20 Things You Didn’t Know About Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

One of the great threequels and the finale to one of the most entertaining movie trilogies of all time, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade might be the least-discussed film in the Indiana Jones franchise, but it’s by no means a cop-out.

Last Crusade is the funny one, the buddy movie, the instalment that brought some unbridled joy back to the series after the grim detour of Temple of Doom.


Pairing Harrison Ford with Sean Connery, director Steven Spielberg invented one of cinema’s great unexpected double acts in the process of digging deeper into who Indiana Jones really is.

That’s how the film stands now, but to get it here, the cast and crew had to go through trials and tribulations that rival the three challenges Indy faces in the film’s climax. Here are 20 things you didn’t know about Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

20. 2,000 rats were bred specifically for the catacombs scene

Viewers who suffer from musophobia won’t soon forget the Crusade scene set in the Venetian catacombs, in which Indy and Elsa discover the tomb of Sir Richard amid a flurry of rats.

These vermin aren’t fake: Spielberg, a master director of special effects, decided to use real rats rather than just a batch of clever animatronic rodents.

The only problem with using real rats is the possibility that they might carry disease, and the scene, Spielberg was told, required at least a thousand of the critters to work.

In order to avoid using existing rats, Spielberg had 2,000 bred specifically by production for the film.

Spielberg used mechanical rodents to complement the real rats, though the 2,000 he did have required insurance policy with a one thousand-rat deductible.

19. The scar on Indiana’s chin is Harrison Ford’s own

In the opening sequence for Last Crusade, we finally get the backstory behind the scar that underlines Indiana’s bottom lip.

It turns out it was through Indy’s first use – or rather misuse – of his famous bullwhip, cracking it to keep a circus lion from devouring him, that he got his scar.

The scene, starring River Phoenix as young Indy, might be used to explain away a distinct visual characteristic of our hero, but the scar actually belongs to Harrison Ford.

Ford picked up this unique facial characteristic in what he has described as “fast car crash, a real mundane way of earning it”, when he was in as a younger man.

Ford was 22 when, on the way to a job interview, the seatbelt-less future actor drove into a telephone pole.

18. Ford and Connery filmed the Zeppelin sequence trouserless

What happens when you pair one of the biggest box office draws of the 80s, and Mr 007 himself?

Hijinks, that’s what, like two of the coolest men of their respective eras removing their pants to film one scene.

During the shooting of Last Crusade’s Zeppelin scenes, in which Indy and his father evade the Nazis by hitching a ride on a German blimp, both Harrison Ford and Sean Connery opted to drop trou.

The two actors claimed it was because the studio was too hot and that they didn’t want to sweat.

Still, you have to assume notorious subversive Ford enjoyed the idea that audiences would later watch himself and James Bond sincerely performing these scenes while completely trouserless.

17. Sieg heiling extras were asked to keep their fingers crossed behind their backs

Although all the Indiana Jones movies contain censor-testing horror elements, arguably the most frightening scene in The Last Crusade is one that’s actually lifted from history.

The film’s combined Berlin book burning and Nazi rally is shot by Spielberg like a descent into hell, complete with red flags, marching zombies and towering bonfires.

Spielberg, who was at the time developing his harrowing 1993 Holocaust drama Schindler’s List, clearly felt this sequence should be treated with more gravity than the rest of his film.

Apparently superstitious, Spielberg didn’t even like the idea of the extras playing Nazis sincerely performing the Hitler salute without making a little additional gesture.

All the extras who were, for the rally scene, required to sieg heil were asked by Spielberg to keep their fingers crossed behind their backs while doing so.

16. Gregory Peck could have played Indy’s dad

Going into Last Crusade, Sean Connery was always Spielberg’s first choice to play Henry Sr, Indiana’s stern professor father.

It was an interesting pick, considering there are only 12 years between Connery and Ford in real life, though Spielberg did have another, more age-appropriate actor in mind to play the older Jones as a plan B.

