Anyone who grew up at Saturday action matinees knows the exhilaration of the “good parts”: Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, flipping himself on a motorcycle and out-wheeling the Nazis at every turn; Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen, dodging German bullets as if he were back on the football field breaking tackles; Gregory Peck in The Guns of Navarone, setting the explosives on massive Fascist guns that…just…won’t…go…off…until their triggers catch and the screen explodes.
Raiders of the Lost Ark, the new nonstop adventure directed by Steven Spielberg for George Lucas’ film company, Lucasfilms Ltd., is the ultimate Saturday action matinee – a film so funny and exciting it can be enjoyed any day of the week. Every bit of it is “good parts.”
Howard Kazanjian, the co-executive producer, recalls how Lucas trickled his dream project down to his Lucasfilm associates. “He’d say, ‘I’m thinking about an adventure movie, something set in the Thirties or Forties.’ Then, a few months later, he’d add, ‘There’ll be Nazis, occult mysteries.’ And finally, he’d admit, ‘I’ve got the hero – a shady archaeologist named Indiana Jones.’ “
Indiana Jones! The name conjures up visions of those jampacked movie serials Lucas loved to watch on TV as a kid in the Fifties. Lucas envisioned enough adventures to fill three movies beyond Raiders, as Indiana – known as Indy to his friends and closest enemies – careens all over the globe to battle evil. Lucas saw that Indy, as an archaeologist, could open up his audience to wonderful discoveries on earth as Star Wars did in heaven.
And that’s exactly what happens in the new film. The American government employs Indiana Jones to beat the Nazis to a buried treasure – the lost ark of the covenant, which the Bible says contains the remains of the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Indiana gladly agrees to lead the search, a decision he hopes will at last unveil the ark’s mythical secrets. The Hitler-era Germans, of course, are after the same thing – a state of affairs that creates cat-and-mouse, harem-scarem episodes all over the world.
It all began seven years ago when Lucas and another celebrated San Francisco-based filmmaker, Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Great Northfield Minnesota Raid), began concentrating together on the then-untitled project, which Kaufman had wanted to direct. “There was an old doctor I went to in Chicago who was obsessed with the lost ark’s legendary powers,” says Kaufman. “And books have been written about Hitler’s search for occult artifacts, which he thought would make him omnipotent” What Kaufman did, simply, was to place these two separate elements together. And though Lucas and Kaufman went on to other things, Lucas firmly held on to Kaufman’s plot devices.
Over a year later, Steven Spielberg was vacationing in Hawaii with Lucas the week that Star Wars opened. Spielberg mentioned that he’d always wanted to do a James Bond-like picture, and Lucas replied that he had something “better than Bond.” Soon, Lucas’ and Kaufman’s lawyers made a deal (Kaufman still gets a coauthor’s credit), and Lucas signed Lawrence Kasdan to write and Frank Marshall to produce. When Spielberg’s 1941 and Lucasfilm’s The Empire Strikes Back were in the can, they raced to get Raiders to the screen. Associate producer Robert Watts and production designer Norman Reynolds, both Star Wars veterans, sped around the globe, scouting locations in France, Tunisia and Hawaii. Once filming commenced, Spielberg managed to beat an eighty-five-day shooting schedule by twelve days. As many involved said: “We wanted a super B movie.”
At a price of $20 million (cheap), they got an A-quality B movie – and more. Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn’t pretend to be anything more than pulp, but it’s witty, romantic, devastating pulp. Not only does Spielberg stage the action with unparalleled virtuosity and give the film a lavish, old-Hollywood look, but his startling flashes of humor also make the movie seem downright carefree. After battling a gargantuan bald German under the whirring propellers of an archaic Flying Wing, Indy tries to take a thirty-second breather. Then he sees a Nazi truck – containing the ark – hit the road; the prospect of catching up seems hopeless. Still, Indy rouses himself with his usual surly resilience, and when his friends ask what he’s going to do, he grumbles, “I don’t know, I’m just making this up as I go!” Though the movie closely follows Kasdan’s ingeniously plotted script, it too has an improvised feeling – partly because of Harrison Ford’s daredevil dynamo of a performance and the sparks he sets off with Karen Allen, who plays his lover and partner in adventure. Even little boys can enjoy this movie’s love story – there’s no “mushy stuff.”
