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Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981 film] (1981)

by Steven Spielberg (Director), Lawrence Kasdan (Screenwriter)

Other authors: Karen Allen (Actor), Denholm Elliott (Actor), Harrison Ford (Actor), Paul Freeman (Actor), Anthony Higgins (Actor)10 more, Wolf Kahler (Actor), Michael Kahn (Film editor), Philip Kaufman (Story), Ronald Lacey (Actor), George Lucas (Story), Frank Marshall (Producer), Alfred Molina (Actor), John Rhys-Davies (Actor), Douglas Slocombe (Director of Photography), John Williams (Composer)

Series: Indiana Jones Movies (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
429841,540 (4.37)1
Indiana Jones and his feisty ex-flame Marion Ravenwood dodge booby-traps, fight Nazis and stare down snakes in their incredible worldwide quest for the mystical Ark of the Covenant.
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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Harrison Ford – Indy
Karen Allen – Marion
Paul Freeman – Belloq
Ronald Lacey – Toht
John Rhys-Davies – Sallah
Denholm Elliott – Brody
Wolf Kahler – Dietrich
Alfred Molina – Satipo

Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas & Philip Kaufman
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Lucasfilm, 2008. Slipcase. Colour. 111 min. 2.35:1. DD 5.1. Bonus: “Raiders of the Lost Ark: An Introduction” (7:49); “Indiana Jones: An Appreciation” (11:42); “The Melting Face” (8:50).


Some movies, like old friends, never really get old. You age, but they don’t. You’ve seen them a million times, but age cannot wither them nor custom stale their infinite variety. You can always revisit them with infinite pleasure. Indeed, if anything, they get better with age. This is one such movie. Truth to tell, The Last Crusade has gradually supplanted this one as my favourite Indy flick. No matter. Raiders of the Lost Ark remains a gem. In a thousand years, I feel, it would be worth more than something:

So once again, Jones, what was briefly yours is now mine. What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits. You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something.

This was, of course, the birth of Indiana Jones. It set the unique tone that so many adventure movies have tried to emulate before and since but so few have succeeded. For all of its obvious merits of script, cast, locations, production design and direction, I think the ambiguous tone is what makes this movie truly special.

On the one hand, it is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek. It absolutely refuses to take itself seriously. It is full of the most simplistic slapstick you can imagine. The monkey with the Nazi salute, the drinking contest in Nepal, Indy shooting the guy with the yataghan, Marion knocking out another with a frying pan – or Indy with the mirror: these shouldn’t work more than once. But I’ve seen them dozens of times and they still crack me up. Marion and Belloq trying to drink each other under the table is the purest form of fun. If it doesn’t make you laugh, I wonder what could. If it doesn’t make you at least smile, maybe you should see somebody before it’s too late.

On the other hand, there is a sinister leitmotif going through the whole movie. Brody and Sallah remind us from the beginning that the Ark isn’t your ordinary museum merchandise. The scene in the Well of Souls is nothing if not awe-inspiring, not least because of John Williams surpassing himself with some of the spookiest movie music (far superior to the jaunty main theme). The final scene on the island, besides being a triumph of special effects for its time (the melting faces are the only place where the movie shows its age), displays the Ark’s powers to the full. It can almost make a believer even of the greatest sceptic. The Nazis make the best villains, as always, and if Wolf Kahler is the usual cartoonish fodder, Ronald Lacey is a good deal more sinister than that. Watch out for his iconic hanger. The Poker Scene is even more telling. Lacey makes the text far scarier than it looks:

“Wait, wait! I can be reasonable.”
“That time has passed.”
“You don’t need that. I’ll tell you everything!”
“Yes, I know you will.”

It is unnecessary to praise the cast, but I should like to say a few words of praise about the greatest star of it. This is Paul Freeman. He is the only one given a real character, a complex and contradictory creature, and he makes the best of it. Belloq is half the gracious and polite Frenchman, the most civilised man on the planet who would provide his lady with a dress even in the middle of the desert; silly cliché but a charming one when written so well and acted with such panache. But Belloq’s other half is much darker and less hackneyed. He describes it to perfection in that scene with the drunken Indy after Marion’s “death”. It is one of the highlights of all Indy movies. Freeman is given much the finest lines in the script, and quite thought-provoking they are:

You and I are very much alike. Archaeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the purer faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.

There is not a single scene in the whole movie that falls flat. Smart of dumb, comic or dramatic, plausible or fantastic, or all those things together, it works swimmingly. Just like Indy never loses his hat or his whip, the movie never disappoints. Whether it is Sallah’s sense of humour (“Asps... very dangerous. You go first.”) or the breathtaking scene with the Nazi truck, there is never a dull moment. The very ending is not the least fascinating part. What could be a better symbol of bureaucratic red tape and sheer human stupidity than burying the Ark in a vast and crowded warehouse? “Top men”, indeed! ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Apr 1, 2020 |
Indiana Jones and the raiders of the lost arc
  ewajoanna | Aug 28, 2017 |
A treasure-hunter races the Nazis.

Pretty damn fun.

Concept: A
Story: A
Characters: A
Dialog: D
Pacing: C
Cinematography: C
Special effects/design: A
Acting: B
Music: B

Enjoyment: A

GPA: 3.1/4 ( )
  comfypants | Jan 28, 2016 |
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  WilliamHartPhD | Aug 3, 2010 |
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  WilliamHartPhD | Aug 3, 2010 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Spielberg, StevenDirectorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kasdan, LawrenceScreenwritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Allen, KarenActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Elliott, DenholmActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ford, HarrisonActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Freeman, PaulActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Higgins, AnthonyActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kahler, WolfActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kahn, MichaelFilm editorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kaufman, PhilipStorysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lacey, RonaldActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lucas, GeorgeStorysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marshall, FrankProducersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Molina, AlfredActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rhys-Davies, JohnActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Slocombe, DouglasDirector of Photographysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, JohnComposersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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