The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Classic Movie Review 165

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.




Today’s movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). This movie is rated a very impressive 8.5 on[1] and a super impressive 95 percent on the Tomatometer and 96 percent audience approval on[2]. So not too shabby.

Film critic Roger Ebert said:

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is an out-of-body experience, a movie of glorious imagination and breakneck speed that grabs you in the first shot, hurtles you through a series of incredible adventures, and deposits you back in reality two hours later — breathless, dizzy, wrung-out, and with a silly grin on your face.[3]

I’ll take that as two big old thumbs up. Just so we’re crystal clear, this is nothing like real archaeology, except punching Nazis. Also, another clarification, I did not go into archaeology because of Indiana Jones. I started in archaeology around 1986. While Jones wasn’t the cause, he sure made it cooler to be an archaeologist.



Karen Allen is awesome as Marion Ravenwood. Allen was first covered in Episode 96 – Scrooged (1988). Denholm Elliott plays the bookish museum administrator, Dr. Marcus Brody. Elliott was covered in Episode 164 – The Razor’s Edge (1984). Terry Richards shows up again as an Arab swordsman. Richards was first covered in High Road to China (1983).


Harrison Ford played the main role as an archaeologist, Indy or Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford was born in 1942 in Chicago. That makes one of his lines from Hanover Street (1979) funnier. Ford is the highest grossing actor of all time (as of 2018). He has made some of the most important, iconic, and cultural known films ever. However, he has made more than his share of dogs.

Ford was a Life Scout and remains active in conservation. He attended Ripon College in Wisconsin but left before he graduated. He began doing summer stock and television work. He was uncredited in his first film Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966) but was credited in A Time for Killing (1967). When he was not acting, he worked as a roadie for “The Doors,” but mostly he worked as a self-taught carpenter.

He got his first big break playing Bob Falfa in American Graffiti (1973). He was the cowboy that drove around all night trying to race Milner. He was in the Henry Winkler post-Vietnam tale Heroes (1977). However, his next movie would make him a star. That movie was Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), or as us older folks know it “Star Wars.” Harrison’s Hans Solo character has infused the culture of the world, only slightly less than another significant charter he played.

Harrison has an okay run of movies with a small spot in Apocalypse Now (1979), World War II’s Hanover Street (1979), where  someone in the film stated that Chicago was where all the gangsters were from and he replied, not all, just the best ones, he was in two unfortunate sequels, Force 10 From Navarone (1978) and More American Graffiti (1979). Then Ford blazed back playing the straight man cowboy to Gene Wilder funny man rabbi in The Frisco Kid (1979), a film I highly recommend.

He then got into the meat of it with Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), which left him in a pickle at the end, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), where he played the most famous archaeologist ever, Indiana Jones. As I mentioned in High Road to China (1983), Ford was responsible for one of the most iconic scenes, where he shot the swordsman instead of fighting him. This was done to shorten the scene as Ford was sick. He was great in the sci-fi Blade Runner (1982) and returned as Solo in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). Sadly, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) was made, and he was in it.

He ebbed somewhat with Witness (1985), where he went undercover to protect an Amish witness, The Mosquito Coast (1986), about a family trying to find a new life in the Amazon Jungle, with stars Helen Mirren and River Phoenix, Frantic (1988), a thriller directed by a pedophile, and 1980s funny Working Girl (1988).

He boomed back to the top with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). His pairing with an older Sean Connery was amazing. This was followed by mostly adventure films like The Fugitive (1993), Patriot Games (1992), the one exception Sabrina (1995), a remake of the classic Sabrina (1954) that showed very little improvement, Clear and Present Danger (1994), Air Force One (1997), The Devil’s Own (1997), K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), and Hollywood Homicide (2003).

Sadly, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), was made and he was in it. He did well as a mean guy in the surprisingly good Cowboys & Aliens (2011), did poorly in Ender’s Game (2013), and finally saw the end of Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

He reprised his role in Blade Runner 2049 (2017), did voice work for The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019), and has been announced for a 2021 Indiana Jones Project. I think the working title is “Indiana Jones and the Colostomy Bag.”

John Rhys-Davies played Egyptian excavator Sallah. He was born in the United Kingdom in 1944. He was raised in England, Wales, and Africa. He studied at the London Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He has worked extensively on stage and on television including the great mini-series “Shogun” 1980. His first big role was as the friend of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). He wisely skipped the second one and returned for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

Other films, Rhys-Davies is known for include Victor Victoria (1982), King Solomon’s Mines (1985), The Living Daylights (1987), and one of my personal favorites, The Great White Hype (1996), where he continually pushes the fighter he is training to be racist. While he will always be Sallah to me, he is now known as dwarf Gimli for his appearances in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)


The movie begins with a group of men walking in a South American jungle in 1936. When one of the brush cutters exposes a statue, all but three men run away. The leader of the group pulls a blow dart from a tree. One of his men, Satipo (Alfred Molina) tastes the poison and announces that the Hovitos Indians are near. The leader of the group stops and consults his map. The third member of the group pulls out a gun. The leader turns and bullwhips the gun out of the man’s hand. The man then runs away into the jungle. The leader of the group is Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). Indy and Satipo continue until they find a temple entrance. Satipo warns against going in, but Indy, who knows that his competitor Forestall was killed inside, enters anyway.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The two men enter and move through spider webs. Large groups of tarantulas drop on them. Indy calmly removes them with his whip. There is a beam of light shining into the passage and Indy says to stay out of it. He puts his hand in the light and spikes come out of the wall with the rotted remains of Forestall. They swing across a large hole using the bullwhip. Indy then sees a large golden statue. There are pressure sensitive plates on the floor that release sharp arrows. Indy eyes the statue and prepares a bag of sand to place on the stand when he removes the statue. He makes the switch, and everything seems fine. Then the base of the statue starts descending.

