This article first appeared in issue 227 of Empire magazine. Subscribe to Empire today.
"It's Not The Years, It's The Mileage..."
Steven Spielberg: Indiana Jones redefined the classic American hero as someone who did not have a backbone made of steel and skin made of Teflon. The idea that our intrepid archaeologist could actually do himself bodily injury made him accessible. He always comes out on top, but he has to swallow his pride without losing his nerve.
George Lucas: People have tried to do what we did, but they don't understand the humour of it. They don't understand the action and they don't understand the MacGuffin.
Frank Marshall (Producer): I think a lot of people have grown up with Indiana Jones, sort of like they have with Star Wars.
There is still something liberating in the idea of Indiana Jones.
Kate Capshaw (Willy Scott, Temple of Doom): It's like an experience that's 3-D without the glasses. It's story-driven, it's romantic, it's exciting. And I was not a Star Wars girl.
Lawrence Kasdan (Screenwriter): I last saw Raiders when the new DVDs came out. It's an amazing movie, it's held up pretty great. People come up to me all over the world and say, "That movie had a huge impact on me." Raiders was intended to be as pulpy as anything.
Kathleen Kennedy (Producer): People always love action-adventure stories where there's a fantastic character that they can become invested in, like Indiana Jones. I feel the influences in Pirates [of the Caribbean], but it's not easy - this is not something that's been bottled and you then can just replicate it. There's no question that there's a uniqueness to Raiders.
Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood): You get to a point where this is so much part of your life, it can be hard to see it anew. But I saw it recently, at the Paris Theatre in New York and the laughter and the experience of the film just seemed very fresh.
Harrison Ford: There is still something liberating in the idea of Indiana Jones.
"I'm Making This Up As I Go..."
"There were pages and pages of visual description but not much dialogue. It was either gonna be the biggest disaster of all time, or a new fashion in filmmaking." – John Rhys-Davies
Kasdan: When I went out to meet Steven, he said, "I'm gonna do a movie with George Lucas and I want you to write it. You gotta meet George." This was one month after I had gotten in the business after years of trying. A few weeks later I was in an office with George and Steven. George said, "I want to do this thing, the hero's named after my dog, he has a whip, it's like the old serials." He then stood up and said, "Let's shake hands, maybe this will be a historic moment." Which was very un-George-like.
Spielberg: We sat around for three days plotting the movie together. There's that line where Indiana Jones says, "I don't know. I'm making this up as I go." That's kind of how we wrote the script.
Harrison is Indiana Jones. He wanted to do all his stunts.
Kasdan: When I started I was intimidated, but I realised the reason they hired me was they wanted someone to do all the hard work, put it all together, and come up with all the connective material. They had great set-pieces in mind but that's different from a screenplay. I actually wrote it in Steven's office while he was making 1941.
Spielberg: There were a lot of things that fell out of the script. Some of the things that I wanted to shoot wound up in Temple Of Doom, like the mine-car chase.
Kasdan: With Raiders, you're making huge leaps of logic and faith. How do we get him from here to here? How did he survive that? How do we get him into this problem? How do we get him out of it? That was the challenge, getting him into all this jeopardy.
Spielberg: Our biggest dispute was that I had this heavy-metal view of the character of Toht [Ronald Lacey]. I saw him with a prosthetic hand that was in fact a machine gun and a flamethrower. He was like The Terminator before The Terminator. We've got the artwork to prove it. That's where George put his foot down and said, "Steven, you're crossing out of one genre and into another." I agreed. All that hard work just became refuse in the art department.
Kasdan: There was supposed to be a real attraction between Marion and Belloq, a real romantic triangle even though she knew he was evil. A lot of that stuff got cast aside in the interests of getting the thing to move like a rocket.
Lucas: There were a few jokes in there that weren't in keeping the tone of the movie. When they climb out of the Well Of Souls, there is a digger guy working on the thing - he sees two people come out of the tomb and faints. It was kind of corny.
Kasdan: Adventure films were absolutely at the heart of my love of movies. Everything from Seven Samurai to Red River to The Magnificent Seven to The Great Escape. Everything in the movie resonates from other movies. That's the feeling we were after. It doesn't take itself too seriously.
"Fools, Bureaucratic Fools"
Lucas: Raiders was turned down by practically every studio in town. They thought it would be a successful movie but didn't trust the budget: $20 million. Second, I was asking for a very tough deal, it broke a lot of precedents that no-one wanted to break. Its definition of profits upset their apple cart. The other part was I would develop it and turn it over to them, which gave them little control. They didn't like that. I had licensing. I controlled sequel rights. Things that fed off what I did with Star Wars.