Had Connery turned the part down, Spielberg’s list of potential replacements for Henry Sr included a couple of big names.

One was the English actor Jon Pertwee, at the time best known for playing the title character in Doctor Who.

The director’s top pick other than Connery, however, was Gregory Peck – an actor who, as the square-jawed all-American hero of his day, was very much a forebear of Ford’s.

15. Spielberg wanted Laurence Olivier to play the Grail Knight

At the climax of Last Crusade, Indy meets the Grail Knight, now centuries old and considerably weakened by his time sat on guard in the temple.

When casting the part, Spielberg at first considered a British acting legend to play the ancient knight.

Spielberg wanted Laurence Olivier, the Oscar-winning thesp best known for his Shakespeare adaptations, to cameo as the knight.

Unfortunately, the actor, then aged 82, was too frail to play the part. Olivier ultimately died of renal failure around the time of Last Crusade’s release.

The role of the Grail Knight instead went to Shakespearean actor Robert Eddison, also 82, and who himself died only two years after the film’s release.

14. George Lucas originally suggested making Indy 3 a haunted house movie

The fourth Indiana Jones movie, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, notoriously went through many, many drafts, with multiple screenwriters coming and going over the course of some 19 years as ideas were concocted then scrapped entirely.

Though its production was comparatively smoother, the Last Crusade less famously went through its own troubled development lasting from 1984 to 1989.

While a less-interested Spielberg would only make the film because of a contractual obligation he had to producer George Lucas, Lucas’ original ideas could have nixed the Crusades angle altogether.

One idea of Lucas’ was to turn the third Indy film into a haunted house movie, with the Holy Grail only featuring in the prologue.

Though Lucas had Romancing the Stone writer Diane Thomas write a script based on this concept, Spielberg ultimately rejected the idea, having only recently worked on Poltergeist.

13. The film almost had Indy searching for the Fountain of Youth in Africa

After it was decided the “haunted mansion” concept for Indy 3 should be scrapped, Lucas and Spielberg started afresh.

On second crack, the pair turned to The Goonies’ Chris Columbus for inspiration, handing him a Lucas script treatment for a sequel entitled Indiana Jones and the Monkey King as a jumping-off point.

In this treatment, Indy would fight the ghost of a man named Baron Seamus Seagrove III in Scotland, before heading to Africa in search of the Fountain of Youth.

Immediately, Columbus made changes in his screenplay, turning the ‘Fountain of Youth’ into a Garden of Immortal Peaches, before going completely off-piste by introducing Japanese pirates, a Nazi officer with a mechanical arm and a 200-year-old African pygmy.

In Columbus’ Monkey King script, Indy would travel to Mozambique where he would meet a Katherine Hepburn-type doctor, do battle with Nazis after they kidnap the pygmy and be resurrected by the mythical Monkey King following a climactic action sequence in which he’s killed.

Unsurprisingly, this bizarre screenplay was nixed.

12. Ford did (almost all) his own stunts

Typically for an Indiana Jones movie, the title character gets battered and bruised through multiple action setpieces in Last Crusade.

Rather than sit back for his third outing as the whip-cracking archaeologist, Harrison Ford – then aged 47 – insisted on giving his stuntman a break for a change.

Indy riding a horse at speed to chase down the German tank? That’s Ford (albeit with Indy’s trademark hat glued to his head, in order to avoid losing it).

Indiana being dragged along the wall when he’s hanging off one of said tank’s gun turrets? Ford again.

Ford put in so much physical work through the course of filming that at one point his regular stuntman Vic Armstrong took him aside and asked him to let him “do some work”.

11. The story of Indiana being named after a dog is based on reality

Unique among films in the series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade offers us a peek into Indy’s history.

With the introduction of Henry Sr, we get an extended flashback scene and a look at the decisions that would come to shape Indy’s life.

One lighthearted moment in the film reveals that Jones – real name Henry Jr – took his nickname as a child from the Jones family pet, dog Indiana.

