I realized immediately after writing last week’s article about great movie standoffs that I had missed three of the very best ones. And they come from three of the best action movies ever made: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The best part? Each one has a different solution to the same stalemate that makes perfect sense and leads to a lot of crazy results.
That’s a big part of Indiana Jones’ charm. He’s unpredictable. You never know if he’s going to pull out his gun to shoot an imposing swordsman or jump out of an airplane on an inflatable raft because there are no parachutes. He has survived countless attempts on his life. Let’s enjoy watching how he gets out of these impossible situations.
Blow Up the Ark
Near the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy is on an island in the Mediterranean surrounded by Nazis who have taken his old flame Marion Ravenwood hostage. They also have the Ark of the Covenant, which Indy also wants. He disguises himself as a German soldier and sneaks into an arms depot to grab a bazooka, which he uses to threaten to blow up the Ark if they don’t release Marion and let them get off the island safely. It’s the perfect setup for the ultimate conflict of the movie. Is Indy like Belloq and purely self-interested, or is that outweighed by his respect for the artifacts he is pursuing? In other words, is he a raider or respecter of the lost Ark? The villainous Belloq, who is Indy’s equal in terms of archaeology and inferior in terms of ethics, calls Indy’s bluff, and he is forced to surrender rather than destroy the Ark, proving that he is an honorable, self-sacrificing man.
Caught on the Bridge
I imagine most people noticed the callback to Raiders of the Lost Ark near the climax of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when a gun-less Indy is forced to fight two swordsmen instead of just shooting them like he did in the first film. But shortly after that we get a subtler reversal of the first film when Indy gets hemmed in on both sides of a bridge by bad guys. This time, he’s in possession of the magical stones everyone wants, unlike when the Nazis had possession of the Ark. He tries to use the stones as leverage, but the evil Mola Ram calls his bluff and again Indy can’t bring himself to drop them. However, Indy isn’t about to go down without a fight. He secretly tells Short Round what to do in Chinese, which Mola Ram’s men can’t understand (also a clever reversal of the first film when he couldn’t speak the natives’ language). Then he surprises the bad guys by cutting the bridge in half, taking a more direct approach to victory than when God intervened to save him.
She Dies Now
The final example I’ll discuss also involves Indy’s love interest, like the first two. But this time there’s a twist. In the earlier films, it was clear who the enemy was. It’s not so clear-cut in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Right after rescuing his father, Indy is confronted by a German officer who is holding Indy’s lover Elsa at gunpoint. He’ll kill her if Indy doesn’t put his gun down. Indy’s father sees through the façade and tries to tell him not to believe she’s really in danger. Indy can’t force himself to believe she’s in cahoots with the Nazis, so he does the honorable thing and surrenders. However, his father was right. How did he know? It turns out Indy isn’t the only Dr. Jones to woo her, and she talks about her schemes in her sleep.
3 Solutions to the Same Problem
It’s interesting to note that each of these scenes has a lot in common. In the first instance, Indy shows his true colors and surrenders when his bluff to save Marion is called. In the second instance, Indy tries to use a stratagem to get Mola Ram to release Short Round and Willy, but is instead forced to find a more creative solution. And in the third, Indy doesn’t even think of bluffing the German officer to rescue Elsa, even though his father wants him to, so he is forced to surrender when it wasn’t necessary. As noted, all three involve his love interest in distress. They involve the main thing everyone is after, namely the Ark, the stones, and the Grail diary. Bluffing is a big part of them. Indy gives up for different reasons in the first and third films, and he has no choice but to fight in the second.
These scenes are a microcosm of the films they are in. The first three Indiana Jones films manage to take the same basic framework and do something unique with it each time. I have no idea if the fourth one does because I’ll never watch it on the advice of my brothers. But that doesn’t take away from these three being among the greatest action films of all time.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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