Four Secrets About ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’


Eight months after introducing Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewbacca to the world, George Lucas invited Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to his assistant’s home in Los Angeles to come up with a new name for adventure.

“Indiana Smith,” said Lucas. “Very Americana place.”

“I hate that, but keep going,” sighed Spielberg.

Over the next five days, according to minutes of the story conference, the three assembled a bold archaeologist who merged Humphrey Bogart with James Bond. They gave Indy a bullwhip and passport – and they matched his name.

“Jones,” Lucas admitted, “people can call him Jones.”

That brainstorming session naturally led to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month (and streamed on Paramount +). Four decades later, the cult hit has become the linchpin between the past and present of cinema. Indiana Jones ‘skimpy escape from Nazis, boulders, punch arrows, poisoned dates, speeding trucks, and of course, snakes is a fedora for the 1930s cliffhanger series – the kids’ adventures that shaped its creators – even if they calibrated their nostalgia in a cross -Promotion blockbuster that would determine the future of Hollywood.

“What we’re actually only doing here is designing a ride in Disneyland,” said Spielberg at this first meeting. Prophetic words. Yet like Indy’s exploits around the world, the film’s production history is itself a story of misfortunes, fortunes, and inspiration. Here are four secret stories from the set.

Black and white series like “Tarzan” and “Jungle Jim” couldn’t electrify their thrill with CGI. Not even “Raiders”. The set pieces of the film, from locations to traps, are temples of old Hollywood craftsmanship. Indy’s seaplane departure, the snowy Nepalese saloon, and the tumbling cliffs of Cairo were all handcrafted matte paintings. On average, a matte painting only takes a few seconds before the audience realizes the trick. However, the sprawling warehouse in the film’s final take had to dominate the screen for almost half a minute and it took artist Michael Pangrazio three months to complete. For the inaugural hunt for Boulder, Spielberg commissioned a 12-foot fiberglass and plaster stone mounted on top of a 40-yard stretch. Even with only 300 pounds – that is, compared to 80 tons of real granite – the fake giant smashed the prop stalagmites on its way and they had to be replaced between each take. And the boulder might have crushed star Harrison Ford if he hadn’t overtaken everything 10 times. “He was lucky,” Spielberg said in American Cinematographer magazine, “and I was an idiot for letting him try.”

During the worst filming on location in Tunisia, the crew must have wished that the entire Egypt sequence had been hand-painted. Temperatures rose to 130 degrees and everyone except Spielberg was attacked by food poisoning. (Spielberg packed a box of canned goods that he ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, often cold.) In an article she wrote for the Washington Post that recalled her time on the set, photographer Nancy Moran watched Spielberg groaned that he wanted to go home for fear that Lucas, sunburned and exhausted, “will soon arrive with his feet in Kleenex boxes”. Their suffering excuses the continuity errors in the Well of Souls sequence, in which bricks, stones and even a truck slide restlessly in the picture, as if they too were longing for an iced tea by the hotel pool. The most egregious slip occurs when Indy and Marion break through the Well of Souls two feet from an apparently unconscious man in a blue shirt. The man is either a holdover from a deleted battle scene or a failed gag in which a worker is so terrified that living corpses are exhumed from a 1,000-year-old sealed grave that he passes out. The mystery of its origin is joined by a second question: Why is a 1,000 year old sealed grave covered with scaffolding?

Unfortunately, Ford was also hit by dysentery when it came to filming an epic sword-versus-whip duel for which Spielberg had planned a day and a half to shoot, according to the 1996 biography “Spielberg: The Man, the Movies” Mythology. ”Ford asked if they could finish the scene in an hour. “Yes, if you shoot him,” joked Spielberg. They did, and the wordless punch line got one of the biggest laughs in the movie. Even so, when Ford was healthy, he put on a more subtle physical comedy that deserves its own applause. The best display of the star’s Buster Keaton-like athleticism can be seen in his showdown against Pat Roach’s shirtless Nazi aircraft mechanic. In the face of this Teutonic muscle power, Ford tiredly clings to the Flying Wing like a polar bear grabs an iceberg. He hesitates before firing a blow – and sniffing. His knees wobble when he is hit. Its Indy is so unmatched that when Roach backhands his right cheek, a Ford turns dazed on the beat and out of the picture, defying the laws of physics. Overwhelmed, Indy fights dirty. He bites, throws sand, aims at the crotch, and is eventually rescued by the plane’s propeller. Compared to modern superheroes, who hardly flinch when a skyscraper falls on their heads, their frailty makes them human – and their survival more exciting.

Also improvised? The animal performances are a natural by-product of the litter of snakes and tarantulas instead of golden retrievers. Aside from a few nibbles on the calves of zookeeper Steve Edge, who shaved his legs as Karen Allen, the snakes – all 6,500 – mostly behaved themselves, so much so that when he was frightened, Spielberg could cradle one in his hands like a rosary. Not the insidious capuchin monkey who, despite his training in Nazi salute, wasted 50 shots before a disgruntled Lucas handling the insert shot dangled a bunch of grapes from a fishing line. The creepy rat spinning around in front of the Ark of the Covenant simply had a balance problem. At the most unnerving moment of the improvisation, just as Paul Freeman, who plays Indy’s French rival Belloq, sneeringly “Your persistence surprises even me,” a fly decided to crawl over the actor’s lower lip and apparently into his mouth. Did Freeman eat the fly? He is often asked, claiming that his escape has been cut out. Spielberg disagrees, however. “I inspected these images like some people inspected the Zapruder movie,” he told Empire Magazine. “The fly went in Paul Freeman’s mouth and Paul was so absorbed he didn’t realize he’d swallowed the bastard.” Indiana Jones herself would agree that some stories are better left than myths.


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Robert Dunfee