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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - Illustrated Reference

Updated on May 20, 2015

Raiders of the Lost Ark was directed by Steven Spielberg and premiered on 12th June 1981. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Music by John Williams. 115 mins.

1936. Indiana Jones is sent on a mission to Cairo, Egypt in search of the Ark of the Covenant, which is believed to contain the remains of the Ten Commandments. The Nazi’s are also looking for the holy relics, not realising the deadly power it would unleash.

Back in the early 1970’s George Lucas had an idea for an old-fashioned adventure story similar to the serials of the 1930’s. But he shelved the idea in favour of the science fiction project he was developing called The Star Wars.

In the summer of 1977 Lucas was holidaying in Hawaii with his friend Steven Spielberg. Lucas asked him what film he wanted to do next, Spielberg replied that he always wanted to direct a James Bond film, Lucas said he had something better and told him his idea about an adventurer named Indiana Smith who travelled the world searching for ancient artifacts and getting into all sorts of trouble.

Spielberg loved the idea but didn’t think the name Smith was right, Lucas changed it to Jones. A year later while Lucas was preparing the Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, Lawrence Kasdan was hired to turn the concept into a screenplay. Spielberg meanwhile was busy filming the expensive WWII comedy 1941.

Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford
Karen Allen
Karen Allen
Harrison Ford and Karen Allen
Harrison Ford and Karen Allen
Paul Freeman
Paul Freeman
Ronald Lacey
Ronald Lacey
John Rhys-Davies
John Rhys-Davies
Denholm Elliott
Denholm Elliott
Alfred Molina
Alfred Molina

Marion: You're not the man I knew ten years ago.
Indiana: It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.

Harrison Ford (1942-) / Indiana Jones. A professor of archaeology

Born in Chicago Illinois, Harrison Ford was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for the film Witness (1985). One of the most successful actors in movie history, his movies include – American Graffiti (1973), as Han Solo in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner (1982), Return of the Jedi (1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Working Girl (1988), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), as Jack Ryan in Patriot Games (1992), as Dr. Richard Kimble The Fugitive (1993), Clear and Present Danger (1994), as President James Marshall in Air Force One (1997), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and Cowboys & Aliens (2011).

Karen Allen (1951-) / Marion Ravenwood. A former girlfriend of Indy’s, her father was his mentor.

Born in Carrollton, Illinois, Karen Allen’s films include – National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), Starman (1984), Scrooged (1988), The Perfect Storm (2000) and 27 years after first playing Marion she reprised the role in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

Belloq: How odd that it should end this way for us after so many stimulating encounters. I almost regret it. Where shall I find a new adversary so close to my own level?
Indiana: Try the local sewer.

Paul Freeman (1943-) / Dr. Rene Belloq, Indy’s nemesis, a French archaeologist working for the Nazi’s.

Born in Hertfordshire, England, Paul Freeman’s films include – The Dogs of War (1980), A World Apart (1988), as Moriarty in Without a Clue (1988), Double Team (1997) and Hot Fuzz (2007)

Marion: Wait, wait! I can be reasonable!
Toht: That time has passed.
Marion: You don't need that. I'll tell you everything!
Toht: Yes, I know you will.

Ronald Lacey (1935-1991) / Major Arnold Toht. A Gestapo interrogator who is also after the Ark.

Born in London, England, Ronald Lacey’s films include – Firefox (1982), as President Widmark in Buckaroo Banzai (1984), Flesh + Blood (1985), Red Sonja (1985) and as Winston Churchill in Stalingrad (1989).

Sallah: Indy, there is something that troubles me.
Indiana: What is it?
Sallah: The Ark. If it is there at Tanis, then it is something that man was not meant to disturb. Death has always surrounded it. It is not of this earth.

John Rhys-Davies (1944-) / Sallah. An Egyptian friend of Indy’s.

Born in Wiltshire, England, John Rhys-Davis’s films include – King Solomon’s Mines (1985), as General Pushkin in The Living Daylights (1987), as Sallah in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), as Gimli the dwarf in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003).

Denholm Elliott (1922-1992) / Dr. Marcus Brody. Indy’s friend and museum curator.

Born in Ealing, London. Denholm Elliott was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for A Room with a View (1985). His films include – To the Devil a Daughter (1976), as Will Scarlett in Robin and Marian (1976), Zulu Dawn (1979), Trading Places (1983), A Private Function (1984), Defence of the Realm (1986), as Brody in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

Alfred Molina (1953-) / Satipo. Indy’s guide in South America, he gets too greedy and pays the price.

Born in London, England. Alfred Molina’s films include – Ladyhawke (1985), Maverick (1994), Species (1995), Boogie Nights (1997), Chocolat (2000), as Diego Rivera in Frida (2002), as Dr Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2 (2004), An Education (2009), Prince of Persia (2010) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010).

Belloq: All your life has been spent in pursuit of archaeological relics. Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations. You want to see it opened as well as I. Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This... this is history.

Tom Selleck was up for the role of Indiana Jones, both Spielberg and Lucas wanted him but Selleck had signed up for the TV series Magnum P.I. (1980-1988) and couldn’t do the film. Ironically by the time filming of the series had started, Raiders had wrapped filming.

George Lucas actually had Harrison Ford in mind for the role before deciding on Tom Selleck but as he had already worked with Ford on American Graffiti and Star Wars he wanted to cast someone new.

Other actors considered for the role of Indiana Jones include – Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Tim Matheson, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson. Finally Lucas went with his first instinct, Harrison Ford.