The opening sequence sets the movie’s buoyant tone. The mountain in the Paramount logo fades into a purple mountain of Peru as Indiana Jones leads a gang of Spanish Peruvians and Indians through the underbrush. Surrounded by the natives’ squatter figures, Indy’s almost a parody of the imperial white explorer making the world his oyster. An argument ensues, Indy flicks his whip – and only then do we confront his scowling, stubbled face. It’s an introduction worthy of John Wayne’s in Stagecoach, and Harrison Ford makes the comparison stick. You’re drawn to this likable bastard whose grin is as battered as his leather jacket. Ford has substance. He’s not infatuated with himself, and he doesn’t try to pretty up for the camera or play nice to the audience. He makes us want to come to him. We grow to relish the way his understated sneer counterpoints the most outlandish mayhem, or the sly smiles that sneak out when he’s having a good time swatting Nazis like flies. And Ford makes Indy seem as deeply rooted in archaeology as he is in gallivanting from hemisphere to hemisphere. He’s able to project intelligence as well as roustabout humor.
Even the wildest “good parts” – as varied as a truck chase through the sands of Egypt and a fire fight in snowy Nepal – never let us lose sight of Ford’s quest. Raiders doesn’t get as mystical as the Star Wars saga, but the ark gives the film a pull that goes beyond visceral allure. We share Indy’s hunger for the ark as an archaeological treasure as well as a reward for his troubles. This movie says that if you dig hard enough, you’ll find something extraordinary.
As if all this morality, excitement and joking weren’t enough, Raiders also has more of a romantic kick than any of the old-time serials except, perhaps, Flash Gordon. Spielberg, Lucas and Kasdan have schooled themselves on Casablanca for Indy’s relationship with the dark-haired beauty, Marion Ravenwood. But this time it’s the woman who keeps the torch burning for lost love while tending an out-of-the-way (Nepal, yet) bar. Marion’s introduction is as startling as Indy’s – she’s drinking Sherpa natives literally under the table – and when Indy returns, she greets him with a sock to the jaw. If she joins up with him, it’ll have to be on equal terms. As Marion, Karen Allen bristles with spunk, offering vivid contrast to Ford’s deadpan virility. Not since Genevieve Bujold in Coma has an actress acted so wholeheartedly physical outside a bedroom. Whether wearing baggy pants or a shredded white linen dress, Marion shows as much bravado as Indiana Jones himself.
Spielberg is a director who’s fallen in love with make-believe. Bouncing back from the tiring freneticism of 1941, he’s entirely rejuvenated; he makes the familiar appear brand-new, down to those marvelous superimposed maps of yore, with the animated arrows that tell audiences exactly where they are. The sturdy script gives him the safety net he didn’t have in 1941. He seems to know just how far out he can go. In fact, Spielberg often pushes his shock effects to the limit – you laugh out of sheer giddiness. This movie has as many garish corpses as the most macabre EC comic book.
The care and joy in Raiders extend to the small roles and bit parts. Paul Freeman does a smooth, villainous Paul Henreid variation as the evil archaeologist, Belloq; Ronald Lacey is a risible comic grotesque as the Nazi agent, Toht (the closest this movie comes to Darth Vader); and John RhysDavies brings warmth and conviction to the functional role of the faithful Egyptian sidekick, Sallah. I suppose the humorless might complain that the third-world races get short shrift. Most of the Peruvians, Nepalese and Egyptians are portrayed as neither “good” nor “evil.” They’re merely what they seem to most Americans: foreign.
Raiders should give audiences a yen both for other movies of its kind and for consummate film craftsmanship. Michael Kahn’s editing hurtles toward the climax of every scene without cheating on explanations: he makes you want to go again to savor the details of plot and visual design. Douglas Slocombe, one of the great English cinematographers, saturates the screen with fresh, vibrant colors. You’re constantly surprised by the look of the scenery, from the greenish fungoid wash of the Peruvian jungle to the sun-bleached, scarlet-streaked cityscapes of Cairo. Though Spielberg doesn’t go for baroque here, the grittiest action scenes have the heightened, slightly off-kilter actuality of photorealist paintings. Lucasfilm’s peerless technicians paint God-threatened skies with the swirling, lurid patterns of the Red Sea parting in The Ten Commandments. John Williams’ martial music has thump and brio; it’s a cross between Elmer Bernstein and John Philip Sousa. And the stunts are among the most astounding ever filmed, including a Stagecoach trick re-created – and topped – over and under a barreling truck.
