Lost Words

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As Steven Spielberg¨s classic adventure celebrates its 40th anniversary, here are behind-the-scenes stories of dizzy rats, raucous boulders and friendly flies.

Harrison Ford in ^Raiders of the Lost Ark. ̄Harrison Ford in ^Raiders of the Lost Ark. ̄Credit…Paramount Pictures

By Amy Nicholson

June 11, 2021Updated 1:15 p.m. ET

Eight months after introducing the world to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewbacca, George Lucas invited Steven Spielberg and the screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to his assistant¨s home in Los Angeles to pitch a new name for adventure.

^Indiana Smith, ̄ Lucas said. ^Very Americana square. ̄

Sighed Spielberg, ^I hate this, but go ahead. ̄

Over the next five days, according to a story conference transcript, the three concocted a swashbuckling archaeologist who fused Humphrey Bogart to James Bond. They gave Indy a bullwhip and a passport ! and they tweaked his name.

^Jones, ̄ Lucas conceded, ^people can call him Jones. ̄

That brainstorming session, of course, led to ^Raiders of the Lost Ark, ̄ which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month (and is streaming on Paramount+). Four decades later, the iconic hit has become the pivot point between cinema¨s past and present. Indiana Jones¨s narrow escapes from Nazis, boulders, blow darts, poisoned dates, speeding trucks and, of course, snakes, tip a fedora to the cliffhanger serials of the 1930s ! the kiddie adventures that shaped his creators ! even as they calibrated their nostalgia into a cross-promotional blockbuster that would define Hollywood¨s future.

^What we¨re just doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland, ̄ Spielberg said at that first meeting. Prophetic words. Yet, like Indy¨s exploits around the globe, the film¨s production history is itself a tale of misadventure, lucky breaks and inspiration. Here are four secret stories from the set.


A scene from the end of ^Raiders of the Lost Ark. ̄ Much of the warehouse is a matte painting made by?Michael Pangrazio.A scene from the end of ^Raiders of the Lost Ark. ̄ Much of the warehouse is a matte painting made by?Michael Pangrazio.Credit…Paramount Pictures

Black-and-white serials like ^Tarzan ̄ and ^Jungle Jim ̄ couldn¨t electrify their thrills with C.G.I. Neither would ^Raiders. ̄ The film¨s set pieces, from locations to traps, are temples of old Hollywood craftsmanship. Indy¨s seaplane departure, the snowbound Nepalese saloon and the plummeting cliffs of Cairo were all handmade matte paintings. On average, a matte painting has only a few seconds before the audience catches on to the trick. Yet, the sprawling warehouse in the film¨s final shot had to command the screen for nearly half a minute and took the artist Michael Pangrazio three months to complete. For the opening boulder chase, Spielberg commissioned a 12-foot fiberglass and plaster rock mounted at the top of a 40-yard track. Even at a mere 300 pounds ! mere, that is, relative to 80 tons of genuine granite ! the fake behemoth shattered the prop stalagmites in its path and they had to be replaced between each take. And the boulder might have crushed the star Harrison Ford if he hadn¨t outrun it all 10 times. ^He was lucky, ̄ Spielberg said in American Cinematographer magazine, ^and I was an idiot for letting him try it. ̄

ImageAs Marion and Indy leave the Well of Souls, another figure is on the ground in the shot.Credit…Paramount Pictures

During the worst stretch of filming on location in Tunisia, the crew must have wished the entire Egypt sequence could have been hand-painted. Temperatures clawed to 130 degrees and everyone but Spielberg got waylaid by food poisoning. (Spielberg packed a crate of canned food, which he ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, often cold.) In an article she wrote for The Washington Post that recalled her time on set, the photographer Nancy Moran observed Spielberg moaning that he wanted to go home, while fearing that Lucas, sunburned and exhausted, ^will be arriving with his feet in Kleenex boxes soon. ̄ Their suffering excuses the continuity errors in the Well of Souls sequence, where bricks, rocks and even a truck shift restlessly in the frame as though they, too, are anxious for an iced tea by the hotel pool. The most egregious blooper occurs when Indy and Marion burst through the Well of Souls two feet from what appears to be an unconscious man in a blue shirt. The man is a vestige from either a deleted fight scene or a failed gag in which a worker is so startled to see living bodies exhumed from a 1,000-year-old sealed tomb that he faints dead. The mystery of his origins is matched by a second question: Why is a 1,000-year-old sealed tomb covered in construction scaffolding?

