THE MAN WHO MADE INDIANA JONES – BY FRANK MENGARELLI
“You lost today kid, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.” – Fedora (Richard Young)
You never forget a good teacher. And the same is true for fictional heroes: they have to start somewhere. The mentor is as important as the mission, always has been. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans had the character type: some wise old sage to coach a reluctant saviour. Homer called the character ‘Mentor’ and the name took off from there.
We don’t always see the people who taught the hero. JAMES BOND (currently trending c/o SPECTRE and its new trailer) was always presented as a veteran: fully formed, even in the so called ‘origin story’ that was CASINO ROYALE.
But Bond in a way gave rise to INDIANA JONES. It’s the late 1970s /early 80s. Frustrated at not being allowed to make a Bond film, STEVEN SPIELBERG turned to his old buddy, GEORGE LUCAS, who said ‘I got that beat’. And, after a gentleman’s agreement handshake in Hawaii between the two cinematic visionaries, a cinematic hero was born.
Dr. Indiana Smith (the name had to change, stipulated Spielberg, wisely) would hunt artefacts and battle villains in a period setting, with a supernatural spin. It would be a tribute to the 1930s serial adventure heroes, whilst allowing for a series of self-contained stories.
Lucas told Spielberg he had three stories mapped out and they agreed to tell all three. It turned out subsequently that each story required individual development. But the team stayed together, blessed with the perfect leading man in HARRISON FORD.
A fifth film is now in some sort of development, with rumoured release set for summer 2018. Spielberg may direct it and yes, alas, Harrison Ford might be replaced by some younger fella. CHRIS PRATT seems to be the anointed choice?
Continuing our ‘school’s out for summer’ theme, we got thinking about WHO mentored Indiana Jones. Sure, he had Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and his own Dad, Professor Henry Jones, Senior (Sean Connery). But there was always another. In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Indiana refers to ‘Abner’ and the implication is he somehow taught our hero the finer points of archaeology and adventure. We never see Abner. It’s all tell, no show.
HARRISON FORD should play Abner IF they are truly re-casting and rebooting. Don’t relegate him to some Grandfatherly pipe and slippers flashback. MAKE him a challenging mentor come antagonist though not quite ‘big bad’. I’ve said it before in other articles and will keep saying it until it happens for real.
But have we perhaps seen Abner already? The start of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE features a clever sequence whereby young Indy picks up all his trademarks. And FRANK MENGARELLI has been examining it for some interesting clues.
OVER TO YOU, FRANK..
Every time I’ve watched INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, even as a little kid, I was always drawn to the character dubbed Fedora (Richard Young) in the credits. He’s never called directly by name in the film, but during the opening when Young Indy (River Phoenix) is watching the gang in the cave digging for treasure, the name Garth is mentioned.
Indiana Jones had met a wide array of characters in the films, but I don’t think anyone had as big of an influence on his life as Fedora did. Fedora has limited screen time, and few lines of dialogue, but during the opening sequence of the film – he’s the most important character. After Indy gets the cross from the gang and Indy gets chased to a circus train – he finds himself in a life or death situation when he falls into a train car that contains a roaring lion.
Indy tries to tame the lion with his whip, but Fedora and his men are on top of the train car looking down, and Fedora commands that Indy toss-up his whip so they can pull him up. After Fedora rescues Indy, the chase beings again. As Indy escapes from the caboose Fedora watches Indy run down the train tracks, away from the hauling train. As Fedora watches him run away, he gets a smirk on his face.
When Indy returns home to tell his father what he has just done, his father essentially brushes him off because he’s working on his obsession of the Holy Grail. Fedora’s gang shows up with the town’s sheriff and the sheriff asks Indy for the cross back.
Fedora’s gang are pompous and smug because they just won. But as everyone leaves, Fedora is left standing in the doorway. He removes THAT hat and as he sets it on Young Indy’s head he says one of the greatest lines in film history: “You lost today kid, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.” The film then resumes in real-time where we see Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones – he’s on a ship, being held by men with blood coming from his busted lip. He’s smiling remembering Fedora’s words of wisdom.
It’s not that Fedora is sympathetic to Indy, even though he’s the only one who shows respect to him; Fedora sees himself in Indy, and for that he gives him his fedora as if he’s passing the torch to him, telling him, “here you go kid, the job is now yours.” In the films when Indy is out in the field, he always has his hat, and risks his life on a couple of occasions to ensure that he has possession of his hat that Fedora gave him when he was a teenager. While it may not always be the same exact hat, the hat does symbolize Fedora, the man who made Indiana Jones.
When Spielberg shot the scene in the cave, where the men find this rare artefact, Fedora is hunched over, and he’s holding it – watching it. He’s mystified by the discovery and it’s then you realize he’s not after the money, he’s after the hunt. The tight close-ups, and the way the camera revolves around Fedora is much like the way Spielberg shoots Indy when he’s found the idol in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
When we see Ford as Indiana Jones, he’s dressed exactly like Fedora was in the third film. His hat, his rough leather jacket – and even Fedora’s rough look and demeanor and right down to that signature smart ass smirk transcended to Indy. As the third film displays, Indy didn’t have a good relationship with his father.
Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) was obsessed with his work, too obsessed to provide the emotional commitment of being a father. Fedora accepted that role – though their interactions only lasted for a couple of hours when Indy was in his teens. Fedora shaped the man who stopped being “Junior” and became Indiana Jones.
In the original script the character of Fedora was Abner Ravenwood, father of Marion (Karen Allen) and dubbed Indy’s “mentor”.
The fact that in the original script that Fedora was Abner almost solidifies the fact that Fedora is actually Indy’s mentor. Next to Indiana Jones, I think Fedora is the second most important character in the franchise even though he had maybe ten minutes of screen time and ten lines of dialogue. In that short time, we see Fedora in Indiana Jones, and in turn when we see Ford as Indy – I see Fedora.
After the films premier, Robert Young reprised his role as Fedora/Garth for a live performance of the opening show of the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. This event was produced by Steven Spielberg.
I would have liked to have seen more of Fedora, even an adventure of his since he is the precursor of Indiana Jones – but that’s what makes him so effective – is the fact that we know absolutely nothing about him – yet his story is told through the adventures of Indiana Jones.
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