It’s fiction imitating life: Indiana Jones producer George Lucas also named Indiana after his own dog named Indiana.

It was almost so different: in early discussions for the film, Jones was named Indiana Smith, the name originally an homage to the 1966 Steve McQueen western Nevada Smith.

10. Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark makes a cameo (kind of)

Did you spot Ronald Lacey, aka Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Toht, in The Last Crusade? Look closer.

Lacey can be glimpsed in just a single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot during the book burning/Nazi rally sequence.

Lacey can be seen in a black uniform watching over a small army of Nazi troops, or pretty much the same as we saw him last in Raiders.

In Last Crusade, however, Lacey is playing a different character entirely (which makes sense considering Toht melted at the end of Raiders): Heinrich Himmler.

In real life, Himmler was Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man, the head of the SS and one of the masterminds behind the Holocaust.

9. Spielberg turned down directing Big and Rain Man to make the Last Crusade

The Last Crusade, unsurprisingly for an Indiana Jones film, turned out to be a huge box office smash, grossing almost half a billion dollars worldwide when it opened in 1989.

Still, before he directed the third Indy, Spielberg had the chance to direct two films that would prove to be critical and commercial hits in their own right.

The bodyswap comedy Big, which was co-written by Spielberg’s sister Anne, was written for Spielberg to direct and Harrison Ford to star, but ultimately neither were interested.

More interesting to Spielberg was the buddy drama Rain Man, which he began developing as a project before director Barry Levinson and actors Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman signed on.

After Lucas convinced him to make Indy 3 a priority, Spielberg ultimately dropped out of making either Big or Rain Man in order to focus on his Indiana trilogy closer. Both movies would open in 1988.

8. The film is Spielberg’s personal favourite of the Indiana Jones series

Though Last Crusade has its fans, you won’t find many who rank it top of the pile for Indiana Jones films.

The freshness of Raiders and the cult weirdness of Temple of Doom tend to see those films come out on top for most fans in terms of franchise rankings (with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, natch, almost always taking last place).

For the director of the Indiana Jones films himself, however, Last Crusade is the great Indiana Jones movie.

Though Raiders is often cited as one of the greatest action movies ever, Spielberg has gone on record saying he feels most fondly about the third film.

The critics feel differently, of course: for them, it goes Raiders (95% on Rotten Tomatoes), Last Crusade (88%), Temple of Doom (85%) and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (78%).

7. Spielberg made Last Crusade to ‘apologise’ for Temple of Doom

Last Crusade might be an odd choice of personal favourite Indy movie for Spielberg, but his least-favourite might come as an even bigger surprise.

No, it’s not Crystal Skull (he’s “proud” to have made ‘nuked the fridge’ a saying), but 1984’s Temple of Doom, a film which grossed millions at the box office but left Spielberg himself cold.

In a 1989 interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Spielberg admitted he made Last Crusade in part to “apologise for the second one”.

On reflection, Spielberg felt Temple of Doom was “too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific”, and so returned for the third film to course-correct.

The explanation for bringing back Marcus and Sallah and resurrecting the Nazis as villains? It was all part of Spielberg’s effort to recapture the spirit of Raiders following Temple.

6. The film features a first for digital special effects

One of the (many) pleasures of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is how pleasingly old-school the movie is.

Though there isn’t a blockbuster from the modern day that doesn’t feature at least some digital effects, Last Crusade is entirely practical, with physical sets and in-camera special effects galore.

Almost entirely practical, that is, except for one shot that broke the mould for special effects in Hollywood.

To create the scene in which Donovan sips from the wrong grail and rapidly ages, Spielberg assembled the first all-digital composite shot for a film.

To get the shot, the Last Crusade special effects team built three different animatronic heads of Donovan in worsening stages of decay. Spielberg then shot all three heads against bluescreen and combined the three shots in post-production.

