indiana jones and the last crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Memories

Considering the response to my “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” post last week, I decided I should look back at my second-favorite Indy sequel, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” The merits of the second and third films have sparked a lively debate. So let’s do a deep-dive into the third film in the series and see how it stacks up against “Temple of Doom.”

indiana jones and the last crusade

My fandom for Indiana Jones was at its peak when “Last Crusade” hit theaters in the summer of 1989. As I mentioned before, I’d seen “Temple of Doom” dozens of times on cable by that point, so I couldn’t have been more excited for the long-awaited sequel. I remember the first time I saw the movie was the same weekend that Tim Burton’s “Batman” came out. What a summer ’89 was. That’s a blog in and of itself.

“Last Crusade” begins with a prologue set in the Utah desert in 1912 with a 13-year-old Indy (River Phoenix) trying to steal the Cross of Cornado from a bandit called Fedora and his gang of grave-robbers. A thrilling chase on a circus train ensues. And just when Indy thinks he’s given the badguys the slip and can impress his distant father, Dr. Henry Jones, with his amazing find, it’s snatched away from him all over again.

The opening sequence ticks off everything that you need to know about Indiana Jones: why he’s afraid of snakes, how he got that scar on his chin, where he first picked up a whip, what his relationship with his father is like, and most importantly, who gave him his beloved hat. It was a big day for young Indiana. The sequence ends with perhaps my favorite match cut, where we transition from young Indy to adult Indy (now played by Harrison Ford), still trying to steal the Cross of Coronado aboard a doomed ship off the coast of Spain.

“Last Crusade” takes the Indiana Jones series in a new direction by pairing Indiana with his estranged father, played by Sean Connery. Steven Spielberg famously told George Lucas way back in 1977 that he wanted to make a James Bond movie and then Lucas offered him the chance to direct “Raiders of the Lost Ark” instead. Connery’s casting as Henry Jones Sr. is a not-so-subtle wink at the actor’s legendary tenure as 007 and a chance for Spielberg to work with one of his heroes. That Connery plays against type is a stroke of genius. Henry Jones Sr. and his son couldn’t be more unalike. Where the father is still a ladykiller (Henry deduces that Isla is a Nazi because she “talks in her sleep.”), he’s hardly the two-fisted treasure hunter that Indiana’s become.

The interplay between the two Joneses is the film’s greatest strength. Seeing two screen legends bickering as only a father and son can while trying to stay one step ahead of the Nazis and find the Holy Grail is endlessly entertaining. Indiana always chafes at his father’s nickname for him, “Junior,” which Henry Jones is all to eager to call him at every turn.

“Last Crusade” is definitely a lighter film that “Temple of Doom,” maybe too light. Going back to the opening sequence, I would venture that it sort of demystifies Indiana to an extent. It borders on parody how Indiana Jones as we know him is essentially forged in one afternoon rather than over a lifetime of capering across the globe.

I’d also argue that “Last Crusade” short-changes its supporting cast. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) fares the worst here. Where in “Raiders,” Marcus tells Indy that he’d have gone after the Ark of the Covenant himself five years prior to when the film is set. But in “Last Crusade,” he’s described as a man who “got lost in his own museum.” It’s funny, yes, but it’s inconsistent with what we understand about the character.

Even Indiana goofs up in “Last Crusade.” Right after Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) tells Indiana not to trust anyone, Indy immediately falls for a woman named Ilsa (Allison Doody), who turns out to be a Nazi — oops! To that point, Indy’s not having a love interest in this film makes his adventure slightly less satisfying. There’s just a certain thrill that comes from seeing the hero get the girl at the end.

My biggest complaint, however, comes right at the film’s end. Shortly after Henry Jones calls his son “Indiana” for the first time, demonstrating that he sees his son as his equal rather than a child, he calls him “Junior” again before they all ride off into the sunset. So we have a character arc that lasts for all of five minutes. It’s a nitpick, I know. But I think it speaks to my general gripe about how the film sells its characters short for easy laughs.

Growing up, I think “Last Crusade” was my favorite of the two sequels for a number of years. I’m not sure at what point I went back to preferring “Temple of Doom.” It must’ve been while I was in college. Still, “Last Crusade” doesn’t lag too far behind “Temple of Doom” in my estimation. As far as trilogy cappers go, I’d say it’s unmatched.