Spielberg: On 1941, I became a bit like Colonel Kurtz. After my big successes, the studio was too afraid to dispatch Martin Sheen to terminate my command with extreme prejudice. Now I just wanted to make a movie where people would say he's a responsible director who came in under budget and under schedule.
Jon Rhys-Davies (Sallah): Steven had just had a relative critical failure with 1941 and the knives were out - the whizz-kid had clay feet, he was just a flash on the pan.
Lucas: The studio was saying, "If you can get another director in there who we have more confidence in, then you can do it." I was committed to Steven. We'd had a long talk about how we were going to make the movie. I trusted Steven. He had directed television. He knew how to do what had to be done.
"Obtainer Of Rare Antiquities"
Kasdan: Indy's a classic anti-hero. The idea always from the get-go was that he's fallen from grace as an archaeologist and he's become a grave robber.
Ford: I always saw him as an academic first and an adventurer second.
Lucas: I was wary of Harrison and I becoming like Scorsese and De Niro. I thought, "Let's create a new icon." We found Tom Selleck, but as soon as the network heard, his option on Magnum P.I. got picked up.
If you hire the best director in the world, making movies is really easy.
Deborah Nadoolman-Landis (Costume Designer): I had made a complete top-to-bottom prototype outfit for Tom Selleck. He wasn't replaced until pretty far down the line. I think the film benefited tremendously when the casting changed. Indiana Jones has so many different levels and a lot of that comes from the personality and introspectiveness of Harrison Ford.
Lucas: So then we were running short of time and Steven said, "There's always Harrison." I doubted he'd go for a three-picture deal - he didn't want to on Star Wars. And we had three pictures. Steven said to try anyway. I went to Harrison and he read the script and said, "Yeah, I'll do a three-picture deal. I'd love to."
Ford: We were all pretty sure that we would do three films starting out with Raiders. There really was no question.
Alison Doody (Elsa Schneider, The Last Crusade): He has that great quality of appealing to both men and women. And also he has that dry humour. Indy needed to be real, with flaws - that's what endears him to the audience. Harrison got that.
Ford: We had a guy come to my house for a couple of lessons with the bullwhip in the beginning. It's a combination of relaxation while snapping the wrist at the proper time. It's really all a matter of timing. Not an easy thing to learn.
Vic Tablian (Monkey Man/Barranca): For that scene in the jungle where Indy whips away my gun, I'm standing there aiming it and Spielberg says, "Don't move." It's my hand, dammit! It's scary and the risk is there, because all Harrison has to do is come half an inch forward to hit my hand. But he never did.
Ford: I've said this before, but he's just this guy with a bullwhip to keep the world at bay.
"I'm Your Goddamn Partner"
"George said to me, 'You've done a supernatural ending with Close Encounters. Make it thrilling, but make the audience come back and see it a second time.'" – Steven Spielberg
Kasdan: I didn't want it to be just about the leads. The movies I loved from the '30s and '40s were rich with supporting characters. So even though some of them may only be on for three lines, they have to be a good three lines. Belloq always has good stuff to say.
Paul Freeman (Belloq): I had done this drama documentary called Death Of A Princess about Saudi Arabia that Steven saw, and he asked to see me. He'd already considered the Italian actor Giancarlo Gianni. When I went to meet him, he and George were lying on the floor looking at these new speakers with this new invention, the Walkman.
Allen: Steven had seen me in A Small Circle Of Friends and I was aware that there were a lot of people being talked about: Barbara Hershey, Debra Winger, Sean Young. I auditioned first with John Shea, who was trying out for Indy, and then I did a screen test with Tim Matheson, who I'd worked with on Animal House. The only scene I was allowed to see was the first meeting in the bar.
Spielberg: Sallah was originally written as a Sam Jaffe or Gunga Din type - almost a small creature from the Star Wars cantina in an earthbound adventure film. I had originally offered the part to Danny DeVito, who wanted to do it but couldn't fit it around his schedule for Taxi.
Rhys-Davies: Mr. Spielberg had seen Shogun. I went to see him and said, "Well, look, it says here that Sallah is a 5' 2" skinny Egyptian Bedouin. Are you proposing surgery?" He said, "No, I want you to do something between that character you played in Shogun and Falstaff." I thought, "Ah, this is interesting."
"Show A Little Backbone"
Rhys-Davies: It read like a comic-book story. There were pages and pages of visual description but not much dialogue. It was either gonna be the biggest disaster of all time, or a new fashion in filmmaking.
Ford: It was loose, that was Steven's way. We were young and free and confident and happy – stuff happened.