Above all, the film has an infectious, roistering spirit of fun – a slightly more grown-up brand of fun than in previous Lucas or Spielberg films (though kids’ll probably love this one, too). Lucas’ and Spielberg’s big hits have tended to start out as children’s fantasies. Star Wars is all about coming of age in a galaxy far, far away. Jaws is about our primal fear of the elements. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one of the most appealing movie-kid’s dreams ever cooked up, conjuring a UFO “mother ship” to take us away from this vale of tears. Raiders of the Lost Ark, though, like The Empire Strikes Back, takes a step further into adolescence. Rather than reentering the womb, Indiana Jones is always tearing up things and poking into forbidden places. He’s like H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain, who trailblazes Africa to get between a pair of mountains known as the Breasts of Sheba.
Remember when movies used to promise a thrill a minute? Well, Raiders of the Lost Ark nearly doubles the ratio. It makes you feel like you’re beating the speed limit just sitting still.
LUCAS AND THE SQUADRON OF PEACE
When asked about the sources for Raiders of the Lost Ark, George Lucas immediately mentioned Don Winslow of the Navy, a cliffhanger about a two-fisted career serviceman who roamed the world fighting Nazis and a SPECTRE-like organization called SCORPIA. Don Winslow’s “creed” went something like this: “I consecrate my life to Peace and to the protection of my countrymen. My battle against SCORPIA represents the battle between Good and Evil. I will promote the fulfillment of all things that are clean, wholesome and upright.” Talking to the people at Lucasfilm makes you believe that they recite a similar vow every morning, and that Lucas heads up his own version of Winslow’s Squadron of Peace. Lucasfilm is one of the most sophisticated film companies in the world, yet it remains idealistic, united and low-key.
With the box-office phenomena of his American Graffiti and Star Wars movies, Lucas has bought almost complete independence from Hollywood; he recently resigned from both the Directors and the Writers Guild of America. He’s currently developing a combination think tank and post-production complex on 1882 acres of Marin County ranch land, while preparing the third Star Wars film, Revenge of the Jedi. Despite the activity swirling around him when we spoke at Industrial Light and Magic (Lucasfilm’s Marin-based special-effects company), he seemed calm, frank and entirely unpretentious. He even played down his own vaunted optimism, admitting at the outset that it stemmed from a deeper pessimism.
Though you’ve been painted as a thoroughgoing escapist, your first feature, ‘THX 1138,’ was an attempt to update ‘1984.’
That movie directly expresses how I feel about the world. It’s a natural tendency to be negative these days, because it’s obvious that stupidity is all around us. The most totally dumb, unnatural thing in the world is our inability to deal with nuclear energy. We don’t know what to do with the waste, and twenty years from now, when the advanced powers have gone on to better, cleaner weapons, the third world will have just gone nuclear. There’ll be no control.
Sounds like the evil side of the Force is winning . . . .
It really has little to do with the Force – it’s just the force of mindlessness, people not having the brains or the wherewithal to correct something. After THX 1138 flopped, I realized that it was because people know life is grim. But there’s a hopeful side to people, and that’s what’s fascinating.
Will a Force underlie the Indiana Jones movies?
These are going to be different kinds of movies. Star Wars developed as a saga, but what interests me here is this fascinating character. If I could be a dream figure, I’d be Indy. It’s not just that I’m interested in archaeology or anthropology; a lot of that got into Star Wars, too. It’s that Indy can do anything. He’s like a lot of different Thirties heroes put together. He’s this renegade archaeologist and adventurer, but he’s also a college professor, and he’s got his Cary Grant side too. In some stories, we’ll see him in top hat and tails. We don’t want to make him Superman – he’s just open to all possibilities. Raiders will be the most action-oriented of the Indiana Jones movies – the others should deal more with the occult.
Is ‘Raiders’ going to pick up the ‘Star Wars’ audience?
It’ll probably appeal to an older crowd. There’s some strong stuff in it. I feel some responsibility to the kids who’ll see it because my name is on it–and Harrison’s and Steven’s. But I never wanted to be like Disney, and I don’t want to let myself get painted into a corner.
Are you worried about kids’ reactions to the violence?
