that few would try. Donovan, who is a Nazi sympathizer but is not German (does that make it worse or better?), doesn’t appear often, but he leaves a lasting impact. His death is iconic for its grossness.

If Donovan was in the movie more he would receive a higher score.

Action/Effects (4/10)

The big action piece occurs in the desert and involves a tank, a horse, and an ink pen?

Indy rides alone on his horse. His father and Brody are inside the tank, which menaces them all. On their final push to reach the Holy Grail, Indy battles the tank, alone.

The tank has three guns, one on a turret and two on each side. The guns fire three times at Indy but miss, as Indy gallops around the tank to figure out how to kill it.

We get the driver’s view through a narrow window as Indy lures the tank into a 180-degree turn, which takes the tank into a collision course with a Nazi jeep. The vehicle lodges onto the primary gun. Indy gets an idea.

Uniformed Nazi officer and pre-face melter Vogel (Michael Byrne) orders the main gun to blast the jeep off of it. The Reich salutes your effort, brownshirts! Those not killed by the shell fire die when the tank treads crush the jeep. Indy, meanwhile, has a slick saddle slide to pick up a rock. He rides beside the tank and nudges the rock into the gun barrel.

Of course the gun fires and explodes the barrel. I think the rock would have flown out with the shell. It was likely only sandstone after all. No matter, Indy’s killed one of three guns and smoked out Vogel from the cabin.

Indy rides behind the tank. Vogel spies his nemesis and the pair trade pistol shots. Indy rides the horse up a path and leaps from it onto the tank in a fantastic move that must have hurt that stuntman good. Suddenly there’s a truck beside the tank, and as Indy lunges for Vogel he’s tackled by a Nazi goon.

Vogel looks the part.

Two more troops board the tank, but Indy shoots one bullet to kill all three at once. Even he’s surprised. Next, he battles another troop while Vogel wraps a chain around his neck. Indy drops his gun into the cabin and shouts for Henry to pick it up. Few people sound annoyed as well as Harrison Ford, and he uses all his powers here.

Indy punches the troop onto the tank tread, and the poor lad rolls with it and under the tread to his death. More fighting, and Indy uses a lucky kick to the tank’s periscope to launch a battle in the cabin. Meanwhile, the other troop carrier is alongside the tank, and it’s full of guys with guns.

Henry struggles with a bloke for control of a handgun. Henry removes a pen from his pocket and squirts ink into the brute’s eye. Brody makes a quip about the pen being mightier than the sword. Henry ignores this as he moves to the other side gun and blows away the troop transport. The gun is mightier than the pen.

We got three bad guys left on the tank: Vogel, a useless punk, and the tank driver. Indy has fallen off, holding the exploded gun barrel while Vogel beats him with a shovel. Henry struggles with the goon. Brody chills out.

Indy slips from the barrel, but his satchel’s strap is wrapped around it. Also, there’s a rock wall up ahead, and he’s about to be crushed by it. Vogel orders the driver to speed up.

Brody makes himself useful when he hits the Nazi in his face with a shell, causing the Nazi to shoot his gun into the ceiling. The bullet bounces around and into the driver’s head, whose body falls on the levers in just the right way to make the tank swerve and save Indy.

“You call this archeology?” Henry asks.

Vogel is still around to cause trouble. He almost gives Henry the pancake tread treatment, but Indy saves his dad with a whip around the old man’s leg. Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) rides out of nowhere to save Henry.

The Four Horsemen

Did I mention that the tank is heading for a cliff? It is. Indy notices first. Vogel and the tank fall off the edge and die in titanic explosion. Henry runs to the edge, laments his son’s loss. “I never told him anything.”

Good thing he’s still alive. Let’s get that grail babyyyyyyy!

Sidekicks (8/8)

Rarely does the third installment of a franchise live up to, if not surpass its original. Last Crusade is every bit as rewatchable as Raiders of the Lost Ark, and all that credit goes to Sean Connery. An inspired choice to play Indy’s father. Connery joined the cast during a six-movie run that included The Hunt for Red October and his Oscar win in The Untouchables.

