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Aug 22 2019

Over & Overs: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

In this new series,members of Team Experience wax rhapsodic on films they've never been able to stop watching.Here'sLynn Lee...

Conventional wisdom holds thatRaiders of the Lost Ark,the O.G.Indiana Jones,is also the best Indiana Jones.  Yet the Indy installment I love the most isIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade,which I've watched more times than I can count and can practically quote from beginning to end.  It's one of my cinematic comfort food go-tos.I can count on it to put a smile on my face and – perhaps more surprisingly – a tear in my eye.

I suspect my deep affection forThe Last Crusadeis at least partly rooted in the fact that itwas the first Indiana Jones movie I saw,and the only one I ever saw in a theater...

(This may also be why so many of my fellow late Gen X/early Gen Y peers seem to share my opinion thatLastis best.)

True story: the first time I saw it,I somehow managed to miss all the title cardsandall the costume and production design clues,meaning I hadno ideathat the movie took place in the 1930s.I instead concocted an elaborate back story that had Indy fighting in the present day against an undercover Nazi army who had somehow kept Hitler alive & in hiding for the past 40 years!  Despite this profound misunderstanding of its basic premise,I lovedThe Last Crusadeso much that it became one of my favorite movies – and still is,three decades later.

The most common critical take onIndy's third outing is that it was a welcome reset after the misfire ofTemple of Doom,but essentially a lesser,jokier replay ofRaiders;basically aRaiders"Lite"that substituted the Holy Grail for the Ark of the Covenant.  However,I've always foundThe Last Crusadeto be the most purelyfunof the Indiana Jones adventures,in that it strikes the ideal balance between comedy and suspense.  We get that sense right from the outset with the opening sequence starring River Phoenix as young Indy in a lively yet lightly tongue-in-cheek mini-origin story,all the way through to the movie's climax,sealed by the Grail Knight's immortal,Monty Python-worthy deadpan "He chose poorly"punchline.

Last Crusadealso had a special ingredient that allowed it to reach both sublime comic heights and unexpected emotional depths neitherRaidersnorTemple of Doomever attained.I'm of course referring to Sean Connery's pitch-perfect turn as Indy's dad,Professor Henry Jones.  The moment he emerges from the shadows with an incredulous "Junior?"is when the movie really hits its stride—and oh,what a glorious stride!  Although Connery was only a little over a decade older than Harrison Ford and could probably have played Indiana himself a little more than a decade earlier,he's brilliant as the fusty,tweedy scholar with a flair for tart quips who gets caught up in his son's more swashbuckling style of archeology.  It's a joyanda hoot watching Henry shift from initial shock at Junior's methods to wholehearted participation,whether he's deploying weapons as unlikely as an umbrella or a fountain pen or popping up like an ebullient gopher from the bowels of an enormous tank.  Yet Henry also serves as the movie's moral voice,never more rousingly than when he's impressing on his son the urgency of keeping the Nazis from the Grail—or telling the "goose-stepping morons"themselves through gritted teeth that they should try reading books instead of burning them.

But I would be remiss if I didn't pay equal tribute to Indiana Jones himself.  Indeed,it's Ford's chemistry with Connery that makes the movie so endlessly rewatchable,and his comic timing is at its best here—whether it's Indy's reflexive "Yes,sir!"to Henry's "Junior?"or his dumbfounded reaction when he realizes that he and his dad have both slept with the same woman (Allison Doody,excellent and also unexpectedly rewatchable as the Nazi-with-a-conflicted-heart).  As their frosty relationship gradually thaws in the heat of their shared quest,it's impossible not to get invested in the Jones rapprochement.  Spielberg,for whom absent fathers and strained parent-child dynamics are like spinach to Popeye,gets full mileage out of this ostensible subplot that's really the main plot;in fact,The Last Crusadejust may be the most satisfying distillation of the director's favorite themes.  (He would try another,less successful variation on them withIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls;even though I enjoyed that movie more than most,Ford and Shia LaBoeuf never come close to capturing the Henry-Indy magic ofLast Crusade.)

