What influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark?

If I had to pick, I’d say Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is my favorite movie of all time. I saw it in 1984 when I was 8 years old, on VHS, using the top-loading General Electric VCR in our family room. The evening viewing was followed the next day by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) in the theater with my 17-year-old brother Ed. I was probably too young to do either of these things (though Meagan when six when her parents took her, so, talk to them.) It was a formative influence on me and forever informed how I thought about movies.

This is our first attempt to map a movie here at Influenced It. We’ve built this as a permanent page (versus a fleeting blog post) with the expectation that this will evolve over time. It is by no means complete (as of 10/27/20). We haven’t even touched the legacy of the movie. The goal is provide easy visual clarity with the chart above, with deeper context below if you so choose. Where possible, we’ve cited where you can stream the thing we’re talking about. For example, you can see Raiders and subsequent entries to the series on Netflix. Almost everything here can be obtained via renting on Amazon, so I only specify if you have a shot of seeing it “free” with a service you already pay for.

The Transcript

The Indiana Jones series is special (perhaps unique?) in the history of cinema, in that there is a recording and transcript of a weekend-long writing workshop between the producer (George Lucas), writer (Lawrence Kasdan) and director (Steven Spielberg) of the first film. Over this weekend, they lay out much of the scaffolding for the character, the journey, the plot devices, and the broad vision for the first three films. This is the impossibly-ideal primary resource for our efforts here at Influenced It: an artifact generated by the creators, with explicit discussion of influence, unencumbered by public exposure or the potential Schrodinger’s Cat effect of interviewing people. In the first two pages, several guiding influences are laid out, as outlined below:

The Republic Serials

I HATE mustaches.”

Early in the recording, Lucas says: “As I build this up, you’ll see it’s done vaguely by the numbers. Generally, the concept is a serial idea. Done like the Republic serials. As a thirties serial. Which is where a lot of stuff comes from anyway. One of the main ideas was to have, depending on whether it would be every ten minutes or every twenty minutes, a sort of a cliffhanger situation that we get our hero into.”

Via IMDb: “Before television, a trip to the cinema might include a cartoon, a newsreel, and a serial along with the main feature/s. The serials–nicknamed cliffhangers, for their tendency to leave the hero in dire straits (such as, say, hanging from a cliff)–ran between twelve to fifteen chapters, and were deliberately designed to lure the audience back to the next show to see the outcome...Universal, Columbia, and Republic [were] widely regarded as the best of the three.”

How to see it: Old Republic videos can be found scattered across the web, including Lone Ranger, Captain Marvel and Zorro.

Bond, Eastwood

This reminds me, my white tux is still at the cleaners.

Again, Lucas: “…another important concept of the movie — that it be totally believable. It’s a spaghetti western, only it takes place in the thirties. Or it’s James Bond and it takes place in the thirties. Except James Bond tends to get a little outrageous at times. We’re going to take the unrealistic side of it off, and make it more like the Clint Eastwood westerns. The thing with this is, we want to make a very believable character. We want him to be extremely good at what he does, as is the Clint Eastwood character or the James Bond character. James Bond and the man with no name were very good at what they did. They were very, fast with a gun, they were very slick, they were very professional.”

How to See it: This is a pretty good breakdown of the cluster* it is to stream all the Bond movies. Eastwood movies aren’t much easier.

Toshiro Mifune

Did I forget to shave?

Lucas: They were Supermen.

Spielberg: Like Mifune. 

Lucas: Yes, like Mifune. He’s a real professional. He’s really good. And that is the key to the whole thing. That’s something you don’t see that much anymore. 

Spielberg: And one of the things that really helped Mifune in all the Kurosawa movies is that he was always surrounded by really inept characters, real silly buffoons, which made him so much more majestic. If there are occasions where he comes up against, not the arch villain, but the people around him shouldn’t be the smartest… 

Lucas: Well, they shouldn’t be buffoons. The one thing we’re going to do is make a very good period piece, that is realistic and believable. A thirties movie in the, even in the Sam Spade genre. Even in the Maltese Falcon there were some pretty goofy characters, but they were all pretty real in their own bizarre way.

Via Wikipedia: Toshiro Mifune (1920–1997) was a Japanese actor who appeared in over 150 feature films. He is best known for his 16-film collaboration (1948–1965) with Akira Kurosawa in such works as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo. He also portrayed Miyamoto Musashi in Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy and one earlier Inagaki film, Lord Toranaga in the NBC television miniseries Shōgun, and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in three different films.

How to see him: It looks like you can see Rashomon on HBO Max, but this has not been directly verified.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Sometimes you eat the bar…

Lucas: We’re putting him in the kind of Bogart mold…The image of him which is the strongest image is the “Treasure Of Sierra Madre” outfit, which is the khaki pants, he’s got the leather jacket, that sort of felt hat, and the pistol and holster with a World War One sort of flap over it. He’s going into the jungle carrying his gun. The other thing we’ve added to him, which may be fun, is a bull whip. That’s really his trade mark. That’s really what he’s good at. He has a pistol, and he’s probably very good at that, but at the same time he happens to be very good with a bull whip. It’s really more of a hobby than anything else. Maybe he came from Montana, someplace, and he… There are freaks who love bull whips. They just do it all the time. It’s a device that hasn’t been used in a long time.

How to see it: HBO Max or rent on Amazon

What about the rest of it?

Yes, we know. We are looking at ways to wiki-fy these pages so that it will be easier for the community at large to contribute. Until then, it takes a fair amount of time to mine the influence reference, link, context, where to stream, etc. I think the phrase goes that it took at least two days to build Rome.

Stay tuned…

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