Henry doesn’t appear until Indy crashes through his window to rescue him from an Austrian castle. Henry smashes a vase over his son’s head. His introduction is as priceless as the Ming vase is not. Henry expresses his sorrow after smashing the vase, not for bashing his son’s skull, but for breaking an heirloom. When he realizes the vase is a fake, he’s happy about that more than his son being there.

Some hijinks and paternal bonding time.

Henry is upset that his son would be stupid enough to bring his diary to the very Nazis he sought to keep it from. That lack of self-reliance is exactly what Henry sought to avoid with his parenting style. Father and son get into it later, after they’ve nearly escaped Germany.

The two men share a quiet drink on a zeppelin flying outside Hitler’s lands. Indy remarks that the last quiet drink they shared was over a milkshake decades ago. They haven’t talked since then. Henry feels no such remorse about missing years. “I was a wonderful father,” he says. Through ignoring Indy, preferring men dead for 500 years to his flesh and blood, “I taught you self reliance.”

Like any ignored child, Indy left his father when he could, not long after stealing that Cross of Coronado, probably. “You left just when you were becoming interesting,” Henry says. Indy buys none of this.

Henry sits back and offers to talk about anything Indy would like. Taken off guard, Indy says, “I can’t think of a single thing.” *** “Then what are you complaining about? We have work to do.”

With his bucket hat and umbrella and duffel bag, Henry appears buffoonish and downright giddy. After German fighter planes nearly kill them, Henry remarks that it was a new experience for him. Happens to Indy all the time. Connery plays Henry like an cooped up old man finally getting an ADVENTURE. Indy seems annoyed to drag him around.

Connery’s playing against character, as a foil to Ford’s Indy, helps endear him to the audience and cements him as a hall-of-fame sidekick. (He literally rides sidekick during a motorcycle escape.) Note the subtle look Henry flashes his son after the latter takes the hint that they both slept with Elsa recently. It’s perfectly wry. Like son, Henry clownishly nearly kills them when he drops a lighter and sets fire to the castle dining room.

It’s easy to see Indy aging into Henry. Connery plays the father vivaciously, foolishly, exhilaratingly, all parts making a delicious stew every bit the equal of Indy. He’s perfect.

Henchmen (8/8)

Elsa conceals her Austrian-ness for Indy’s entire sojourn in Venice. She does not fear gross creatures (rats), is a doctor, is cunning–basically the opposite of Willie Scott, Kate Capshaw’s character from Temple of Doom.

Elsa makes a buffoon of Indy. Indy trusts her, because she’s hot, over his own father, who mistrusted her from the first moment. Elsa might be a Nazi, but her love is for the grail. In Berlin we watch as she weeps over the burning of books. Even when Indy has his hand around her throat, she refuses to give him up, because she really does want the grail, and might be horny for Indy.

Her surprise turn away from the book-burning makes her a sympathetic villain, giving her very high marks for a henchwoman. These characters rarely have an arc, but she gets one here. Her greed for the grail, however, is what kills her.

Stunts (3/6)

Last Crusade‘s best stunt occurs on a boat. Indy has fought against members of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, men sworn to protect the grail from seekers of it. (Guess they missed those knights, eh?) Indy is in Venice and he and Elsa steal a motorboat to escape them. They drive the boat around the water and between two ships. One chase boat explodes when the ships pinch it.

It’s when the boats stop that the danger ramps up. Indy grapples with Kazim (Kevork Malikyan), the man who shot out the engine. The boat, dead in the water, approaches a spinning ship propeller. This propeller is wider than the speedboat, and though it’s spinning slowly, it’s spinning fast enough to chop the speedboat into kindling.

Indy punches some answers out of Kazim, to questions like Who Are You and Why Are You Trying to Kill Me. Kazim is awful chill about the slow destruction of the speedboat. And it is really slow. It’s as if the production team had each board individually snap. This boat is breaking almost as slowly as the joke in Austin Powers, in which the steamroller flattens a man at ludicrously low speed.