And it still works,every damn time.  I still tear up when Henry embraces his son after thinking he'd lost him over a cliff,and again near the end – as Indy's reaching in vain for the Grail that's just out of his grasp – when Henry says very quietly,using his son's preferred name for the first and only time,"Indiana…let it go."  To be sure,in both instances Henry quickly returns to putting "Junior"in his place,but we feel confident by the end of the movie that their relationship is in a better,stronger place than it ever was.  And isn't that what we were rooting for all along?  Lose the girl,lose the Grail,find your dad—sounds like the perfect Spielbergian ending.

previously on "Over & Overs"
Julie & JuliaandMoonrise Kingdom

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Reader Comments (16)

I'm so happy to see someone who shares the correct and right opinion that Last Crusade is the best Indy movie.I think when it comes to Indy films I've seen the first one like twice,the second and fourth one once and this one like a hundred times?

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

While I wholeheartedly disagree that Crusade is better than Raiders,it's hard to deny the amazing chemistry between Indys Jr & Sr.Connery was outstanding here.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

The Last Crusadeis a favorite of mine mainly because of the relationship between Indy and his dad.I'm one of those that believes that the series should've stopped there as I refuse to talk about the fourth film we shall not speak of.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I also saw this in theaters and really enjoyed it.(though i still think Raiders is best.The first one I saw in the theaters was *I think* Temple of Doom.) Agreed that the Sean Connery / Harrison Ford chemistry is terrific.I actually thought Connery should have been nominated for this at the time but then I saw less movies then so who knows.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

And Harrison Ford looks so good in that green bathrobe!

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

The Last Crusade is so much fun.When I think of Indiana Jones films,more scenes from The Last Crusade pop into my head than the others.I miss River Phoenix.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I do prefer this to Raiders but,probably an unpopular opinion,I also love Temple Of Doom more than Raiders as well.I agree that this is eminently re-watchable.

When we first see Elsa Schneider,she is wearing a Madeleine Elster-esque grey suit.I like to think this is on purpose to give people in the know a clue that she is not all that she seems.

The minor characters are all perfectly cast,especially Denholm Elliott as the bumbling Marcus.The comedy moments always make me chuckle,and there are some very affecting moments.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

I remember begging my parents to let me see this in the theater with my older siblings and cousins.Mom was reluctant to let me go,especially because I was still in single digits.And she likely remembered how my brothers rented Temple of Doom and let me watch it at WAY too young of an age and I freaked out at the heart scene.

My parents relented in the end,and I LOVED the movie.I sat by my older sister,and she showed me her arm once the lights came up.It was completely marked up from my nails because I had gripped her arm so tightly during the intense last acts of the film.I don't know if I've had a moviegoing experience quite so exhilarating in my whole life.And the best part is this: The movie still holds up 30 years later.And it's not just nostalgia.It's a straight-up funny,touching adventure.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Last Crusade is the sentimental favorite and my first Indy theatrical.I was 6 the bulk of '89.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Sarah: right??

RobMiles: nice observation on Elsa's suit,I hadn't noticed that before but you're absolutely right.And indeed yes re: Denholm Elliott,whom I wanted to say something about but couldn't find the right place to do it...he's delightful.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Lee

Nice article,and got me thinking afresh about the film and the whole series.I've never been a big fan of Last Crusade: I feel it's a bit too light-hearted and too much of a Raiders retread.But I do think Sean Connery is terrific (and was probably not far off a nomination - he was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe) and I like the music a lot.And I like the bit when they find the X on the floor in Venice.I think Raiders is the best film,and I have a special fondness for Temple of Doom (problematic though it is): it has a distinctive tone all its own.But I do want to watch Last Crusade again - I've seen it a few times but not for a number of years.

August 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I know I play cantankerous old man in the comments,but this was a great childhood memory.

August 23,2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

A pleasure to see that others share the same love I have for this great film.sean Conner and Harrison Ford are terrific.Also I took a trip to Petra because of this movie.

August 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I am a big fan of Alison Doody's performance in Crusade.As a little gay boy,I found her incredibly alluring.She's also surprisingly,aggressively sexual for a Spielberg female.

August 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterIan O

Ian: you and me both.I actually think Doody's performance is the best among the three Indiana Jones women.(Sorry,Karen Allen - love you too!)

August 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Lee

Connery does great work here,and probably gives one of his most Oscar-worth performances.

Like you,I think this is the best Indy film.It has the comedy that Raiders has,but what it lacks in adventure it makes up for in emotion.

August 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

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