Long ago, I found myself in a place where voting for Tetsuo: The Iron Man was the easiest decision I ever had to make. Today, I’m at a tougher spot: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade v. How to Get Ahead in Advertising. The concept of pushing forward HTGAIA sounds truly pleasant to me; two dark comedies reliant on far-out concepts and body horror to make their points going head-to-head in the finals of the 1989 Tournament of Films. But it’s not in the cards, as nostalgia did its duty this time around. In fact, my fondness for Last Crusade isn’t as misplaced as I expected it might be, proving to be just as fun a ride now as it was when I was younger.
But before we dive into all the goodies that Last Crusade has to offer, let’s talk about How to Get Ahead in Advertising just a little bit. Considering Derek and Michelle have both already offered up their own perspectives on the film (and pushed it into this semi-final slot), there’s no point in rehashing the plot, so let’s get down to business. How to Get Ahead in Advertising is Richard E. Grant’s movie. It’s grimy, it’s dark, it’s amusing as hell, and every ounce of the enjoyment one can get out of it is thanks to Grant basically performing the shit out of the role he’s handed. It’s funny, actually, considering Grant’s biggest presence in my life has been through Spice World of all things, that it’s wild to watch him in a role so limitless, a literal descent into madness that often feels sadistic, when he remains so restrained (with the occasionally burst of anger) in Spice. It’s astounding some of the dialogue he has to spout in the film, so much so that I’d like to take a moment to list a couple of true standouts:
“That’s a very attractive oven glove.”
“I’m an expert on tits! Tits and peanut butter!”
“My grandfather was caught molesting a wallaby in a zoo in 1919.”
“Whatever it is, sell it” is a quote straight from the film and one that sums up exactly what Grant himself is doing: selling Bruce Robinson’s politics without an ounce of shame. I’m not one to complain about a lack of subtlety most days, but Robinson’s politics slap one in the face and it gets to be a bit much at times—even for a satire. The film yells about television and Big Brother and advertising for longer than necessary at times rather than embracing quick bursts that would match up beautifully with the way the camera constantly moves. It’s an opera of satire against the advertising world that rarely takes a breath and shifts into a maddening body horror feature more comfortably than it has any right to. And, even with my complaints, it’s impossible to imagine How to Get Ahead in Advertising any other way and it’s fascinating how they incorporate politics into plot: “You’ve decided that selling these things is a bad thing for you to do, and you are unable to accept the guilt for what you feel you’ve done. Therefore you’ve transmitted these qualities into the boil.”
That line comes from the only arguably slow portion of the movie, but once the boil takes over the man in order to essentially ensure that capitalism rules over all, Robinson allows his film to hit its highest point. Once the tiresome war between Anti-Advertising Bagley and Shameless Capitalist Boil is past, the heavy inclusion of the character’s wife and a focus on the Capitalist Boil doing exactly what the film’s title suggests makes for a hell of a ride. In fact, not a single moment in the film lives up to its grand finale (which isn’t at all a bad thing), in which the character rides off on a horse and delivers one of the most grandiose speeches about giving the people anything and everything they want.
But, did HTGAIA give me everything I wanted? The sad truth is no, and neither does Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but it gives me more; it gives me an adventure and a damn fine one at that.
It’s hard figuring out exactly which Indiana Jones film I dig the most: Raiders of the Lost Ark or Crusade. The first served as a delightful introduction to the character, provided a hell of an adventure, and featured the woman who remains the absolute best female character of the series. Plus, who doesn’t love a little face-melting? Crusade, however, boasts one thing above the other, and that is the presence of Sean Connery, his banter with Harrison Ford, and emotional heft that he brings into the narrative.
