Director Steven Spielberg
When watching the films as a set in succession (as I have just done) - the qualities of this film (which I always remembered as the weakest of the original trilogy) really shine through. After the darkness of face melting and nightmare tribes, the far more jokey vibe of this film seem a lot more appropriate. There is a lot of good in The Last Crusade.... lets check it out.
Really - what we're doing with the trilogy is building and then - to a certain degree - deconstructing a legend. So where Raiders of the Lost Ark gave us the hero and a romantic foil who is his equal, the sequels begin to look at how he behaves with people less suited to his adventurous lifestyle. Whether they be children and civilians (Short Round shows Indy's paternal streak far more beautifully than his relationship with Mutt... but I'm jumping forward a film) or whether they be his own estranged family.
The films show us just enough to understand Indiana (or, as we learn from this film Henry Jones Junior) without cheapening the myth or removing the enigma.
The film begins by firstly showing Indy as a child - always a risk as it can cheapen the character, but thankfully here played by the marvellous River Phoenix. And whilst we never needed to know why Indy is scared of snakes or why he decided to carry a whip (a weapon which proves to be endlessly versatile throughout the franchise) or why he has a fedora, it IS nice to know that he was always a badass with an unshaking loyalty to things belonging in museums.
Fast forward and we go on Indy's most bonkers quest to date. The holy grail. I'm not sure why I find it so preposterous, but there is something inherently surreal about a 900 year old man, much more than a face melting ark or some Sankara stones of mass destruction... however, the ridiculousness of the film doesn't matter because it is so fun - and this plays almost entirely down to the fizzing and sparkling chemistry between two men who (whilst often quipping) aren't renown for their comedy sensibilities.
Connery and Ford are marvellous on screen together... Indy's resentment to his father crackles throughout and Connery manages to pull the most fabulous unimpressed faces. There is something quite delicious about an adrenaline fuelled action adventure ending with a withering look from one's father.
Connery takes the film and makes it something more than an enjoyable romp. He makes it wonderful.... mixing comedy - see him an Ford bickering over women (Elsa is -at last - a fabulous female character complete with fab moral grey areas) - and actual emotion (I think that as Henry realises his son may have died, we get on of Connery's finest acting moments).
The film zips along and really benefits from having the Nazis as villains. Because, you can make the Nazis appear bumbling fools without really offending anyone.... whereas an Indian cult (even an Evil one) has the dangerous tightrope of racism. This film clearly relishes in scuppering the Nazis' plans (however - as I learnt from Lego Indiana Jones, the Nazis love to over complicate things) and even fit in a Hitler sight gag.
There are other things to enjoy in this film... for example, with the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword (are they baddies? really?) we get Indy's best dressed combatants. We get the return of Sallah - I don't think I mentioned it in Raiders.... but I bloody love John Rhys-Davies in these films, but he just helps to build a near faultless entourage aiding Indy on this brilliant romp.
And I think - almost more so than the two before it - romp is the key word for this film. As it travels to far flung destinations, castles and ancient wonders and as the peril is kept fairly light hearted it means there is no trauma.
This is a happy little adventure.... and we are happy to see Indy and his entourage walk off into the sunset.