Wait, there’s a fourth Indiana Jones movie? You don’t say…

Brad Lohan

Brad Lohan is a writer, cineaste and costumed vigilante who lives in Los Angeles. He is currently procrastinating his next screenplay.

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8 thoughts on “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Memories

  1. Doug says:

    Great post, Brad. You are correct about the opening demystifying Indy to some point. It is a great opening, but as you say, having all Indy’s quirks created in one afternoon is a little hokey. I also don’t like what they did with Marcus. Still,…wow. What a great movie.

  2. I agree about the non-montage montage sequence that explains the birth of Indy. I never like when major characters in film nor the mythology behind them gets explained fully. Makes my imagination hurt.

    It is why I can never really commit to the new Star Wars films. The “in-my-brain” origin for all these characters meant a lot more to me then an extra film or 3 explaining it all a way. Another great look at the Indy movies. Hope you do more.

  3. In my opinion, there’s no inconsistency with Marcus. “Marcus tells Indy that he’d have gone after the Ark of the Covenant himself five years prior to when the film is set. ” He tells him he WOULD have gone, correct? That doesn’t mean he would have succeeded. Some of the bravest men have failed simply because they don’t have the skills to have succeed.

    As for this film being lighter than Temple of Doom? HA! I scoff at that suggestion. No way. Temple of doom was so.. silly. Like the scene with whats her face runnign around in the back, being chased by wild animals while Indy and Data (hehe) are playing cards. In Crusade, we’re back to the fate of humanity.

    Anywho, thanks for the article, Brad. Good way to cause a stir among the Indy fans ;)

  4. Tim says:

    “Crusade” bites the bone for me because of Alison Doody’s atrocious acting. And because it just wasn’t as transporting or entertaining for me as “Doom” or “Raiders.” PS Count me among the minority (?) who LOVED “Doom.” It was ridiculous but electric. I loved it.

  5. Dax says:

    I’m pretty sure I remember seeing a trailer for Last Crusade in the theater, but it had a lot of production ‘making of’ clips in it, like Harrison Ford pretending to staple the fedora onto his head during the tank chase. It had to have been the first time I’d seen stuff like that in an actual movie trailer, as opposed to on something like Entertainment Tonight or Lights Camera Action!

  6. Since this article has been posted I have been thinking about Indy a lot (and as soon as my TRON fever subsides — I am planning a re-watching). I think perhaps I need to take another look at Last Crusade with new post Crystal Skull eyes.

    I believe when I saw this I walked out thinking — Hmmm this will probably be the last Indy film and I was not happy about that. They had started out with a nearly perfect film, followed up with a popcorn flick and then wrapped it up. So they explained too much, too quickly.

    Crystal Skull comes along and I am very conflicted. I have never been a fan of the idea of “Old Indy” and it was even hard for me to watch “Young Indy” in his chronicles. Oh and that episode with old Indy and the Saxaphone?!

    Now that I have seen “Skull” I think my opinion of the idea of wrapping things up in an appropriate manner might have changed. I need to rethink…

  7. Atari Adventure Square says:

    Seeing this movie in the theater with my dad was a bittersweet event.
    The film itself felt like the last we’d ever see of Indy – the very last shot of them riding off into the sunset was the ultimate farewell.

    I was also so invested in the series’ sense of adventure (though the Young Indy tv show felt flat) that multiple viewings were needed before I knew how to feel about it.
    Maybe that’s because Last Crusade first worked for me as actors having a good time with each other in a movie that follows a plausibly grandiose subject for archeological explorations.

    But the sheer surprise of the first film’s suspensful, though comedic, energy, its still-amazing horse-truck chase and the second film’s wild, breathless joyride are relived in our memories as we watch an enthused and amusing (but sometimes quaint – ah, Marcus and Sallah. Really? Even the Star Wars droids had more savvy) recall of the thrills we came to expect from an Indy movie.

    But make no ‘big mistake’, I love this film nowadays, as it has earned its nostalgic place in many movie-goer’s heart. And, mostly, me and my dad had fun watching it. The trilogy is still – above many big features then and now – a fun ride for anyone looking for escapist entertainment.
    Trust me.

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