Allen: I had a whole history for the character from the time she was born. What happened to her mother, how long she'd been in Nepal and her romance with Indy when she was 15 or 16. I remember showing it to Steven who said, "That's an entirely different movie."
Kasdan: Marion is named after my wife's grandmother. I took pride in the relationship part of it. It was all comedy character stuff, Cary Grant-Jean Arthur stuff. There's about three times as much that didn't get used. They just simplified the whole thing. When I look at the movie now, I think that they were right.
Allen: Harrison's a private person. He had his own process, which didn't involve lengthy conversations about character. It took me a while to get the gist of his way of working. It wasn't that kind of sit-around-and-tell-old-theatre-stories relationship that I had with Ronnie Lacey, Paul Freeman and John Rhys-Davies.
Ford: The action sequences were done piece by piece; none of it was very difficult. That's the whole point of being an actor, to try and make it look like you are taking risks.
Freeman: Steven suddenly panicked that he hadn't even heard me speak in a French accent. So I had to get on the train from Banbury to just say, "Allo, I can do a Fraunch accent." As corny as that!
Spielberg: George became a casualty. He came to La Rochelle for the first week of shooting, then shipped himself back home due to terrible sea-sickness. When he came to Tunisia and grabbed a second camera, he not only got bad sunburn but his face had swelled up to twice the normal size. I could have turned the camera around and shot a horror movie.
Lucas: It was the film I had the least number of problems with. We didn't hear from the studio, we just had fun. I was shooting second unit, running around like crazy getting shots: Indy running through the camp, Indy getting the rope and going over to the Well Of Souls, the sunset shot...
Spielberg remains the most accomplished director I've worked with.
Kennedy: It was the most fun we've ever had. There's so much at stake today, but when we were making Raiders we were making movies for around $20 million. We weren't encumbered with any of the responsibilities associated with being a genuine adult.
Freeman: Spielberg remains the most accomplished director I've worked with. There are some scenes in the script that were two or three people talking together in a room and you suddenly find that he planned it to be in a quarry with 500 extras going up and down ladders carrying buckets.
Spielberg: I was one of the few people who didn't get deathly ill with the turistas. I'd heard that some people on Star Wars had gotten pretty ill. I had 120 cans from Sainsbury's sitting in my hotel room. I ate three squares a day cold out of a can with a fork and a spoon.
Marshall: That was quite a day when Steven said, "Get the monkey to salute." I said to the animal handler, "Show me the monkey saluting." He went over, took a stick and tapped the monkey on the head. The monkey sort of protected himself with his arm and that was supposed to be saluting. So we devised a process: put a grape on a fishing pole, hold the grape just out of his reach and he would reach. After about 50 takes it finally looked like he was doing his Heil Hitler.
Freeman: The other thing that happened to me was with the scene where I first meet Harrison again, and I'm smoking the hookah. By the time they turned over to do the shot, I'd smoked so much of the stuff I thought I was going to throw up. I kept thinking, "Oh my God, this is my first major American picture and I'm going to throw up."
Spielberg: I have inspected those frames the way some people have inspected the Zapruder film. And I am telling you, that fly did not suddenly jump into a fifth dimension. That fly went into Paul Freeman's mouth and Paul was so absorbed that he didn't realise he'd swallowed the bugger.
Freeman: Ahh, the fly. I had the best review of my career from Pauline Kael in The New Yorker about the fly. She said, "There is an actor with remarkable devotion to duty."
Kasdan: I never understood why the Arabs ended up singing during that secret dig. It was like a lot of things in the movie that you can't really judge by any reality.
"Asps, Very Dangerous"
Allen: The Well Of Souls was really something. They had some real snakes - maybe 500, 600 - that they were going to use for closer shots. For long shots they were going to use mechanical snakes. Steven could pretty much tell straight away that it wasn't going to happen that way. So he put out a call to snake-wranglers and suddenly, within a period of days, 6,000 snakes arrived.
Snakes don't bother me much. It's just acting.
Rhys-Davies: I remember meeting one of the wranglers who had caught a crew member with this quite large snake saying, "I just want to take it home for my kid, it'll only die anyway." The wrangler stuck it in the glove compartment of his car and forgot all about it. By the time he remembered, the snake had gone completely. Later, he's taking his wife and his mother-in-law for a drive. And, of course, the snake re-appeared.
Ford: Snakes don't bother me much. It's just acting.
Kennedy: Do you remember that rat reacting to the hum of the Ark in the hold of the ship? We found a rat that was behaving very erratically because it was deaf. It was turning in this very odd way, trying to hear out of one ear. When we actually featured it in the shot it worked very effectively.
