Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #45

The man with the hat is back.
And this time he’s bringing his dad.

Country: USA
Language: English, German & Greek
Runtime: 127 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 24th May 1989 (USA)
UK Release: 30th June 1989
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Stars
Harrison Ford (Blade Runner, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Sean Connery (Dr. No, The Hunt for Red October)
Denholm Elliott (Brimstone & Treacle, A Room with a View)
John Rhys-Davies (The Living Daylights, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
Alison Doody (A View to a Kill, We Still Kill the Old Way)
Julian Glover (For Your Eyes Only, We Still Steal the Old Way)

Director
Steven Spielberg (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)

Screenwriter
Jeffrey Boam (The Dead Zone, Lethal Weapon 2)

Story by
George Lucas (Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, Strange Magic)
Menno Meyjes (The Color Purple, Max)

“Pretty much responsible for every line of dialogue”, according to Spielberg, but not credited
Tom Stoppard (Empire of the Sun, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead)

The Story
When an old professor goes missing while searching for the Holy Grail, there’s only one man to track him down: his son, Indiana Jones. With his father’s cryptic diary as a guide, Indy embarks on a race against the Nazis to be the first to find the Grail.

Our Heroes
Indiana Jones, the fedora-wearing, whip-wielding, quip-delivering, snake-fearing, Nazi-fighting archeologist adventurer. This time joined by his dad, Henry — who still has it with the ladies, apparently.

Our Villains
A pair of deceptive deceivers: respectable American businessman Walter Donovan sets both Indy and his father in search of the Holy Grail, but he’s secretly working with the Nazis because he wants the prize for his own selfish ends. Then there’s Dr Elsa Schneider, who seduces both Joneses (bit creepy) and is also secretly working with the Nazis. But might she come good in the end…?

Best Supporting Character
Indy’s dad, Henry Sr, is along for the ride this time. Sean Connery was always Spielberg’s first choice for the role, as an inside joke that Indy’s father is James Bond. (Not literally, obviously.) The father-son sparring is one of the highlights of the film.

Memorable Quote
Prof. Henry Jones: “I’ve got to tell you something.”
Indiana Jones: “Don’t get sentimental now, dad. Save it ’til we get out of here.”
Prof. Henry Jones: “The floor’s on fire, see? And the chair.”

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation #1
“He chose… poorly.” — Grail Knight

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation #2
“Nazis. I hate these guys.” — Indiana Jones

Memorable Scene
Any time you get Ford and Connery playing off each other is fantastic, but the scene where they’re tied back-to-back to be interrogated by the Nazis, then have to escape the burning fortress (see: memorable quote) is one of the best and (importantly, for this category) most memorable.

Technical Wizardry
In previous films, computer-generated effects elements had been printed onto film and composited into final shots the old fashioned way, using optical printers. For Donovan’s death scene in Last Crusade, several states of the character’s decay were created with make-up and puppets, filmed, then ILM scanned the footage and morphed the takes together digitally. This was the first time film had been scanned, digitally manipulated, and then output back to film as a finished shot.

Truly Special Effect
The “leap of faith” trial — a bridge rendered ‘invisible’ with the help of false perspective — doesn’t make a great deal of sense if you stop and think about it, but is a very effective special effect nonetheless. It’s actually a model bridge in front of a painted background (because it was cheaper than building a full-size set), with Harrison Ford shot on bluescreen and composited in. (More details on how it was done can be found in this article about the film’s post-production.)

Letting the Side Down
Conversely, some of the other special effects have aged pretty badly — see-through planes and that kind of thing. On the bright side, Lucas never tried to Special Edition it.

Making of
According to Robert Watts, who was a producer on the first three Indys, “The Last Crusade was the toughest Indiana Jones picture to do because of its scope. First of all, we had virtually every form of transportation people used during that period, planes, trains, boats, cars, horses, zeppelins, bicycles, motorbikes with sidecars, everything except skis. Also, we shot the movie in Spain, London, Venice, Jordan, Austria, Germany, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, California and, finally, Texas. So it was quite a world tour.”

Previously on…
Indiana Jones made his debut in Best Picture nominee Raiders of the Lost Ark. He returned in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which used to be regarded as The Bad One (despite having its fans), until 2008…

Next time…
Some people would be very keen to tell you that Last Crusade is the last Indiana Jones movie, but, of course, they’re wrong: 19 years later, everyone returned for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which certainly isn’t the best Indy movie but quite probably isn’t as bad as you remember. They’ll be doing the same again in a couple of years for a fifth adventure. There are further adventures of Indy in the three-season TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (I don’t know what the consensus on it is, but I used to love it). In print, Indy is the star of 13 adult novels, plus eight German novels that have never been translated into English, 11 “choose your own adventure”-style books, 33 Young Indiana Jones novels, and numerous comic books. There have been eight computer games based on the films, two Lego Indiana Jones games, and nine games with original storylines, at least one of which, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, is a classic (which I’ve just discovered is available on Steam. It might be re-play time…)

Awards
1 Oscar (Sound Effects Editing)
2 Oscar nominations (Score, Sound)
3 BAFTA nominations (Supporting Actor (Sean Connery), Sound, Special Effects)
4 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Actor (Harrison Ford), Writing, Costumes)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation

What the Critics Said
“Take a good look at this movie. In fact, go back four or five times and take four or five good looks. In this imperfect world, you’re not likely to see many manmade objects come this close to perfection. Director Steven Spielberg has taken all the best elements of Raiders of the Lost Ark (with little of the mystical mumbo jumbo) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (without the gratuitous violence and child abuse) and combined them into an adventure film that is fast, muscular, playful, warmhearted and sheer pleasure.” — Ralph Novak, People

Score: 88%

What the Public Say
Raiders is lots of fun but it didn’t have the depth of characterization that The Last Crusade brings to Indy (in my opinion) and Steven Spielberg himself said that he enjoyed having the opportunity to do a real character study in the third movie. […] it’s just amazing to see [Sean Connery] and Harrison Ford play off one another. I love the subtle softening of their relationship […] There’s a depth to their father-son relationship that goes beyond mere banter and friendly insults” — Eva, Coffee, Classics, & Craziness

Verdict

I know we’re all supposed to love Raiders most, but I think Last Crusade is actually my favourite Indy movie. After the darkness of Temple of Doom, and the resultant criticism, Spielberg and co set out to make a lighter adventure more in the vein of Raiders. It’s possibly the funniest Indy movie because of that, but without tipping over into all-out comedy, thanks to plenty of the requisite derring-do, an almost Bondian globetrotting storyline, and a high-stakes climax, complete with gruesome death for the villain. Spielberg once said it was his favourite Indy movie too, so I’m in good company.

#46 will be… the first of two films whose title begins with “J”, only one of which is directed by Steven Spielberg…

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8 thoughts on “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

  1. I have a problem with Last Crusade; I used to think Temple of Doom was the worst of the Indy adventures but was quite surprised when I rewatched it a few years ago and loved it. Last Crusade, however, just gets worse with age, somehow, and for me is worse even than Crystal Skull, which at least as a ‘fifties charm that recalls sci-fi b-movies with aliens/ufos.

    Last Crusade is too self-knowing and cynical in how it manipulates the audience and throws too many jokes out there, undermining any real threat or peril. Yeah, its all the humour and jokes that kill it for me, all the winks to the audience, too much breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of stuff. There is a sense of reality and peril to Raiders in spite of its matinee-adventure format, and this carried on in Temple of Doom (only even darker), but that was all thrown out with the bath-water in Last Crusade. There doesn’t seem much real danger to Indy or anyone, just increasingly daft stunts/set-pieces. One big joke from start to finish and rides the casting of Indy’s dad too much, as if it’s a one-trick pony. I guess that’s what some people like about it though so maybe its just me, but the balance is all off to me. It feels out of control, too excessive. Maybe a bit like Roger Moore-era Bond, the way those films went camper and dafter.

    All the Indy films have problems with their endings (Raiders famously has a Grand Finale with its hero tied up keeping his eyes closed, utterly passive), but Last Crusade’s particularly grates me with all that Holy Grail mumbo jumbo. Nah, don’t like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think you’re alone in feeling it plays up the humour too much. Personally I think it gets the balance about right… but this is another film I haven’t watched for years and years, so…! That said, I first saw it when I was about 5, so it’s kinda ingrained.

      I do like Temple of Doom — I don’t think I ever disliked it, and whenever I last watched the trilogy (probably around the time Crystal Skull came out) I realised that its champions definitely had a point. Still, not quite enough for it to make the top 100.

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  2. This is my favorite of the Indiana Jones films, too! I think this actually as the first one I saw but I have watched them all several times since and The Last Crusade still remains my favorite. Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr. was an excellent casting choice and he and Harrison Ford have great chemistry. I liked how grand the scope of the film was and all the humor. It was a great end for the trilogy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it was my first, too; it’s certainly the one that I remember most vividly from my childhood.

      I didn’t realise until I was writing this that when they were making Last Crusade they intended it to be the final Indy adventure, which I guess is part of why it works so well as a trilogy-capper.

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  3. Thanks so much for linking to my review! 🙂 I really appreciate it and I enjoyed reading your post as well…seems like we have pretty much the exact same opinion on Last Crusade. *high-five*

    ~Eva

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Last Crusade is easily the funniest and fastest paced of the franchise. Raiders may technically be the best movie with the more memorable villains too but LC is probably more entertaining overall with the more satisfying and heart warming climax. For me, Raiders meanders a little after the superb truck chase and crawls to it’s climax, although the opening of the ark makes up for it. But Last Crusade just doesn’t stop, and kicks it into third gear with the tank sequence, and then the climax. Also, Connery’s easily my favourite sidekick of Indy’s. I’m not even really a big fan of his but he really excelled here and proved he was great at comedy.

    Two little nitpicks. I don’t care for the opening sequence with young Indy because I felt it was not only contrived that he got all of his trademarks – whip, fear of snakes, scar – within one little adventure but I felt it took away a little of Indy’s mystery. Also, they dumbed down Marcus a bit too much for comedy’s sake, which there wasn’t really any need for because we had Connery and Sallah for that. But they’re very minor complaints. I love this movie and it’s one of my favourites.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most people seem to harp on about the brilliance of Raiders — and it is great, but it’s nice to see so much love for Last Crusade, too.

      I guess with the young Indy sequence they were once again going for that pulp kind of thing. I can’t think of a specific point of reference, but it feels in-keeping with that style (at least to me) for there to be one single adventure that neatly defined all of our hero’s characteristics. Nonetheless, you’re right that it does stretch credibility!

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