You won’t find any fights in this movie as cool as Indy’s attack on the Nazi truck transporting the Ark in Raiders, certainly nothing as good as that slide under the truck.

Climax (6/6)

Indy’s trip into the grail temple is a timeless journey into the supernatural and the unknown. From the moment Donovan shoots Henry in the gut to the moment the knight’s statue collapses, the finale of Last Crusade is as riveting as it is iconic.

Donovan shoots Henry because it’s the only way to convince Indy to quickly find the grail. The camera dramatically zooms on Donovan as he tells Indy to ask himself what he believes in. I can tell you, Donovan, Indy believes in research and archeology, not God.

Indy takes the diary into the lion’s maw. The first test: only the penitent man will pass. Indy passes the headless men who were not penitent enough. He thinks hard, repeating the slogan. The penitent man, the penitent man… the penitent man KNEELS.

Indy kneels at the exact moment two blades nearly slice him in half. How did he know about the floor blade? Seems serendipitous, or is the hand of God at work? Indy tosses a rope into the gears to stop the blades turning. Donovan and Elsa follow close behind.

Next, the footsteps of God, a.k.a. the name of God. Indy sights a smattering of letters on the floor. He figures out that he must step on them in correct order. He assumes that “Jehovah” is the name of God to be used, so, being Indy, he recklessly starts stepping.

The first letter is the wrong one. He chose Greek; the word is in Latin. Indy dangles above a chasm. (He holds onto other, incorrect letters, but they do not break. This is a major oversight.) He recovers and, realizing his mistake,  easily spells the word. He does not tell his enemies about it, but they figure it out.

Finally, Indy comes to the path of God, an uncrossable gap. He must take a leap of faith. It’s hard to concentrate on the danger when Indy is rocking so much chest hair, but duty calls! Indy must take a leap of faith. He sticks a leg far out, in a totally normal walking manner, and leans into it.

The leg lands on solid ground. The camera pans right to reveal a camouflage trick for the ages. The rock bridge was painted to perfectly blend with the wall beyond. You can’t see it from dead on. Indy walks to the end and tosses sand onto the bridge to kill the illusion.

Indy enters the grail room. He finds a knight clad in chain mail kneeling beside his sword. The knight turns, takes the sword, and swings it once at Indy before falling over from its weight. He begs forgiveness. His strength has left him. Has he worn chain mail for 700 years? That would rob me of my strength as well. I wonder, when did the knight realize someone was coming? Did he hear the gunshots in the atrium? He wouldn’t know what those were.

Anyway, the knight finds Indy strangely dressed…for a knight. Nevertheless, he is ready to hand over his sword to Indy, for he must be the bravest and most worthy, to guard the grail for the next person.

Donovan and Elsa break up the ceremony. Both are overwhelmed to be inside. Donovan wants the grail, but he’s faced with dozens of candidates and doesn’t know how to chose. The knight tells him that he must. Elsa chooses for him. She takes the finest chalice and hands it to Donovan.

Donovan is all about it. It’s more beautiful than he ever imagined. Encrusted with jewels and shit, the gold cup is certainly “the cup of the King of Kings.” In his greed to live forever, he dips it in the water and drinks. For about five seconds he feels wonderful. Then trouble starts.

Donovan stumbles to Elsa and grabs her, forcing her, and us, to watch him age and decay a thousand years in a few seconds. His body goes full Christopher Lloyd. His face caves in, turns to brown and gray. The skeleton crumbles to dust. Even the dust blows away.

Then the knight delivers one of the best understatements ever uttered. “He chose…poorly.” Sidebar time.

Playing the unnamed knight was Robert Eddison, a man whose best-known work was as an unnamed knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. For real; it’s his IMDb photo. When acting, treat every role as if it is a lead one, and you never know what will happen.

“He chose…poorly,” is one of the most famous movie lines of the last 30 years, and it was spoken by an unnamed character played by an actor primarily appearing in TV movies who died two years after the movie’s release.