Violence does concern me. Any movie that shows violence as a way to personal fulfillment is potentially dangerous. If I were Paramount, I wouldn’t distribute The Fan. My wife [Marcia Lucas] edited Taxi Driver, and I had serious qualms about that. The problem is probably insoluble. I’m not advocating censorship. What I’m most concerned about is how the media deal with killers and assassins, making them celebrities. But I think certain violence, such as sports, is therapeutic. The concepts in Raiders were extremely violent, but the treatment was not repulsive. For one thing, we were back to good guys beating bad guys. Steven actually got carried away in a couple of places, but we cut back on the blood.
You’ve said you’ve given up directing.
I don’t like the intensity. As a producer, I might have more decisions to make, but the pressure seems less enormous.
Yet you have a fraternal feeling with other filmmakers.
That goes back to my years at USC, which were very special to me, and my early years in the industry. Back in the early Sixties, it was really “us against them” – not many young people had broken into the movies, and we got to know each other quickly. I’ve known Steven for years; he went to Cal State Long Beach, but we saw each other at festivals and revivals. He’s a brilliant director. He got a lot of bad press for 1941, but his direction was brilliant – the idea was terrible. Directors are often judged unfairly. If they spend more time and money making a movie better, they’re “self-indulgent.” If they cut corners, they “belong in television.” I’ve been very lucky with my directors. Both Steven and Irvin Kershner [director of The Empire Strikes Back] are talented and secure. They were able to take or leave my suggestions. My company tries to serve a director. If he goes over budget, it shouldn’t be his fault. But a director can’t just say he’s going to make the best film possible. He’s got to work for a price.
What about this “think tank”?
People blow these ideas up in the press. What I want to do isn’t that different from what Coppola wants to do down in Hollywood. Just make movies with the complete expertise and confidence of the old studios. I’d like to have two or three writer-directors in residence a year, each working on a script a month. Basically, it’ll be like medical school – only more difficult to get in.
STEVEN SPIELBERG’S BLACKHAWKS
Almost every Steven Spielberg movie has its antecedent in a TV show, a movie serial or a comic book. The one he feels Raiders is closest to is Blackhawk – the DC comic (and 1952 Sam Katzman serial) about a valiant Polish fighter pilot bent on avenging his fallen comrades by destroying Nazis. It’s always been one of the most rat-a-tat comic books around: any frame of a given story might contain the following sound effects: “KRAK KPOW ZING BUDDA BUDDA CLICK CLICK . . . .” Spielberg’s own repartee is as rapid-fire as Blackhawk’s bullets. And so was the pace he set for Raiders of the Lost Ark.
You’ve described making ‘1941’ as an agony at times. How was ‘Raiders’?
I’ve been getting tired of long, complicated production schedules. I look at the logs of my favorite films of the Thirties and Forties, and almost all of them were made in forty to sixty days, sixty-five or seventy days tops for a movie like Northwest Passage. Raiders was budgeted at eighty-five days, but my producer, Frank Marshall, and George Lucas both knew that I was secretly shooting for seventy-three. And I did come in twelve days early. It helped that George wanted what I’d call an “automat” film – “this is a movie I want to see, here’s five bucks, get it to pop out.”
You sound a little detached about the movie.
Well, too much time seemed to elapse between when I agreed to do it and when I actually started. I wanted to move on to smaller, more personal projects. It’s no reflection on the quality of the work; that’s just where I was in my career and life. Now that I’m through, I’m glad I did it. Raiders was a film to clean out my system, blow the saliva out of my mouthpiece.
There were bets around town that you’d never finish. . . .
I knew the storyboards by heart, I shot a lot of coverage, I did a lot of cutting in my head, and for the first time, I used a second-unit director who worked from my storyboards and added some great things of his own. The crew wanted an A picture, I wanted a B-plus. I brought them down to my pulp eye level. There were two ways I could have made this movie: I could have done it as a neo-Brechtian film noir, with multiple shadows out of Carol Reed or Orson Welles, like The Third Man and Touch of Evil. But then I realized that what could be a turn-on for me could wreck a gravy-train movie. Why impose production values – visual noise? I just worked to tell the story. But I was happy making this movie, largely because of George Lucas and Harrison Ford. Both were full-time collaborators.
Did you have more time than usual to work with actors?
