Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade: 9 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Harrison Ford Movie

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Sean Connery as Henry Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

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Even though 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does have its admirers (believe it or not) and a fifth adventure with the heroic archeologist is in the works, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was regarded as a perfect conclusion to the series in 1989. In fact, Harrison Ford once called the story of Indy reuniting with his father (Sean Connery) to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis get their hands on it one of the more fun pictures of the original trilogy to work on, in lieu of being the most challenging. Learn all about the challenges that Ford, Connery, director Steven Spielberg, producer George Lucas, and others faced on set with these behind-the-scenes facts, including a glimpse at the spookier movie that it could have been.

Castle Brunwald from Indiana Jones and Last Crusade

George Lucas Originally Pitched The Third Indiana Jones Movie As A Haunted Castle Story

Steven Spielberg has said that his main reasons for returning to direct Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were to fill an obligation for three pictures he promised his friend, George Lucas, and to incorporate a lighter tone into the franchise after the controversy that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom garnered in 1984. However, that latter wish would not have been fulfilled had Lucas’ original idea for the third installment made it through.

On a making-of featurette from the 2003 DVD release, which is also available on subsequent Blu-ray releases of the Indiana Jones movies, George Lucas claims he wanted to make it a movie about a haunted castle, which Steven Spielberg refused, having had enough of ghosts and ghouls with Poltergeist in 1982. The Star Wars movies creator then says he compromised with saving the horror element for the introductory scene, which was also scrapped.

River Phoenix as Young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Harrison Ford Suggested Casting River Phoenix As Young Indiana Jones

Instead, the thrilling opening of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a flashback that introduced us to a young Indiana Jones who would later become the lead character of his own TV show with future The Boondocks Saints star Sean Patrick Flanery in the role. However, a then-18-year-old River Phoenix was originally cast as the adventurous teen for the movie, per an endorsement from its star.

Steven Spielberg says on the making-of documentary that Harrison Ford recommended River Phoenix for the part after Ford played his father in the original cinematic adaptation of The Mosquito Coast in 1986. In archive footage from the doc, the late actor (the older brother of Joaquin Phoenix) recalls how studying Ford’s mannerisms while making said thriller helped prepare him to play his younger self.

Richard Young as Fedora in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The Man Who Gives Young Indiana Jones The Fedora Was Originally Imagined As Marion Ravenwood’s Father

The intro flashback provides plenty of insight into how Indiana Jones became the man he grew up to be, from explaining his fear of snakes to how he got his world-famous hat - given to him by a man literally credited as “Fedora” (Richard Young). In the original script, the character was given another name: Abner Ravenwood.

According to ScreenRant, the treasure hunter, whom young Indiana Jones earns the respect of with his indomitable will, was initially conceived as the archeologist’s former mentor, mentioned briefly in Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose daughter is, indeed, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). Of course, since his identity is never specified, it would not necessarily be wrong to say that “Fedora” really is Abner Ravenwood after all.

Rats from Indiana Jones and Last Crusade

Thousands Of Rats Were Bred Specifically For The Scene Under The Library In Venice

The Indiana Jones movies are famous for sequences that put our characters at odd with swarms of fearsome creatures. It was snakes (“Why did it have to be snakes?”) in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was bugs in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and it was… well, bugs again (specifically some “big damn ants”) in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

For Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) encounter a heap of rats underneath a Venice library which, according to Steven Spielberg on the making-of DVD featurette, had to be bred specifically for the movie to make sure none of them carried any diseases. Not all of the furry rodents were real, however. For the moment when they are lit on fire by the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, all the rats you see are animatronics.

Kevork Malikyan and Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Camera Tricks Made The Venice Boat Interrogation Scene Look Deadlier Than It Was

Indiana Jones and Elsa Schneider narrowly escape the clutches of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword after a daring boat chase on Venice’s Canale Grande, which ends with one member named Kazim (Kevork Malikyan) ending up in Indy’s clutches. He then interrogates him over his father’s whereabouts as the small, motorized boat they are on is being eaten by a giant ship propeller.