The temple starts to come apart, and Indy has to run across the pressure plates. Satipo crosses the hole ahead of Indy. He won’t throw the whip back until Indy throws him the idol. When Indy does, Satipo drops the whip and runs. Indy jumps the hole and barely makes it. He has to duck under a door that is closing. When he gets to the spike wall, Satipo has been killed. Indy gets the idol just before seeing a giant stone ball rolling towards him. He is chased by the ball and narrowly makes it out alive.

Outside he is met by fierce Hovitos. The man that tried to shot his is there with a back full of poison darts. A French man, Dr. René Belloq (Paul Freeman) steps up and takes the idol away from Indy. When Belloq holds the statue up the native’s bow and Indy escapes. Belloq sends the warrior to kill Indy. Indy makes it to a sea biplane waiting in the river. The plane flies away as arrows and spears fill the air. Indy gets in, and there is a snake in the plane. It is the only thing Indy fears.

Indy returns to his class, and all the young girls love him. After class, Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) comes to see Indy about his adventures. Brody has two government agents with him. They are questioning him about an intercepted Nazi message, that mentions Indy’ old professor Abner Ravenwood and the Staff of Ra. The Nazis are excavating Tanis and looking for the Israelite Ark of the Covenant, which contains the remains of the Ten Commandments. It may be a weapon.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The US government pays Indy to travel to Asia to look for Ravenwood and Staff of Ra. He packs his whip and his pistol. When Indy gets on the plane, there are already Nazi agents aboard.

In Nepal, a local man and a woman, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), are having a drinking contest. Marion wins and then empties the bar that she owns. The shadow of Indy is shown on the wall. She recognizes him and smiles before punching him in the face. Apparently, they had an affair 10-years prior, which would have made her 14 or 15, uh. She tells him that her father is dead. Indy asks about the headpiece and offers her $3,000. She tells him to come back tomorrow.

After Indy leaves, Marion shows that she has the headpiece on a chain around her neck. A pig-faced Nazi and his henchmen come in and start to rough up Marion for the headpiece. The Nazi gets a red-hot poker from the fire and moves towards Marion. A whip cracks and Indy snatches the poker away from Marion’s face. A gun battle ensues, and the headpiece gets tossed in the fire. By now the entire bar is burning. Pigface grabs the metal and burns the print into his hand before dropping it and running out. Indy and Marion finish off the bad guys, but the bar is burned to the ground. Marion says, “well Jones, at least you haven’t forgotten how to show a lady a good time.”

The pair travel by plane to Cairo, where they stay with Indy’s old friend, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), who just happens to work on the Tanis excavation. Belloq is one of the chief excavators. Sallah says the Nazis have found the map room and may be close to discovering the Well of Souls. Nazis and their agents are watching Indy and Marion’s every move. They send a team of black hooded assassins to attack Indy. The pair fights off the attackers and flees through the market. Finally, Indy uses his whip and is separated from Marion. She handles herself pretty well until a Nazi monkey rats her out. Finally, the head assassin (Terry Richards) faces Indy with a very large sword. Indy pulls his pistol and shots the man.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The Nazis spirit Marion away in a basket as Indy tries unsuccessfully to find her. The bad guy’s load Marion in a truck full of explosives. Indy shots the driver, and the truck explodes, killing Marion.

Indy retreats to a bottle. German agents get Indy and bring him in the bar to talk to Belloq. Belloq thinks the ark is a transmitter to God. Indy gets ready to kill the Frenchman, and everyone in the bar pulls out a gun. Sallah’s kids come in and save Indy from certain death.

Sallah and Indy go to see an old man that can translate the inscription on the headpiece. Sallah says he has seen a reproduction of the headpiece. The Nazi used the reproduction to find a location to dig for the Well of Souls. But they only have the burned handprint of the headpiece. The back of the headpiece says to take away one unit of height as a tribute to God. So, the Nazis are digging in the wrong place.

In the morning, Sallah and Indy sneak into the map room and use correct sized staff to calculate the location of the Well of Souls, when the Sun shines through the jewel on the headpiece. Finally, Sallah is able to get Indy out of the map room.

Indy ducks in a tent to avoid some Nazis and find Marion tied to a post. She is alive. Indy decided to leave Marion tied and gagged so the Nazis won’t be alerted. Lock your dog and girlfriend in a trunk for an hour and see which one is happy to see you when you get back.

