The Greatest Movie Hero Ever!

Why the boulder-dodging tomb raider is the greatest action hero of all time...

Hero by thought

He wore a hat to make the stunt double harder to spot and was named after George Lucas’ wife’s dog, a pet Alaskan malamute (it’s a large sledge dog). His real name is Henry. Two of the three films he’s in aren’t even that good. Yet there was never a doubt that he’s our favourite all-time movie hero.

Indy emerged when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas tapped their nostalgic memories of ‘30s and ‘40s Saturday morning cinema adventures. (Spielberg: “I made it as a B-movie. I didn’t see the film as anything more than a better made version of the Republic serials.”) Rose-tinted memories as it turned out, for when they’d re-watched old episodes of Flash Gordon, Don Winslow Of The Coast Guard and Commando Cody, they saw feeble action, bad plots and crap acting. Their mission was to inject the spirit of this bygone age into something more screen-friendly and dynamic.

The search for the character’s soul took place in daily brainstorms between Lucas, Spielberg and writer Lawrence Kasdan, who taped them as reference material for a six-month crack at a first draft screenplay. Initially conceived as a playboy adventurer, Indy was briefly outlined as a tortured alcoholic before emerging as the bookish history professor with a lust for adventure. And Raiders Of The Lost Ark only became a modern classic when Lucas told Kasdan to tear out everything from the script but the action and the dialogue needed to fuel it. No back stories, no incidental characters, nothing. “I hated doing it,” recalls Kasdan, “but afterwards, I realised it was muscular and fast-paced.” So emerged a character who is, according to Spielberg, “not a cardboard hero, but a human being with ordinary frailties”.

So Raiders snipped and borrowed and copied influences from anything and anywhere – even the iconic boulder scene was taken from a 1959 Disney Uncle Scrooge/Donald Duck comic that Lucas and Spielberg had seen as children. Yet the end result is far, far more than the sum of the parts. The movies may be full of racial stereotypes, the violence of the films is unsuitable for young kids and this intrepid, disputable archaeologist may be just a grave robber with a degree…but it’s impossible not to love him.

By being set in that mythical pre-war era where there were still lost cities to be found and great hats to be worn, Indy never comes across as an arrogant Westerner who slaughters natives when they try to stop him desecrating their religious sites. Far from it: he’s the guy we all wish we could be – brave, reckless and rough while having a way with the ladies. Indy… Henry… Dr Jones…we salute you.

 


 

Hero by word

(Dr Jones has just heard from his academic friend Marcus Brody that the US government is willing to fund an expedition to find the lost Ark before the Nazis get their hands on it…)

Indy: (laughing) The Ark Of The Covenant.
Marcus: Nothing else has come close.
Indy: It definitely represents everything we got into archaeology for in the first place. (They down their drinks)
Marcus: You know, five years ago I would have gone after it myself. I’m really rather envious. (Indy rushes to his closet and pulls out a battered leather suitcase.)
Indy: Gotta locate Abner, he’ll know where to start. (He throws his trademark dusty jacket and bullwhip into the case.) Think she’ll still be with him?
Marcus: Marion’s the least of your worries right now, believe me Indy.
Indy: What do you mean?
Marcus: Well, I mean that for nearly 3,000 years, man has been searching for the lost Ark. That’s not something to be taken lightly. No one knows its secrets. It’s like nothing you’ve gone after before.
Indy: (laughing) Oh, Marcus, what are you trying to do, scare me? You sound like my mother. We’ve known each other for a long time. I don’t believe in magic and a lot of superstitious hocus-pocus. I’m going after a find of incredible historical significance, you’re talking about the bogey man. Besides…(he crosses to his desk and unwraps a cloth bundle from a drawer – it’s his revolver)… you know what a cautious fellow I am…

 


 

Hero by deed

Indy rides a horse, is dragged along the road, clings to a truck and is shot as he tries to intercept the Nazi convoy carrying the Ark Of The Covenant to its fateful encounter with Third Reich scientists.