R042 Raiders of the Lost Ark

(1981, Action-Adventure, color)


Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

Who insures these fruit stands, and how many billions do they lose each year?

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Super-archaeologist Indiana Jones fights Nazis for the Ark of the Covenant.


A pulp-esque poster recalling the serials of the thirties and forties?  Check.Professional adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) has assembled all the necessities for a jungle expedition. Crumbling pieces of an ancient treasure map? Check. Bullwhip? Check. A team of traitorous and/or easily panicked porters? Check. An elaborate system of booby traps guarding a golden idol? Check. An opportunistic Frenchman with a company of angry native warriors waiting to steal his prize? Check. A humorous escape via a snake-infested aquatic plane? Check.

Indy returns to his university of origin disheartened and empty-handed to find a pair of government agents waiting to consult with him. World War II is on, and they’ve intercepted Nazi transmissions pertaining to an archeological dig in Egypt. A bit of exposition reveals that Hitler is seeking the Ark of the Covenant, a Jewish religious artifact that will grant invincibility to the army that possesses it. The Nazis have discovered a lost city, but need a medallion mounted on a staff to find the ark’s location within the city. Indy knows where the medallion is. The government agents hire him to get the Ark before the Nazis do.

Indy journeys to Nepal, where he meets his estranged former lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). She inherited the medallion from her father, but wants to string Indy along a bit before she gives it to him. This goes badly, as a frog-like Nazi agent named Toht has followed Indy to Marion’s place. The resulting fight sends the whole place up in flames. Toht sees the medallion, but the fire has made it too hot to pick up. He runs away to douse his burned hand in the snow. Marion recovers the medallion with a hot pad and agrees to help Indy find the Ark.

In Egypt, Indy calls on an old friend named Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) who promises to take Indy to a man who can decipher the markings on the medallion. But first, Indy and Marion take to the streets for an extended fight with hired Egyptian thugs. This goes on for a while, but eventually Marion hides in a laundry basket, which is loaded onto a truck, which explodes. Indy drinks himself into a stupor over her apparent death, until the opportunistic Frenchman from the opening scenes (named Belloq) shows up to taunt him. Belloq is working for the Nazis now, and Indy is far too much trouble to be allowed to run around loose. Before the hired Egyptian thugs can gun him down, Sallah’s children rush in to surround him and escort him to safety.

Either that statue is hollow, or he got that sand from a neutron star.Sallah takes Indy to the translator while they discuss the Nazis’ progress. They’ve somehow obtained a copy of the medallion (from the burn mark on Toht’s hand, but we won’t discover that till later), and have found a place to dig for the Ark. The translator interrupts to point out that the copy was only one-sided, while the medallion itself has two sides. The second side alters the measurements necessary to find the Ark. The Nazis are digging in the wrong place; Indy can still find it before they do.

Using the measurements from the medallion, Indy sneaks into the excavated map room in the lost city to discover the Ark’s location. In the process of sneaking out, he pops into a random tent and discovers Marion, who’s not dead after all. Indy explains that if he helps her escape now, the Nazis will comb the area and he won’t be able to get the Ark. He ties her up again and promises to come back for her after he’s found it.

Everyone else in the city is digging, so no one notices one more team arrive. Indy and his crew dig throughout the night, uncovering the Ark’s snake-infested resting place. Indy and Sallah drop inside, fend off the snakes, pack up the ark, and lift it out of the pit. Sallah climbs out, but the rope falls before Indy can escape as well. Belloq has finally noticed them. He taunts Indy again while the Nazis take the Ark and throw Marion into the pit.

Indy leaves Marion to fend off the snakes while he pushes a statue through the most fragile wall. They make their way out of the tomb and sneak through the Nazi compound, blowing up a plane and killing a platoon of soldiers in the process. Belloq loads the Ark on a truck for Cairo. Indy steals a horse to follow and hijacks the truck after a long, improbable chase. They load it onto a freighter bound for the U.S.

A Nazi submarine intercepts the freighter at sea. They steal the Ark and kidnap Marion, but no one can find Indy until the Nazis are leaving, when the sailors spot him clinging to the submarine’s exterior. Somehow he manages to hang on until they put in on an island. He mugs a pair of soldiers for clothes and weapons, and then threatens to blow up the Ark if they don’t release Marion. Belloq understands that Indy would never do such a thing to a priceless antiquity, and calls his bluff. They take Indy captive.

Later that night, Belloq performs a sacred Jewish ritual to open the Ark. The captive Indy sees it glow and tells Marion to shut her eyes. Apparently peeved that His sacred artifact would be put to evil use, the Lord God sends fire from heaven to consume Belloq and the Nazis. Indy takes the Ark back to the United States, where government agents stash it in a large warehouse filled with random top secret stuff.


The patented Spielberg 'looking' shot.Shortly after the viewing I fell asleep, and shortly after that, I had a dream about a rough-and-tumble archaeologist with a pocket full of sharp cheddar cheese. It was so sharp that all he had to do toss a bit into his opponents’ open mouths while they were taunting him, and they would be immediately be overcome with the intensity of the flavor and fall to the ground. There were other elements to the dream as well—sinister herds of stampeding buffalo and so on—but I won’t bore you with them. The point is that the whole archaeologist-wielding-cheddar thing is utterly nonsensical, and therefore makes exactly the same amount of sense as an archaeologist with a bullwhip. In fact, thinking of archaeology as a full contact sport is pretty silly in and of itself.

Not that it matters, as the film is pretty much impervious to criticism. It’s been a classic of adventure cinema for more than a quarter century, and with good reason. It’s broad, goofy, anachronistic, and occasionally dumb, but excitingly so and—and this is important—never by accident. There’s no wasted space, no wasted scenes, no wasted dialog. Everything either reveals plot or character, and nothing ever bogs down. They don’t make movies like this anymore.

In cases where the movie is good but a little silly, the Rifftrax folk know how to deliver just enough to enhance the silliness even more. They go for the obvious jokes, of course, referring to Indy as Arizona Schmidt (Kevin), Delaware McGillicuddy (Mike), and Pennsylvania Dutch (Kevin). Toht is an easy target as well, as they note that he “sounds like a truffle hog” (Kevin), “looks like Elmer Fudd as an undertaker” (Mike), and “[looks like] Droopy of the S.S.” (Bill). My favorite comments are about the one-eyed Egyptian spy (“He’s the guy you call on when you need to spy on someone to your left”—Bill) and his traitorous screeching monkey (“It’s doing a Kelly Clarkson impersonation”—Mike). I’d recommend this one even without the Rifftrax, but Mike, Bill, and Kevin serve up a lot of quotably funny material to go with it. Watch, listen, and enjoy.