Indy uses an optical transit to precisely locate the Well of Souls. The Nazis bring Pigface back to interrogate Marion, over Belloq objection. Indy, Sallah, and a work crew begin digging at the location of the Well of Souls. The crew digs into the night and an odd storm forms overhead. They find the opening and lift the lid. They look in and see that the floor is moving. They drop a torch, and the room is full of snakes.

Back at Belloq tent, he is trying to get all sexy with Marion. He gives her a fancy dress to wear. She plays Belloq pretty well and steals a knife.

Back at the Well of Souls, Indy is lowered into the pit of snakes. He pumps gas on the snakes and sets a large number of them on fire.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Back at the tent, Marion is using her superior drinking skills. Sallah and Indy lift the top off of the box containing the Ark. R2D2 and C3PO from Star Wars (1977) are carved on the wall in the Well of Souls and are shown two times in the scene[4]. Marion is using the mating call of the southern belle: I’ve never been this drunk before. Finally, she pulls the knife, but Pigface is there with his Nazi buddies. Sallah and Indy remove the Ark of the Covent from its resting place and prepare it to be lifted out of the hole. The diggers pull the crate out, and the snakes begin to counter-attack. Belloq sees the digging and calls for Nazi troops. Sallah is pulled out but the Nazi trap Indy in the hole. Pigface throws Marion into the hole. The Nazis closed the top of the hole.

As the snakes move in, Indy uses his whip and leverage to break through the wall. They are safe from the snakes, but they are in a catacomb full of dead and decaying bodies. Indy finds the way out. From their escape hole on the side of the temple, they see a Nazi plane that is to be used to transport the Ark. Indy is discovered, and he beats down a Nazi or two until a super-sized Nazi comes out and challenges him to a fistfight. Marion pulls the chock on the plane, and it starts to move in a circle with Marion trapped inside. She does some fancy Nazi shooting herself. The two men continue to fight as fuel leaks on the ground. Big Nazi gets zapped by the propeller. Indy gets Marion out of the plane before it blows.

The Nazis have the ark crate marked with a swastika. Sallah finds Indy and Marion and tells them the Ark is being loaded onto a truck. The locals try to stop the Nazis but can’t. Indy sends Sallah and Marion back to Cairo, and he follows the truck on a horse. Indy leaps on the truck and overpowers the Nazi drivers. Indy wipes out a bunch on Nazi vehicles. Finally, the Nazis in the back start climb towards the cab. He loses most of them, but one Nazi makes it through and shoots Indy in the arm. Another Nazi goes over the top of the truck and throws Indy out the front windshield. To keep from being crushed, he has to slide under the truck. This is the same stunt that was done on a stagecoach in Stagecoach (1939). Anyway, Indy comes back over the top and gets control of the truck again. Indy runs Belloq, Pigface, and company off the road.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

In Cairo, the truck with the Ark is driven into Omar’s Garage, and a fake street scene is set up to fool the Nazis. Sallah loads Marion and Indy of a cargo boat with the Ark and a captain he trusts: Katanga (George Harris). Indy and Marion get some time alone. Indy is beaten and sore and says it’s not the age, but the mileage, before he passes out.

In the hold of the ship, the Swastika and other Nazi symbols are burned off the crate, from the inside. Indy wakes when he hears that ship engines have stopped. A Nazi U-boat has stopped the ship. The Nazis take the Ark and Marion off the ship, but they can’t find Indy. Katanga tells the Nazis that he killed Indy.

When the Nazis leave, the people on the ship can’t find Indy. Finally, they see him climbing onto the U-boat. The U-boat travels to an island south of Greece. Indy is still hidden, and Marion is with Belloq.

Belloq has an area prepared in Jewish tradition to open the Ark. Indy sneaks into the ceremony area and prepares to destroy the Ark with a Panzerfaust, a German type of bazooka. Indy says all he wants is Marion. Belloq bluffs Indy because he knows he won’t destroy it. Beloq says your life has been spent in pursuit of archaeological relics. Indy puts down the weapon and is captured.

That night Belloq dresses as an Israelite priest and begins reciting. Indy and Marion are tied to a post. They open the Ark, and it appears to be just sand inside. Pigface laughs hysterically. Suddenly electricity begins to crackle and lights blow out. A low hum is heard, and an image begins to rises for the Ark as mist spreads among the Nazis. Indy tells Marion to keep her eyes closed.

Fast spirits begin flying among the men. Belloq looks at one of the spirits and says it is beautiful, just before it takes on the face of a demon. A beam shoots out of the Ark and kills all of the Nazis. Pigface and the head Nazis melt, and Belloq’s head explodes. The spirits flow to heaving, and everything snaps back into the Ark. Dang, even God hates those Nazis.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Indy gets the Ark back to America, and the government takes it away from them. They lock it away in a huge storage area and say they have top men working on it. Marion’s looking good and is happy with Indy.

World-Famous Short Summary – You go into archaeology for two reasons, to find treasure and to punch Nazis.

I hope you enjoyed today’s show. I really appreciate you spending the time listening. You can find connections to social media and email on my site at There are links in the podcast show notes as well. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to Apple Podcast and give me a review. It really helps the show get found.

Beware the moors


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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