I always work with my actors, but sometimes the concepts are too overwhelming for close work – or for people to notice it. The acting in Raiders is physical; it’s acting with “Watch out’s” and “Over there’s” and “Duck!’s.” Harrison had seven ideas to my five. It’s the first time he’s been called on to use his charisma and ability to carry a movie. Karen Allen told me, “I’m from the Al Pacino school of acting.” I told her, “You’re going to get introduced to the Sam Peckinpah school of action!” I threw snakes at Karen, I set her on fire, I tossed a tarantula on her leg, but I always kissed her, gently, after every take. She clearly understood Marion; we only had to keep her from relaxing into her natural gracefulness.
What did you get out of working with Lucas?
He really is a producer-director. He taught me about creative shortcuts, how to give an audience the eyeful with illusions of grandeur.
How was it to work with so many new people?
George has a fully staffed company of great people, the kind of people you’d like to take home to dinner and be friends with for the rest of your life. It was like changing schools, which I did frequently as a kid, since my father worked in computers and we moved around a lot. I felt like I’d moved into George Lucas’ eighth-grade class.
How do you feel about being identified with sci-fi fantasy?
Sci-fi has freed the adolescent imagination. It’s taken a lot of repressed wimps and turned them into preteen geniuses. It’s inspired kids to channel mental energy into stop-motion photography and short-story writing. It’s both broadened and popularized the preteen world. It’s also given a punch in the arm to the space program. Raiders has nothing like the cloud city in Empire, but we do have Paris, Washington D.C. and Cairo.
It’s been said that you and George have different centers of gravity when it comes to violence. A lot of people got killed in ‘Star Wars,’ while no one did in ‘Close Encounters.’ Did that bother you?
Even though George is a benign, magnanimous individual, he likes movies with excitement, and that often calls for close calls, constant jeopardy. George could definitely “out-violence” me. Jaws was not a violent picture – I thought it was a great episode of Sea Hunt mixed in with a little Moby Dick. There’s hardly any violence in Close Encounters. You take a director like Peckinpah – he goes for the gut. When William Holden gets shot in the gut, the bullet goes through your belly, too. My violence is more psychological. To me, the moments that are exciting are the ones that occur just before the trigger is pulled – the threat is more horrific than the shot. In Duel, what’s scary is this big truck bearing down on Dennis Weaver’s Valiant; the only blood you see is when Weaver bites his lip. Raiders is more in George’s vein; it’s the only film of mine in which scores of people are violently eliminated. But George’s violence is kids’ violence; it’s intentionally scary-funny. And the villains in Raiders are arch.
Would you like to work with Lucas again?
I’d love to do the fourth Star Wars, after Revenge of the Jedi, but that’s quite a bit in the future. I’m not interested in developing a single style like Marty [Scorsese] or Brian [De Palma]. I’ve always been eclectic. I just want to do something that challenges me. Raiders was hard to make, but there was nothing startlingly new. I’d really like to do a love story. But if I did one and there was a crazy quilt on the bed, people would say there were too many “production values.”
Before I left, Spielberg challenged me to one of the three Atari games that line his MGM office. (He has two more at his office at Universal.) Since I used to cry when my siblings beat me at Monopoly, I declined, but Spielberg still wanted to demonstrate Missile Command. A player can stockpile weapons, trade off cities for more weapons, buy cities back. It was too much, too quickly. When the machine started to get the best of him, Spielberg squealed, “Oh-ho-ho, watch how they humiliate you here!” A blistering red blast wiped out everything on the screen; a sign flashed the stark message THE END! Spielberg laughed. He’d been there before.
HARRISON FORD: THE MAN WITH THE WHIP
To Harrison Ford, “acting is basically like carpentry – if you know your craft, you figure out the logic of a particular job and submit yourself to it. It all comes down to detail.” In either acting or carpentry, Ford knows what he’s talking about. An intense, rough-hewn thirty-nine-year-old, he’s done both for a living: his bookshelves are still stacked with carpentry reference books, his garage workroom is full of tools. And when I talked to him three months ago, when he was on the verge of his biggest acting break, he looked as if he’d rather be turning a lathe than discussing his career.
