Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

The third and final of the Indiana Jones movies (at least until the next one comes out) is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In this movie the filmmakers go both forward and backward.

It moves forward in the sense that they bring in a new character, the father of Indiana Jones, Professor Henry Jones (played by Sean Connery).

This allows Spielberg and Co. to develop Indiana Jones’ character even more, not so much adding dimensions to him as developing those dimensions.

It goes backward in the sense that the film returns to some of the feel and style of the original, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and also brings back some characters from that film, such as Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott). It is also much less dark than Temple of Doom.

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

But it’s definitely not Raiders. There is much more meat to the story, and to Indiana Jones, than we saw in the original.

By doing this they make a film that is less like the old Hollywood adventure films they started out trying to recreate. Instead, this enriched Indiana Jones makes the film more contemporary and also more interesting, at least in terms of its story.

As with Temple of Doom, Indiana’s quest is not a mercenary one. It doesn’t even begin that way. Here, he is literally looking for his father – or, more precisely, a relationship with him.

The presence of Sean Connery as Indiana’s father, and the inherent difficulties in a father-son relationship, bring a comic dimension to the film that is much more pronounced than in the first two films. There was always some humour in the Indiana Jones movies, but here it is a dominant feature, almost on a par with the action.

Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

(As contrast, look at the humour in Temple of Doom which was largely focused on bugs and Kate Capshaw screaming.)

One of the results of this is a more complex Indiana Jones. His status as hero is undermined by the presence of his father. His actions are as much slapstick as they are heroic. The consequences he faces are as much pratfalls as they are dangerous.

The reason for this (apart from simply being funny) is it shows a more fragile side to Indiana. You can see “the boy inside the man” constantly, often with a mere facial expression. (The Last Crusade is easily Harrison Ford’s best performance in the Indiana Jones movies.)

The Last Crusade is like a latter stage in Steven Spielberg’s development as a director. With Raiders, we have someone who is a master of film. He can mimic almost any style and he clearly loves doing so.

Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

By the time we get to The Last Crusade, he has moved on. He is still a master of film. He can still mimic any style he wants. But the youthful thrill of this is all but gone. The thrill now, the challenge he eagerly embraces, is telling better stories; more complex stories. He wants to put his characters through their paces and see them develop on screen.

And this is what he does.

This last Indiana Jones movie is not to be confused with a work like Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan.

It is still a simple, action-adventure movie. But it’s an action-adventure movie with a bit more, certainly a lot more than the first film had.

It also signals, if only in a faint way, where Spielberg was about to go.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones:

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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