5. The character of ‘Fedora’ was credited as Abner Ravenwood in the original script

Oft-discussed but never seen, Abner Ravenwood casts a long shadow over the Indiana Jones franchise.

Father to Marion, Indy’s mentor and the original seeker of the lost Ark, Abner is the great Indiana Jones character we never actually got to meet. Though we almost did.

In the original scripts for Last Crusade, Abner featured as a character who the young Indy meets in the opening sequence, dressed in an outfit similar to the adult Indy’s iconic get-up and lifting treasures that the young Indy believes “belong in a museum”.

In the final film, this character still exists, played by actor Richard Young, only he’s credited simply as ‘Fedora’, Spielberg and Lucas opting late in the game to obscure the character’s identity.

Of course, the mysterious man in the fedora could still rightly be anyone. Whether he’s the mythical Abner is up to the viewer.

4. Sean Connery improvised the “she talks in her sleep” line

After George Lucas and Steven Spielberg finally convinced Sean Connery to star in the third Indiana Jones movie, it proved a casting coup in more ways than one.

Not only did Connery bring his James Bond baggage and consummate professionalism to the set, the actor also brought his improvisation skills.

Even though the Last Crusade script went through multiple Hollywood screenwriters, it was Connery who was responsible for the best line of dialogue in the film.

In the scene where Indy and his father are reunited, the elder Jones hints at his own romantic relationship with Elsa, saying: “She talks in her sleep.”

This was just something that Connery improvised on-set, prompting the crew to break into laughter and Spielberg to declare there and then: “Well, that’s in.”

3. The motorcycle chase almost didn’t make it into the movie

With Spielberg and Lucas throwing seemingly all their crazy ideas at the wall, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is awash with inventive setpieces.

Arguably best of all though, following the rollercoaster prologue featuring young Indy and the Venice chase sequence, is the mid-film motorcycle escape from the German castle.

What’s incredible is the motorcycle chase, in which Indy and Henry Sr flee Donovan’s Nazis in a bike and sidecar, almost didn’t make it into the film at all.

The scene wasn’t in the shooting script, in fact, and hadn’t even been shot when Lost Crusade entered post-production in late 1988.

It was only after filming had ended, and Spielberg and editor Michael Kahn viewed their first cut of the film, that they decided they needed more action.

Spielberg conducted reshoots around Skywalker Ranch in early 1989, adding the motorcycle chase into the film at the last minute.

2. The actor who played Hitler was a serial depicter of the Fuhrer

In Last Crusade’s most chilling sequence, Indy – dressed as a Nazi officer – comes face to face with Adolf Hitler himself at a book-burning rally.

The actor playing the notorious dictator, Michael Sheard, goes uncredited in the film, but rest assured Sheard was an expert in the art of depicting the Fuhrer.

Sheard, a Scottish character best known for playing Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back, played the leader of the Third Reich a total of five times in his career.

Sheard first played Hitler in the 1976 TV movie Rogue Male. He played him for the last time in the 2003 documentary Hitler of the Andes.

Nazi officials were something of a specialty for Sheard: in his time, Sheard also played Heinrich Himmler on three separate occasions, while cameoing as a double for Hermann Goering in the British sitcom Allo Allo.

1. Harrison Ford personally chose River Phoenix to play the younger Indy

By the time he came to shooting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade aged just 18, River Phoenix was already world-famous.

Thanks to powerful performances in films including Stand by Me and Running On Empty, Phoenix was a superstar with considerable acclaim already behind him when Steven Spielberg came calling.

It was working with Harrison Ford on The Mosquito Coast, Peter Weir’s 1986 family drama, though, that got Phoenix the part of the young Indiana.

With Phoenix having already convincingly played Ford’s son in that film, Ford felt that Phoenix was the best fit physically to play Indy as a teen.

It was actually Ford who recommended the young actor to Steven Spielberg for the part. When Phoenix arrived on-set, he studied Ford during their down-time to better get a grasp of his mannerisms.