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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

*Also starring: Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, River Phoenix, Julian Glover, Michael Byrne

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

The third time's the charm in the last entry of the wonderful "Indiana Jones" series. Although it is essentially a recap of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" using Nazis again as villains, it is also the official sequel to "Raiders," taking place two years later after the original. It also has a comforting, relaxing atmosphere that restrains itself from being as over-the-top as "Temple of Doom" was. But do not fret, "Last Crusade" is chock full of action scenes and plenty of humor and provides more depth on Indiana than the last two did. This time, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, aging gracefully) is in pursuit of the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper. A millionaire named Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) wants to acquire the Grail before anyone else does and suggests that Indiana find it. Indiana, being the resourceful adventurer and archaeologist, senses that his father (Sean Connery), an expert on Grail mythology, is the more appropriate choice. Unfortunately, Indy's father is already on the search and is missing, which means that Indy not only has to find his father but also the Grail. Accompanying Indy on his first stop in this journey to Venice is Indy's mentor, Marcus (the late Denholm Elliott), and a typically beautiful art historian, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Allison Doody). Lots of chaos ensues as well as wall-to-wall action scenes in motorboats, planes, motorcycles, zeppelins, tanks, horses, and so on. The film, as directed by Steven Spielberg, justaxposes all these scenes with moments of pure comic relief a nd enough moments of pause and reflection before embarking on yet another dazzling action sequence. One inspired moment has Indy confronting Adolf Hitler, a scene that is hilarious and eerie in a strange way (apparently, there was a deleted scene where a Leni Riefenstahl filmmaker is shooting footage of the burning of books in a Nazi rally).

It is remarkable that after two movies, "Last Crusade" still finds something innovative and fresh in situations that are as cliched as romantic kisses before a fade out. For example, a typically sorry bit involving a revolving wall is punctuated by tightly edited action and some burst of humor, like using an Adolf Hitler head statue to block the revolving wall from letting Nazis enter. A motorcycle chase is handled with finesse when it turns into a jousting tournament. A plane ready to fire at its heroes on a beach is demolished by flying geese. Another plane nearly explodes when its wings fall apart entering a tunnel where the heroes are being chased in a car. The climactic tank chase is especially good, though it does seem to run out of steam after a while until it ends with...well, just see the movie. Oh, yes, and the zeppelin sequence has a one-liner by Ford that remains something of a classic.

It was a blessing to cast Sean Connery as Indiana's father, Dr. Henry Jones, a highly private professor who is amazed at his son's ingenuity from getting out of one scrap after another. This also serves a more historical note in cinema in that Connery used to play James Bond, who is the true sire of Indiana Jones (lest we forget that Spielberg initially wanted to make a Bond movie before George Lucas introduced an idea about an archaeologist). Connery and Ford have the right chemistry and their bickering and shouting results in a newfound respect for one another (Indy's father has mostly been estranged).

The villains are nastily evil, as always, yet none come close to the great villain Belloq from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." He had a charm and humanity that is unrivaled, particularly when wooing Karen Allen's Marion, Indy's original leading lady. Here, we have Michael Byrne as Vogel, a Nazi commandant, who certainly has a hardened evil streak within but is mostly a cartoonish variation on his similar role in "Force 10 From Navarone," which also starred Ford. There is one other villain but it would be a spoiler to reveal who he is.

Alison Doody has charisma to spare as the good doctor with a few cards up her sleeve, but she is a disappointment when compared to Karen Allen's feistiness. She is a major improvement on Kate Capshaw's whiny love interest in "Temple of Doom" if only because she does not scream every two minutes.

"Raiders" returnees Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies bring back their roles with equal relish and delight. There is also a nod to "Raiders" when Indiana and Dr. Schneider are in the catacombs of Venice and find a familiar illustration on the wall:

Indy: "It's the Ark of the Covenant."

Elsa: "Are you sure?"

Indy: "Pretty sure."

"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" is a more mature, less wildly over-the-top entry in the series. It is lots of fun and often magical in its continuing affectionate tribute to the serials of yesteryear. The action is still frightfully intense and surprising thanks to Steven Spielberg's assured and strenuous direction. Indy may still return in the future but with this magnificent trilogy in place, there is no real need. Besides, we now know where Indiana got his name from.

Copyright 2001 Jerry Saravia

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