Historically it's also a little dubious, based on the real-life efforts by Hitler's scientists - not to rule the Earth - but to find evidence of divine Aryan ancestry from the earliest dawn of time. But what the heck, it was a cheeky enough way to have a daredevil American archaeologist fighting the Nazis, five years before the Yanks properly got round to it in World War II.Comparisons with the Star Wars saga were perhaps inevitable - as many of the same crew were also involved with Raiders - but where Star Wars is a plot driven spectacle in a galaxy far, far away, Indiana Jones is largely, I feel, an action-driven series, where the story usually serves as the means of putting the hero (and the audience) through various breathtaking adventures.
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM came along three years later, and this was even more unpleasant than Raiders, with delicacies including monkey brains for dessert, and a screaming dumb blonde heroine (who later became Mrs. Steven Spielberg).
However, come 1989, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas realised they had overdone things a bit with Temple of Doom, and decided to come back on track with the old formula of Indy fighting Nazis. Having searched for no less than the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders, this time the only thing left higher to search for was - what else? - the Holy Grail. And this time, as the publicity said, the man in the hat was bringing his Dad.
And here was Spielberg's masterstroke. As the series had been conceived by George Lucas as an American answer to James Bond, Spielberg's feeling was that the natural cinematic father of 45-year old Harrison Ford, should be the 58-year old Sean Connery.
Not many people would have thought of it straight away, but Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a delight from the moment these two first appear on screen together. Connery's enthusiastic, wholehearted and slightly self-mocking performance enlivens the proceedings immeasurably, and also gives his co-star some meaty acting competition, bringing out the Harrison Ford that I remembered from the Star Wars films. The two of them were also a commendable father and son duo, who managed to defy the narrow age difference between them with great aplomb.
What precedes their pairing, is admittedly almost a carbon copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark (with even the opening school lecture scene re-staged), with the exception of an exhilarating prologue featuring River Phoenix as the young Indy, on his first scouting adventure. Phoenix was a suggestion of Harrison Ford's, having played his son in The Mosquito Coast with uncanny similarity. His tragic early death of a drug overdose deprived the world of a young star whose afterglow has since been of great help for the likes of Brad Pitt and Leonardo di Caprio. It also led on to a spin-off Young Indiana Jones TV series with Sean Patrick Flannery.
But I digress. Back to The Last Crusade, which begins in earnest when the seemingly benevolent New York millionaire Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) invites Dr. Jones to his swanky apartment to examine an ancient tombstone giving the (partial) details of the location of the supposed resting place of the Holy Grail itself. You just know however that Donovan will turn out to be a rat, because he's being played by an English actor in an American film.
Indy tells Donovan that he's picked the wrong Jones for the task, as the Grail is more the domain of his father, Henry Jones. The trouble is, Donovan has already hired Jones Senior, who has since gone missing, at the hands of - whaddya know - the Nazis. Indy therefore follows the trail which leads to Venice, then onto Germany, and ultimately the Holy Land itself.
Not only is Indy bringing his Dad, but also his old friend Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) into the film, confined to just an "M"-type figure at the beginning and end of Raiders, but here fully integrated into the action, and with the amusing extra touch of being like a fish out of water once out of his natural museum environment. Brody arrives in the Holy Land, knowing (according to Indy) "a dozen different languages. He'll blend in, disappear, you'll never see him again. With any luck, he's got the Grail already."
Cut to Brody walking through the street market, wondering if anyone speaks English! Luckily another old friend, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) is on hand to help.
Once in Venice, Jones is introduced to his father's assistant, Dr. Schneider, who is, hey presto, a beautiful blonde played by Alison Doody. After a close run-in with Turkish guardians of the Grail in the sewers of Venice, Jones Junior is eventually re-united with Jones Senior, who promptly breaks a rare Ming Dynasty vase over his son's head - assuming him to be a Nazi. But there's no harm done - the vase was a fake! And we're off and running.
The obligatory female interest turns out to be a femme fatale Nazi (well, she was Austrian after all), for this is really a father and son's adventure, and Connery gleefully enjoys sitting in the side-car of his son's motorbike, stealing glances - and scenes - quietly dismissing every moment of derring-do that Indy perpetrates. Ford to his credit, relishes the opportunity to react to such put-downs, and the two make a great pair.
One touching little moment later on in the film, which exemplifies not only their relationship, but many father and son relationships in general, is when Indy is fighting on board a German tank that is just about to fall over the edge of a cliff, and seems to go down with it. Henry and the others stop for a moment in mournful reflection, until they realise Indy is standing among them looking down at the wreck. Henry joyfully embraces his son as they display a moment of emotional bonding, then just as quickly Henry lets go of Indy and encourages him to keep moving, " why are you resting when we're so near the end!"
The ending itself, with an ageing Medieval knight who is the last custodian of the Grail (straight out of the English theatre seemingly) is a little ponderous, although the shock of seeing Henry shot cold-bloodedly in the chest by the scheming Donovan is a startling moment. Donovan inevitably gets his come-uppance (in the film's one moment of genuine nastiness) after the misguided Dr Schneider has selected the wrong cup of eternal life (which gives the opposite effect) for him. The last remnant of Donovan's shrivelled body is his swastika badge. Once a Nazi, always a Nazi it seems. Well, you can just shoot Sean Connery in the chest like that and get away with it, can you?
Elsa Schneider fares little better, hungry for the Grail in spite of the fact that it cannot be taken beyond its resting place, and she tumbles (to her death?) down a mountainous chasm. Indy has similar desires for the Grail soon afterwards, but after a little paternal wisdom from Henry, he decides to let it go.
At the end, the remaining four intrepid heroes ride off from the temple entrance (in reality the ancient city of Petra) away into the sunset. It seemed a suitable conclusion to a series that had neatly come to a full stop at the end of this fun third episode. After all, once both Henry Jones Senior and Henry Jones Junior (for that is Indy's real name!) have tasted the Cup of Life, what else is there left to conquer, now that they're both immortal?
The recent INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL however, has given the series fresh impetus, with an all-star supporting cast including Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, and the welcome return of Karen Allen (from Raiders) - but crucially missing the comedic touchstone that was Sean Connery.
I first saw Last Crusade in the cinema that summer of 1989, during those wistful days when Lucasfilm fans were waiting (seemingly endlessly) for the next Star Wars film. In the absence of Episodes 1, 2 and 3 however, we had to make do with this climactic [we thought] conclusion to the adventures of Indiana Jones, and a pretty rousing one it was too. It was also, rather poignantly, the last blockbuster to be shot exclusively at Elstree Studios.
I've since seen the film several times - more than any other in the Indy series - and it's still just as much fun to watch as it was the first time, whenever Ford and Connery are on screen together.