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Help Support Features Articles Raiders of the Lost Drafts: Chapter 1
Raiders of the Lost Drafts
by Bellosh - posted in 2000

Chapter 1

Indiana Jones’s adventures have never taken him to a parallel universe – well, not yet – but there’s a parallel universe for the Indy films which we, the fans, can visit. It’s a secret dimension that most great films inhabit, of different drafts, rejected screenplays and budgetary constraints. Everyone has their favorite Indy moment, and we know the films so well that we could almost have been in them ourselves. Yet if we lived in the secret dimension of the nixed screenplays our memories of the films would be very different – of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with its, err... thrilling mine car chase? Or the aerial dogfight in... Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom??? Okay, okay, how about the speedboat chase which ends in a tremendous fight, just a few feet from a giant, scything, ship’s propeller? That was definitely in the third Indiana Jones film. You know, the one where Indy travels through Africa, looking for the Garden of Immortal Peaches.

Huh?!? Say what?!!!??!

It’s true. The films we know and love could have been very different. Everyone knows that Tom Selleck was Lucas and Spielberg’s first choice for the part of Indy. It’s less well known that he almost got to play a swashbuckling archaeologist by the name of Indiana Smith. The story of how the films developed is fascinating  because it shows us what they might have been – and provides more than a few clues to what Indy 4 might contain.

Contrary to popular belief Indiana Jones didn’t start his career on a beach in Hawaii. In the early seventies George Lucas, a little-known director of gloomy avant-garde sci-fi films, tried his hand at scriptwriting. He tried to take his writing in a lighter direction, paying homage to the classic Saturday-morning serials of his youth. His first attempt, Star Wars, was eventually made and achieved some modest commercial success ;-). At the same time he created a modern serial hero, set in the Thirties, ‘Indiana Smith’; a playboy archaeologist who financed his louche Manhattan lifestyle by collecting priceless artifacts from all around the world, occasionally saving it into the bargain. The films would follow his adventures, but also reflect Lucas’s interest in ancient cultures and the occult.

In this early incarnation Indy was kind of heroic, but kind of a sleaze as well. He was a womanizer, a drinker, and when confronted with the theft of an ancient relic more likely to yell ‘it belongs in my pocket’ than ‘it belongs in a museum’. Lucas worked on the idea intermittently over a number of years, in between writing Star Wars. The first director he approached to work on bringing Indy to the screen was Philip Kaufman, who later went on to make The Right Stuff, another film about modern American heroes, the Gemini astronauts of the Sixties. It’s not known precisely what input Kaufman had into the character of Indy, but one important thing he did add for sure was the idea of Indy looking for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. This was based on stories about its power that he heard as a boy in Chicago from an old Jewish doctor, who according to Kaufman, was obsessed with the Ark. The Ark would become the ‘McGuffin’ of the first film. A ‘McGuffin’ was Alfred Hitchcock’s term for something that gets the action moving in any film, be it a secret formula or the stolen plans to the Death Star;-). Powerful old artifacts are to Indy what stolen nuclear submarines are to the James Bond films. Possession of them drives the storyline and their destructive power provides suspense.

Kaufman eventually dropped out of the project, and as we all know George Lucas asked his pal Steven Spielberg if he’d be interested in making an action film that would be ‘better than Bond’. But Philip Kaufman left his mark on the films with more than just the Ark of the Covenant storyline. He almost certainly introduced Lucas to a series of pulp adventure novels from the 1920’s that had an enormous influence on the character of Indy and the films.

Jimgrim novel cover.

Ever heard of Jimgrim?  James Schuyler Grim, or Jimgrim, is the hero of a series of books written by fantasy author Talbot Mundy over seventy years ago. A cunning and resourceful character - a blend of James Bond and Lawrence of Arabia -  Jimgrim is an American working for the British Secret Service in the Middle East. His adventures take him through classic Indy territory – Palestine, Egypt and Arabia, and later Tibet and India. Along the way he battles larger than life villains intent on harnessing occult powers to take over the world. Like Indy, he’s supported by a cast of colorful friends. There’s the Princess Yasmini – a woman so tough she makes Marion Ravenwood look like, well, Willie Scott – and Chullander Ghose, who bears a close resemblance to Sallah. A very close resemblance. Philip Kaufman definitely knew the series, because in the mid-Eighties he wrote an unproduced script for a Jimgrim movie called Jimgrim vs. The Nine Unknown, based on one of the novels. The storyline sounds a tad familiar – Jimgrim goes to India, where he battles a cult bent on world domination by awakening the power of the evil goddess Kali...

Even if George Lucas knew the books, like Indy, he’s not so much a thief as ‘an obtainer of rare antiquities’. Well, that’s one way of putting it. He created the character of Indiana Jones by acting like him and bringing together a few ancient but powerful relics – James Bond, Jimgrim, and the Saturday matinee heroes of his youth. When Steven Spielberg joined the project he added another influence; the classic film The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948), starring Humphrey Bogart.

Treasure of the Sierra
DVD poster.

In The Treasure of Sierra Madre Bogart plays a villainous, grizzled gold prospector, Frank C.Dobbs. Dobbs sets out on a gold-hunting expedition with two companions, and they find a fortune in gold dust. However, his own greed and mistrust destroy him, and at the end of the film the bags containing the gold dust are ripped open, and the ‘precious’ dust returns to the sands of the desert. The opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark is like a thumbnail sketch of The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Barranca and Satipo betray Indy and themselves are killed. Yet despite the dangers Indy is determined to secure the gold idol of the Chachapoyan Warriors that ‘taunts his every step’ as Spielberg described it in his production notes. Just before he swipes it we see him letting the sand from his bag run through his fingers; the image is repeated at the end of the film when Belloq opens the Ark of the Covenant and finds only dust or sand. While Toht laughs Belloq watches incredulously as it slips through his hands. Life itself is running out for him too. In each case the handful of dust represents the danger of obtaining anything through greed or an obsession; it leads to death for the seeker. Both times Indy barely escapes with his life. Like Fred C.Dobbs, Belloq or Satipo, Indy too is obsessed, with golden things, with ‘fortune and glory’, with the quest for knowledge of things that man is ‘not meant to know’. He survives because despite these character flaws, ultimately human beings are more important to him than the things he seeks.

All these influences on Indiana Jones, both literary and cinematic, culminated in the films we know. The process of getting them on paper began when Lucas and Spielberg asked a young, unknown writer called Laurence Kasdan to write a screenplay based on their ideas. Kasdan would turn in a number of drafts over the next couple of years. In these drafts, the characters, story and action sequences would go through many changes. Other factors would affect the film – like the ruthless penny pinching of the studio accountants.

Will Indy escape the Budgetary Constraints of Doom? Find out next week in the second exciting installment of Raiders of the Lost Drafts!!

Continue to Chapter 2 >>


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