Back to the scene at hand. It’s Indy’s turn to choose. He looks over several cups and settles on the boring cup. The grail of a carpenter. Indy selects it without searching the remaining cups. That’s a classic Indiana Jones move. There could have been a more carpenter-like cup among the rest. Searching them might have taken four extra seconds. That’s not Indy. He made is choice, consequences be damned.

Indy takes a hefty, messy drink and turns to the knight. “You have chosen…wisely.” He tells them that the price of immortality is that they cannot carry the grail beyond the great seal on the floor in the atrium. That’s convenient enough.

Indy runs back to his dad and cures him. Henry pops up and is fine. Most of the Turks flee, allowing Sallah to catch the few Nazis off-guard. Elsa, in the confusion, takes the grail. The greed in her eyes is palpable. She carries the grail beyond the seal. God dislikes this. The ground cracks beneath them. Elsa drops the grail and makes a pathetic attempt to retrieve it, falling and knocking the grail into a crevice instead.

Indy does a cool slide on the floor to grab Elsa as she tries to recapture the grail, tantalizingly out of reach. Again, those eyes communicate desire. Her hands, sadly, are too sweaty. Elsa slides out of her glove and falls into a misty doom. She might still be falling.

The ground collapses beneath Indy, and it’s his turn to grab at the grail. Henry, newly immortal, grabs his son. Indy is slipping, now he can almost get it. Henry knows what’s going down–his son. “Indiana,” he says, in the gentlest, most loving manner an actor can portray. “Let it go.”

Indy does, so to speak. He uses both hands to pull himself to safety. Before father and son leave the temple, the knight offers a final salute. Will he die? Will he be crushed under rock for eternity? Seems an awful price to pay for protecting a Godly relic.

Indy, Henry, Sallah, and Brody exit the dusty temple, the last humans to do so. They saddle up. We find out that Indy was named after the family dog. Like any good cowboy movie, the four horsemen ride into the sunset.

Jokes (2/4)

It’s better to describe the Indiana Jones franchise as “light” than “funny.” Sean Connery is delightful as the bucket-hat-wearing father to an annoyed Harrison Ford (who rarely sounds more annoyed than the moments he tersely spits out “DAD!”). Connery’s bemused looks sell several gags, especially the rotating fireplace gag in the Austrian castle.

For some reason Spielberg turns Brody into a buffoon. Indy describes him once getting “lost in his own museum.” Brody fails to take several hints from Sallah telling him to run from Nazis in Turkey. He literally says “run” several times; Brody never listens. When Brody does run, after Sallah punches a guy, he runs into a Nazi truck, a revisit (yet again) of the same gag from Raiders, except the bad guys capture Brody this time.

Let us not forget that Indy got Hitler to sign his father’s diary. Also, remember that Indy, dressed as a waiter on a German airship, throws Vogel off said airship. He turns to the German passengers and says, in English, “No ticket.” The Germans understand him and flash their tickets. That’s a scene with purposeful and accidental comedy.

Hitler providing comedic relief.

Setting (4/4)

Few movie locations are as iconic and awesome as the moment the grail temple comes into view, hidden by the Valley of the Crescent Moon. The sheer canyon contrasts well with bleak desert the characters just came from.

Jordan’s famed Petra complex and Al Khazneh (The Treasury) serve as the front of the temple. The inside of the real temple is a single room, not the huge expanse in the movie.

However, Last Crusade is devoid of the gigantic interiors present in the earlier two movies. The camera is not free to explore huge sets like it is during the rock crushing sequence in Temple of Doom. Did producers cut back, or did Spielberg think it unnecessary?

We get great crane work when Indy climbs a spiral staircase to find the X marking the spot in that Venice library.

Commentary (0/2)

A few years after Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazis are still bad.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

The only woman in the movie two-times Indy, but only because he was an idiot.

Others

  • Why doesn’t anyone wear the Cross of Coronado as a necklace? It has a chain. It won’t slide away if you do that.
  • Where is Short Round?

Summary (46/68): 68%

Clocking in with nearly $200 million, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade finished 1989 behind only Batman at the box office. The movie is fantastic follow-up to its two predecessors, and easily a Hall of Fame entry of third installments.