Sean Young, Amy Irving and Debra Winger were considered for the role of Marion Ravenwood before it went to Karen Allen. Sean Young would star with Harrison Ford in his next film, Blade Runner.

Klaus Kinski was considered for the role of the nasty German Toht but he turned the role down saying the script was “moronically sh*tty like so many other films of this ilk”.

Sallah: Indy, you have no time. If you still want the ark, it is being loaded onto a truck for Cairo.
Indiana: Truck? What truck?

The most famous stunt in the film occurs during the truck chase. Indy gets thrown thru the windscreen by a large German, Indy manages to hang on to the front of the moving truck then using his whip he slips underneath the truck and catches hold of the rear slowly climbing back on the vehicle surprising the driver who thought he was dead.

This stunt was first attempted by legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt in John Ford’s classic western Stagecoach (1939) where Yakima plays one of the Indians attacking the stagecoach. He jumps on the speeding stagecoach and falls underneath he manages to climb back on behind.

Three different stuntmen doubled for Harrison Ford - Terry Leonard, Vic Armstrong and Martin Grace.

Size does matter. The length of Indiana Jones whip is 10 feet.

George Lucas had a dog named Indiana, an Alaskan Malamute, he named the character after his dog. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jones father Henry (played by Sean Connery) tells Sallah that Indy’s name is Henry Jones Jr and that “we named the dog Indiana”.

Raiders was Alfred Molina’s first movie, playing the treacherous Satipo in the opening temple idol sequence. On his first day of filming he was covered in tarantulas.

Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Indiana: Give me your torch. Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?
Sallah: Asps... very dangerous. You go first.

Hundreds of snakes were used for the Well of Souls sequence filmed at Elstree Studios in England. Snakes of every breed, it wasn't long before the big snakes were eating the small snakes. Unlike his character Harrison Ford has no fear of snakes at all.

British wrestler and actor Pat Roach has two roles in this film, he plays the giant Sherpa in the fight in Marion’s bar in Tibet and he appears again later as the bald German mechanic Indy fights around the runaway plane.

Roach can also be seen in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as the chief Indian guard who has a lengthy fight with Indy at the end. He dies horribly in both films.

Harrison Ford managed to get his leg run over by the runaway plane during the fight with Roach. He tore ligaments but had his leg wrapped in ice and carried on filming. What a pro!

The pilot of the plane during the fight sequence is Frank Marshall who was one of the film’s producers. He would later direct films himself such as Arachnophobia (1990) and Congo (1995).

Everyone on the film was sick during filming in Tunisia, except Spielberg who was eating only canned food shipped from Europe. Ford and Rhys-Davies suffered from dysentery and would be rushing to the toilets between takes.

One of the most famous scenes in the film was Fords idea. There was to have been a fight scene between Indy and a flashy swordsman, but Ford was feeling sick that day and asked Spielberg if he could just “shoot the sucker instead” Spielberg liked the idea. They went with it and it got the biggest cheers and laughs from audiences.

The submarine used in the film was borrowed from Wolfgang Peterson's Das Boot (The Boat) which was being filmed about the same time.

Does Belloq (Paul Freeman) accidentally swallow a fly crawling on his mouth near the end of the film? Some say yes, others say they see it fly away.

Indiana: Marion, don't look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don't look at it, no matter what happens!

Apparently screaming melting faces were perfectly acceptable in a PG action adventure but an exploding head meant an R rating. Spielberg got round this by superimposing flames over Belloq’s exploding head during the “Wrath of God” finale, and got his PG rating.

Composer John Williams (1932-) provided another memorable score to a Steven Spielberg and George Lucas movie. The Raiders March is just as famous and well known as his Star Wars and Superman March.

Raiders of the Lost Ark cost $18m to make and was a major box office success, the top grossing film of 1981, earning $384m worldwide.

It was nominated for eight Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and winning for Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects and received a special Oscar for Sound Effects Editing.

Chariots of Fire won Best Picture and Best Music Score that year. Warren Beatty won Best Director for Reds.

Raiders was one of the films chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1999.

It ranks #60 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Films list and #10 on the AFI’s Most Thrilling Films list and the character of Indiana Jones is #2 on its 50 Greatest Movie Heroes list (#1 is Atticus Finch and #3 is James Bond).

Three more successful Indiana Jones movies followed all directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by George Lucas and starring Harrison Ford – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

The Critics Wrote –

"The stunts are incredible and the effects astonishing, but it's Harrison Ford's effortlessly charming performance as the original tomb raider that makes his globetrotting quest for the Ark of the Covenant so appealing.” ( Neil Smith, BBCi)

"Raiders of the Lost Ark is a crackerjack fantasy-adventure that shapes its pulp sensibilities and cliff-hanging serial origins into an exhilarating escapist entertainment that will have summer audiences in the palm of its hand." (Variety)

"One of the most deliriously funny, ingenious and stylish American adventure movies ever made.” (Vincent Canby, New York Times)

"After the escape from entombment and the cobras and asps, the film is simply a bore... So save your money." (Christopher Hitchens, New Statesman)

"Steven Spielberg's tribute to Boy's Own adventure is one of the most exciting action movies ever made, even if it never quite lives up to its opening sequence." (Chris Tookey)

"An out-of-body experience, a movie of glorious imagination and breakneck speed that grabs you in the first shot, hurtles you through a series of incredible adventures, and deposits you back in reality two hours later - breathless, dizzy, rung-out, and with a silly grin on your face." (Roger Ebert)

George Lucas with Harrison Ford
George Lucas with Harrison Ford

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