“When I started carpentry,” Ford said, “I liked it so much partly because it was such a relief from what I’d been doing before. Shortly after I got out here in 1965, I signed a contract with Columbia Pictures for $150 a week. I was pretty happy. I had a wife and two kids – I still have the kids – and the rent wasn’t much then, seventy-five dollars a month. For a while, it was fun. I earned my money by romping on the beach at Malibu with the other contract actors, and these photos would appear in places like Argosy. The captions would read, ‘Harrison Ford et al., on the beach, courtesy Columbia Pictures.’ It was less sophisticated than modeling, but it was a way of being acknowledged as an actor while I learned how to act. They did have some good classes. The worst thing was that in those days, you had to be properly dressed – jackets, no jeans.
“I made my movie debut in a thing called Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round. It was not an uplifting experience. I jumped from Columbia to Universal. I did tons of television – Gunsmoke, The Virginian, The FBI – always playing the same part: ‘the guy who didn’t do it.’
“I wasn’t learning anything. But around that time, I bought a house near the Hollywood Bowl and decided to take out everything I didn’t like about it. I’d never done carpentry before, but I got the books from the library, got the tools and did it – for about eight years, late Sixties, early Seventies. I did cabinets, furniture, remodeling–it was great! I could see my accomplishments. So I decided not to do more acting unless the job had a clear career advantage.”
The first role he took after making this decision was the hell-raising hot-rodder Bob Falfa in American Graffiti. “It paid half of what I could have made in the same period as a carpenter. But Fred Roos, who I knew from Universal, was casting, so I knew the people and the circumstances would be right. And even though I didn’t have too big a part, it was the first time I felt I was making a contribution to a movie. It was my first artistic experience. That’s just the way George Lucas works; he even rectified the money part later.”
Fred Roos also helped cast Ford in Francis Coppola’s The Conversation, as a “young man.” “That was a great experience too,” said Ford, “because there was no role until we made it. I decided he’d be a homosexual, so Dean Tavoularis, Coppola’s designer, filled the character’s office with lemons and a Lucite sawhorse. That did it. I hardly worked for five years. I did do Dynasty on TV and a Stanley Kramer TV show about Lieutenant Calley. I played ‘the witness who cries.’ “
Then came Star Wars. “I didn’t think consciously of getting into the swashbuckling thing, and I didn’t know from science fiction. I knew George. The movie sounded a little nuts, but I didn’t give a shit about whether it’d be successful or not. I always thought it was an accessible, human story. I’m not an athlete – I’m a notorious powder puff. I’m one of the founding members of that chaotic underground of antijoggers. I don’t train, I just say I’m gonna do it. Actually, when I started acting, I had drawing-room comedy in mind.”
In the first Star Wars movie, Ford’s Han Solo had a youthful gung-ho spirit underneath his snarl; in The Empire Strikes Back, he had a more sardonic, adult tone. Ford attributed much of this evolution to “Irvin Kershner, a terrific director – make that a direct quote! He took account of the changes in the actors and the characters.” When I said that Ford seemed to be developing a persona somewhere between John Wayne’s and Humphrey Bogart’s, he replied, “If so, I’m not conscious of it. I’m not much of a movie buff; I’ve never even seen Casablanca.” And when I suggested that Ford always brought a distinctive deadpan humor to his parts, even in Force 10 from Navarone, he said, “I never want to appear guilty of making fun of what I’m doing, and with some of the movies I’ve done, I’ve had to be careful.”
Harrison Ford knows that he wasn’t Spielberg’s or Lucas’ first selection for Indiana Jones; a more conventional macho actor, Magnum P.I.‘s Tom Selleck, was their pick. Spielberg explained that he and Lucas just didn’t see the obvious when it was right in front of them. Before Ford signed on, he and Spielberg discussed how different the character had to be from Han Solo. “Solo could never look like this,” said Ford as he threw over a still of Jones in his professorial garb. “Indy and Han wear totally different clothes; they couldn’t possibly be the same person.”
When I mentioned that Spielberg gave Ford credit for coming up with seven new ideas to his own five, Ford smiled. “Steven had seven too, but two of them would be so outrageous that we’d just collapse laughing. It was a very open piece of work. Everyone worked very fast. It was a tough schedule; lots of movie to make. And after a couple of weeks in Tunisia, I matched Steven’s enthusiasm to get out. I try not to say bad things about entire nations, but parts of Tunisia made me sick.