Before the digital revolution made a gripping scene like this much easier to achieve, the crew of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had to think of a few tricks. What they came up with, according to Steven Spielberg and mechanical effects supervisor George Gibbs on the making-of featurette, was making the boat long enough to keep the actors far from the genuine metal propellor as it was slowly being lured closer and shooting at an angle that made it appear as if they really were dangerously close.

Sean Connery as Prof. Henry Jones, Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Sean Connery Invented Many Of Henry Jones, Sr.’s Key Characteristics

In addition to all of its amazing action sequences, what really keeps Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade such a timeless classic is the father-son dynamic between Indiana Jones and Prof. Henry Jones, played by Sean Connery, at the heart of the story. However, the late, former James Bond actor had a few issues about the character before agreeing, which Harrison Ford explains in the following testimony from the making-of doc:

Well, Sean, at first, he resisted the idea of playing my father - he’s only 12 years older than I - and also felt that the character was too thinly drawn and he’s a student of history, Sean is. So, I think he brought a lot of ideas to George and Steven that were incorporated into his character. He is less Yoda-like than originally thought of and quite the match for his son in many ways, including the fact that the central heroine has had a physical relationship with him before she ever meets me.

Steven Spielberg then says, in the featurette, that Sean Connery proposed that Henry should be portrayed as having done everything that Indy does in the film before and better, which was twisted into some of the film's more broadly comedic moments, as George Lucas comments. That really makes the revelation about the aging archeologist and his romance with Elsa Schneider all the more hilarious.

Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Harrison Ford And Sean Connery Shot The Zeppelin Scene Without Pants On

Onscreen love interests were not the only things that Harrison Ford and Sean Connery had in common on the set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Take a look at the Academy Award-winning actor’s memory from shooting a scene taking place on a zeppelin during the hot summertime as he explains in the DVD featurette here:

We played one of the scenes in the zeppelin. The passengers were wearing fur coats and hats. It was supposed to be in the wintertime and I played it without my trousers. Harrison said, ‘You’re not gonna play the scene [with] your trousers?’ I said, ‘Well, if I don’t, I’ll be stopping all the time because I sweat enormously. I sweat very easily.’ Well, he did the same. [laughs]

Knowing that both of these iconic action movie heroes were wearing just their under garments beneath that table while performing this otherwise tender moment immediately turns it into another one of its funniest. Nonetheless, the unusually quiet moment between the father and son is still quite touching.

Doves from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Doves Stood In For The Seagulls In The Beach Plane Crash Sequence

Another moment from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which follows soon after the zeppelin scene and is equally funny and touching, takes place on a beach where Indiana Jones and Henry Jones are still being chased by a German pilot. The father figures out a way to defeat their aerial pursuer by scaring away a flock of seagulls with his umbrella, which causes the pilot to become distracted and fly right into mountain, sealing his fate.

Take a closer look at those seagulls and you will see that they are really white doves flying away. Take another look at the birds on the beach, and you will see that that they are not real birds at all but inanimate statues. The reason for this, as producer Robert Watts explains in on the DVD featurette is that seagulls are impossible to train, so they had to get an animal that could be trained.

The Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones Series Sound Designer Ben Burtt Had Surprising Ways Of Creating Rat And Earthquake Noises in Last Crusade

In another shorter behind-the-scenes documentary included on the 2003 bonus features DVD disc, Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt, who is also the voice of the titular robot in WALL-E, talks about all the ways he created sound for the first three Indiana Jones movies (he also would work on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). He provides some especially interesting insight into the unique methods he used for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

For instance, in the final scene after Elsa takes the Grail too far out of the cave and causes an earthquake, the sound of the ground crumbling was achieved by rubbing two balloons together. Even stranger, the rats’ squeaks are really the high-pitched chirps of irritated chickens.

Well, they certainly do not make movie magic that way anymore. Not to mention, you rarely see an adventure film as fun, smart, and heartwarming as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as much anymore. Maybe, with Indiana Jones 5, director James Mangold will really show us what Hollywood is missing.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.