"Truck? What Truck?"
The classic truck chase with Vic Armstrong stepping in for Harrison Ford. (left), Harrison takes a little time out of the sun (top right) and Harrison and George on set (bottom right).
Marshall: The truck chase is really something. It worked just like it should've worked. It's got all these great homages, like going under the truck with the whip like in the old Westerns. All those things were done for real, no CGI.
Spielberg: The whole Flying Wing fight was improvised. One idea gave access to the next, it was a real lesson in cinematic improvisation. I was getting really excited, as the possibilities were overwhelming. I had to stop myself before the sequence became an eight-minute-long one that George would cut down to three-and-a-half.
Marshall: In Tunisia it was literally 125F but very dry. A lot of people had dysentery, and we had run out of stuntmen. Steven said, "Go and put that outfit on and you can be the pilot." I said, "How long is this going to be, Steven? I'm also the producer." He said, "Oh, just a morning." It was about 150F in that cockpit, and then you have Karen Allen hitting me over the head with the chocks. That wasn't much of a stunt; it just hurt. It took three days, by the way.
Vic Armstrong (Stunt Man): Harrison is Indiana Jones. He wanted to do all his stunts.
Ford: The stunts were the key part of the thing, getting as far into them as I could. Working with the brilliant Vic Armstrong, working out how much I could do. We would always devise how the character would work in these circumstances.
"The Power Of God Or Something"
Spielberg: When it came to the opening of the Ark, George said to me, "You've done a supernatural ending with Close Encounters. Make it thrilling, but make the audience come back and see it a second time."
Freeman: I had no idea what was going on. You would just be standing there in costume and they would say, "Okay, imagine this thing coming at you!" I would say, "What thing?" "I don't know but it's something coming at you - duck and scream!"
Lucas: We weren't focused on how gory the end of the movie was going to be. In the script, one head shrivels, one explodes, the other melts. Steven dictated the level at which it would happen. Those were the days when you could do things like that without anyone saying much.
Wolf Kahler (Dietrich): Paul Freeman thought my mask was better than his.
Spielberg: I showed the movie to George and he had no notes; he was ecstatic. We were all hugging. My editor, Mike Kahn, couldn't have been happier. I went back to LA and then I got the inevitable call from George the next morning saying, "You know, Steve, I've been thinking about the cut. The ending seems three times longer than it should be. I wonder if I could have a run at it." George and Mike took a pass at the ending and cut it in half, and I didn't want to make a single change.
"A Radio For Speaking To God"
John Williams (Composer): The Indiana Jones movies were great fun. There was nothing I had to take too seriously musically. They were theatrical and over-the-top. I particularly remember that the Indiana Jones theme was something I chiselled away at for a few weeks, changing a little note here, a little note there. It sounds easy, but it was not. I remember playing Steven a couple of things and him just saying, "Why don't you use them both?"
Michael Kahn (Editor): Johnny's music always lifts the picture up a couple of notches. Everything comes alive.
Williams: I used to love those old romantic themes in Warner Bros. Films like Now, Voyager. For the love story between Indiana Jones and Marion I thought that the music could be like one of those '30s themes and that would contrast well with the humour and silliness, even if it is inappropriate emotionally. I also remember doing pastiches of brass stabs that always represented the evil Nazis - all of it with tongue slightly in cheek. For the opening of the Ark, I wanted to try and evoke a biblical atmosphere to colour and express that in a way that only an orchestra and chorus can.
"Treasures Beyond Your Wildest Aspirations"
Marshall: One year after the movie came out, I went to two Raiders birthday parties, one in San José and one in San Diego, where the movie had been playing for a year. Just think about that: today, what movie plays in a movie theatre for a year?
Allen: I was so pleased when I saw it. It's a wild ride, but there's a sweetness to it too.
Kasdan: It's held up pretty great. In some ways it's simpler than you think it is. For my tastes, that's better than we have now. That's the charm of it. It created a mould that got copied so many times it's hard to see it anymore.
Rhys-Davies: Was it [famous literary critic] F.R. Leavis or is it T.S. Eliot himself who said, "The great work of art is not only great in itself, it changes the possibility of the craft for others"? For many people, Raiders did that.
Kennedy: Raiders has had a tremendous influence. It has become the touchstone. I hear people even now in development meetings refer to things as Raiders-esque.
Spielberg: The first Indy, for me, is the most perfect of the three. I've never gone back and said I could have done anything better than what I achieved on that film.
Lucas: One thing I learned - if you hire the best director in the world, making movies is really easy.