Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen




For, Friday, July 3, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not much need be said about this one; my review was published in the Deseret News on June 12, 1981; it's playing now at all Megaplex Theaters in the Salt Lake Valley.

Many movies owe a lot to other movies, but “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” IS a lot of other movies.

This really is a picture with something for everyone, and while film buffs are spotting bits borrowed from “Stagecoach” or “The Ten Commandments” or “Citizen Kane,” others will simply be caught up in the excitement of it all — and there’s plenty of that.

Director Steven Spielberg draws us in immediately with an opening that offers more thrills than most full-length features. Harrison Ford is freewheeling archaeologist Indiana Jones. He’s in South America searching for an ancient artifact. The time is 1936.

After some rapid-fire, harrowing escapes, he obtains the item, only to have it taken from him by his archrival Belloq (Paul Freeman). But this is only the prelude and we know they will meet again before the picture is over.

Purposely fashioned after the old B-movie serial cliffhangers, the plot has Ford hired by American forces to try and find the ancient Ark of the Covenant, which contained the broken tablets on which the original 10 commandments were written. They want it because Hitler wants it and his agents are very close to finding it.

What power does the Ark contain? Will Indiana Jones find it before the Nazis? How will he escape from the pit of asps? How will he rescue his mentor’s daughter Marion? How will “Raiders” do at the box-office?

The answer to the latter question has to be “stupendously!” You don’t have to wait until next week’s episode to find out what happens in any of the situations here but you’ll be on the edge of your seat from moment to moment.


An iconic moment in the opening scene of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981)

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is an enormously enjoyable piece of entertainment that harks back to what movies are really all about.

Spielberg, who hasn’t directed a film since “1941,” is an audience-pleaser and suspense is his strong suit. “Jaws” was the superior thriller it was because of Spielberg’s directorial strength at building scenes and “Raiders” gives him the perfect opportunity to do the same.

He and George Lucas, who is listed in the credits as one of the executive producers and one of the writers of the original storyline, love old movies, and all of their films contain little homages to cinema of the past. But “Raiders” allows them to jump in with both feet and this might almost be called “Raiders of the Lost Flicks”!

But that’s not a criticism. Lucas and Spielberg know how to use the material and the result is an exciting, funny, tremendously entertaining movie experience that will undoubtedly bring audiences back more than once.

Harrison Ford is also probably the perfect choice for a film like “Raiders” because his acting talent is slightly stilted. He looks like a B-movie actor and he’s performed like one in most of the films he’s done, from “Star Wars” to “Hanover Street.”


George Lucas, left, and Steven Spielberg on the set of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981)

Karen Allen (“Animal House,” “A Small Circle of Friends”) is fine as his former lover who has had to fend for herself for so long that by the time Indiana Jones meets her again she is herself a tough adversary.

And the rest of the cast fits perfectly.

The main difference between this picture and the old “B’s” is the scope. In 70mm and Dolby stereo, with expansive shots of his cast of thousands, Spielberg has added a dimension that only makes the picture more enthralling.

As a small warning, I might add that for a PG-rated film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is quite violent (there is also profanity). But even that is handled in a campy way, so that it seems to fit in with the huge spiders and large numbers of snakes that our hero meets along the way. And the sense of humor that pervades the entire picture carries it along as much as the thrills.

Originally conceived by Lucas as a series, not unlike the old 1930s and ’40s serials, “Raiders” will have a couple of Indiana Jones follow-ups if it is successful. And there’s not much doubt of that. Between “Raiders” and “Star Wars,” Lucas seems intent on resurrecting “the good old days” of movies … and that’s just fine with me.