“I’m stuck for funny stories about the filming – partly because I have such a bad memory and partly because I don’t want to give too much away. But there’s one point when you think that Indiana Jones has finally met his match – he’s up against a guy with a sword who could slice a side of beef with a single thwack. Well, I’d already done every damn useless thing in the world. I was into my fifth week of dysentery, and I was riding in at 5:30 a.m. with nothing to do but submit to wild imaginings. So I stormed Steven with the idea of just dismissing this maniac. I’d never unholstered my gun in the whole movie, so I said, ‘Let’s just shoot the fucker.’ And we did. That’s getting character in action.”
KAREN ALLEN: WOMAN OF ACTION
A friend of Karen Allen’s complained that in all of the actress’ previous films (including National Lampoon’s Animal House, A Small Circle of Friends and The Wanderers), she played “the girl with the book.” And indeed, she was reading a book right before I interviewed her last February: Virginia Spencer Carr’s biography of Carson McCullers, The Lonely Hunter. (“People have told me I should play McCullers or a McCullers heroine,” she said.) But as Marion Ravenwood in Raiders, she trades in the book for a liquor bottle. And she leaves all vestiges of adolescence behind as she scuttles through a sea of deadly snakes or endures the deadly powers of the ark side by side with her man, Indiana Jones.
According to various studio and magazine biographies, she’s attended George Washington University and the University of Maryland; studied fine arts in New York; lived in a grass hut in Jamaica; and driven from Mexico to Peru. Nothing she’s ever done fully prepared her for Raiders. Because she hadn’t yet seen the film when we talked, she playfully kept saying, in a nonsense accent, ‘Ah don’t know eef it’s gonna work.” But Steven Spielberg paid her his highest compliment: “She started out like Olivia De Havilland in Gone with the Wind and ended up like Joanne Dru in Red River.”
Spielberg sent her the script after seeing A Small Circle of Friends. “It was all very mysterious. I was working on the TV miniseries East of Eden when a messenger came up with it. Every page was marked. He took back each page after I read it. I fell in love with Marion; she’s Indiana Jones’ match. It’s a sexy part.” Allen agreed to take a physically strenuous screen test (several actresses refused) and won the role.
“A few things convinced me to take it. First, it was different from anything else I’d done. I liked the ideas of dressing up and of escape. And the moviemakers were out simply to delight the imagination. I was completely freed up. I couldn’t do research for the part. How do we know what an American girl living in Nepal in 1936 would look like? She’s not going to be Thirties stylish. At first, I thought that flaming red hair would fit such a fiery heroine. But Steven blotted out my freckles, gave me a jet-black wig and that was it.”
Allen didn’t look to any older movies for models (“except maybe The African Queen“) and didn’t go into training for any of the stunts. “Most acting should be very physical. I watched Grotowski work when he toured Washington D.C. with the Polish Theater Lab. His actors did amazing things; they could pick their bodies up and twist around in midair. I tried to study that. Of course, I studied with Lee Strasberg, too. I want to keep myself open.”
With Spielberg, Allen became “more camera conscious. He cued us in, let us see rushes, let us ask him why the camera was moving. Harrison and I had to put our acting into the action rather than into emotionality or words; we had to bring intensity to each moment without much dramatic preparation. Steven kept it all spontaneous and risky. What’s the classic line? We weren’t acting but reacting. It was easy to keep in tune with Steven. He’s good to talk to, but he enjoys talking less than going out and doing it. Steven and Harrison are both men of action.”
And in Raiders, Karen Allen becomes a woman of action, fulfilling a childhood dream. Her father was an FBI man, and when she was young, “his job gave me great fantasies. I dreamed of becoming . . . KAREN ALLEN, FBI GIRL.”
There’s always been a built-in backlash against big-scale caprices like Raiders of the Lost Ark from people who think that $20 million should be spent on more than entertainment for its own sake. Raiders may also get flak for not being as cuddly-lovable as Star Wars, or for using those old reliables – the Nazis – as villains, or for dazzling the audience with an almost brazen self-confidence. But this movie should gallop roughshod over such tired criticism. Never has a movie of this kind been filmed so lovingly or playfully. Spielberg brings to blood-and-guts adventure the parodistic edge that De Palma brings to blood thrillers.
And Lucas may have some remarkable surprises up his sleeve. As screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan told me, “George has an acute idea of how to get a large audience interested. He knew where Star Wars was going when he filmed the first one; he thought he needed a rock ’em, sock ’em introduction to the saga. It’s the same with Indiana Jones; the next films could be even more interesting than this movie.” In any case, Raiders should leave a vast audience waiting on the edge of their seats.