In case you miraculously haven’t seen Last Crusade, the film revolves around Indy hunting down both his father (Connery)—who has been kidnapped by Nazis—and the Holy Grail, which the Nazis are attempting to find themselves. It’s rather refreshing to have Indy placed back into a situation that doesn’t have weird racist undertones after The Temple of Doom, and it’s impossible not to root for the guy when he’s going against Nazis again, though this time on a grander scale. So grand, in fact, that he actually meets Adolf Hitler, who signs his father’s diary after mistaking the guy for a fan. This isn’t to say that Doom isn’t a fun movie in its own right—featuring that fascinatingly camp “Anything Goes” opening number—but it’s easy to peg as the weak link of the original trilogy.
Anyway, if anything particularly problematic can be found in The Last Crusade—which I’d like to get out of the way first — it’s the characterization of Elsa (Alison Doody). When she’s first introduced, she’s a proper match for Indy, hitting him with the kind of wit and charm he should be hit with:
“You have your father’s eyes.”
“And my mother’s ears, but the rest belongs to you.”
“Looks like the best parts have already been spoken for.”
It’s a delicious intro, but it’s mostly tossed to the side when the film poorly attempts to make her a femme fatale and ends up making her more of a wacky, emotionally-imbalanced woman who fawns after Indy at the risk of her true goals. She has a few great scenes—though few and far throughout—including a lovely close-up on her tearing up over a Nazi book-burning, but she’s a mixed bag, and one of few in the film.
The other new character in Indy’s life is where it’s at, with the aforementioned Connery offering up the perfect complement as Professor Henry Jones. There’s never really been someone as good as him for Ford to bounce dialogue off of in the Indiana Jones series and it shows. And, more to the point, it’s rare to watch a film series introduce a character out of the blue without feeling like it was just a pointless addition. Henry Jones’ presence is something that makes the universe feel more complete and grounded because of the fact that Jones has genuine human ties to a world outside of wild adventuring and archeology (if you can even call his work that). Jeffrey Boam’s screenplay is stuffed to the brim with witty banter between the two, and by never trying hard to be funny (like Temple), it manages to be even more fun than the rest. But it’s the emotional line that’s added into the narrative that surprises most, something that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull painfully tried to imitate and couldn’t quite understand. Last Crusade actually makes Indy confront some of his emotional issues and offers up background on what exactly makes him tick.
It does so, not only through scenes with his father, but through a rather riveting opening sequence featuring River Phoenix (who I’ve admittedly never been that fond of) as a young Indy who tries to stop some bad guys before getting foiled by human corruption. It’s a perfect opening set piece with a train chase that unfolds so naturally, never feeling like a mimic of other train sequences that have come before. Hell, if anything is derivative of former works in here, it’s John Williams’ score, but that’s just stating the obvious. No, Steven Spielberg doesn’t quite mimic others because he’s already established himself as a man with a distinct aesthetic, even though it’s not as pronounced in look as it is sheer vibes.
But Last Crusade has some gorgeous and purposeful shot compositions laced throughout. A beautifully simple minute long tracking shot through Indy and Elsa’s trashed hotel rooms until a door is shut, the aforementioned train chase, a simple shot of people talking as the light of stained glass, two men escaping a zeppelin by plane; it’s just a few shots in many, though I’m mostly joking about that last one because it’s got messy effects, but it’s not something unfamiliar to his films. He’s got a great eye, and that’s something not quite appreciated as much in him as it should be.
At the end of the day, it’s refreshing to watch one of Spielberg’s many films that’s just plain fun and doesn’t take itself as seriously as one of his modern dramas (not to hate on those because I am fond of some). A lot of folks will disagree with this decision, and rightfully so, as I found myself with two strong films pit against each other, but I’d much rather get two hours of Indiana Jones—and peak hotness Harrison Ford—over most things any day. With that said, I leave you with one more How to Get Ahead in Advertising quote I feel is very appropriate: “It’s extraordinary how much steam comes off hot peas, isn’t it?”
The winner: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Both films are in print and available for purchase through Amazon or to rent through your local independent video store.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Jeffrey Boam; starring Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, and River Phoenix; 127 minutes.
How to Get Ahead in Advertising; written and directed by Bruce Robinson; starring Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward, Richard Wilson, and Jacqueline Tong; 94 minutes.