ImageFord with Terry Richards in a duel scene.Credit…Paramount Pictures

Alas, Ford, too, was stricken with dysentery when it came time to shoot an epic sword-versus-whip duel for which Spielberg had budgeted a day and a half of filming, according to the 1996 biography ^Spielberg: The Man, the Movies, the Mythology. ̄ Ford asked if they could wrap the scene in an hour. ^Yeah, if you shoot him, ̄ Spielberg joked. So they did, and the wordless punchline got one of the film¨s biggest laughs. Still, when healthy, Ford performed a subtler physical comedy that merits its own applause. The best showcase of the star¨s Buster Keaton-esque athleticism can be spotted in his showdown against Pat Roach¨s shirtless Nazi plane mechanic. Facing such Teutonic brawn, Ford clings wearily to the Flying Wing like a polar bear grips an iceberg. He hesitates before launching ! and whiffing ! a punch. His knees wobble when he gets slugged. His Indy is so impossibly outmatched that when Roach backhands his right cheek, a dazed Ford pirouettes toward the blow and out of frame, defying the laws of physics. Outmuscled, Indy fights dirty. He bites, throws sand, aims for the crotch, and, ultimately, is rescued by the plane¨s propeller. Compared with modern superheroes who barely wince when a skyscraper falls on their head, his frailty makes him human ! and his survival more thrilling.

ImagePaul Freeman, foreground, and the fly on his lower lip.Credit…Paramount Pictures

Also improvised? The animal performances, a natural byproduct of casting snakes and tarantulas instead of golden retrievers. Apart from a few nips at the calves of the animal handler Steve Edge, who shaved his legs to double as Karen Allen, the snakes ! all 6,500 of them ! mostly behaved themselves, so much that Spielberg, when anxious, could cradle one in his hands like a rosary. Not the treacherous capuchin monkey, which, despite being trained to perform a Nazi salute, squandered 50 takes before an exasperated Lucas, handling the insert shot, dangled a grape on a fishing line. As for the eerie rat that spins in circles in front of the ark of the covenant, it simply had an equilibrium problem. In the most unnerving moment of improv, just as Paul Freeman, playing Indy¨s French rival, Belloq, sneers, ^Your persistence surprises even me, ̄ a fly chose to crawl across the actor¨s lower lip and, apparently, into his mouth. Did Freeman eat the fly? He¨s often asked and claims that its escape was edited out. Yet Spielberg disagrees. ^I have inspected those frames the way some people have inspected the Zapruder film, ̄ he told Empire magazine. ^That fly went into Paul Freeman¨s mouth and Paul was so absorbed that he didn¨t realize he¨d swallowed the bugger. ̄ Indiana Jones himself would agree that some stories are better left as myths.


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TAMPA ! The chatter began even before Nikita Kucherov returned to the ice. The Lightning were, the whispers went, manipulating the salary cap by hiding one of the NHL¨s most accomplished players on long-term injured reserve. Once Kucherov started working his typical magic against the Florida Panthers in the first round, the chatter exploded into full-blown accusations and conspiracy theories on social media and radio.

Now that Carolina has been dispatched by Tampa Bay in the second round, the issue has been raised anew by defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who said, in a matter-of-fact way, that the Hurricanes had been defeated by a team that was $18 million over the salary cap.

Okay, so two points I want to make here:

1. Hamilton is right.

2. So what?

Let¨s address these points one at a time. First of all, what Hamilton said was technically accurate.

Between Kucherov, Marian Gaborik, Anders Nilsson and a brief stay by Steven Stamkos, the Lightning spent roughly $18 million higher than the $81.5 million salary cap by putting players on the long-term injured list. This is completely within the NHL¨s rules. The idea is that teams should not be penalized for losing a top player to a major injury, which is exactly what happened with Kucherov after his December hip surgery.

Since the salary cap is not enforced during the postseason, Kucherov was free to return once his rehab was completed. (Which means the Lightning¨s active roster is only about $9 million above the salary cap during the playoffs, but that¨s splitting hairs.)

The anger seems to stem from the idea that Kucherov is skating without pain, and with much grace, during the postseason. He leads the NHL with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) through Tampa Bay¨s first 11 games. This leads to insinuations that the former MVP was healthy before the playoffs began and the Lightning kept him hidden on LTIR longer than necessary to stay cap-compliant.

The problem with this theory is that Kucherov¨s five-month recovery was consistent with players who¨d had similar surgeries, and the NHL had done its own investigation to make sure nothing shady was going on.

^I didn¨t make the rules, whether it¨s cap space or something like that, ̄ Kucherov said Friday. ^It¨s not me, I didn¨t do it on purpose. I had to do the surgery. ̄

And that brings us to the second point. The ^way-to-go-Lightning ̄ point.

Tampa Bay knows the pain of the salary cap and its many machinations as well as any team in the NHL. Go back to 2004 when the Lightning won their first Stanley Cup. The Lightning were 21st in the league in total payroll at $33.5 million and beat four teams in the postseason (the Islanders, Canadiens, Flyers and Flames) that averaged $46.7 million in payroll.

That Lightning team was supposed to come back nearly intact, but NHL owners were insistent on implementing a salary cap and so the 2005 season was wiped out due to a work stoppage. When the NHL finally did return, a bunch of Lightning players were now considered free agents and a hard salary cap had been put in place. Tampa Bay lost goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and was never the same team.

In essence, the Lightning did not get to defend their Stanley Cup because the league wiped out one season in pursuit of a salary cap and then changed the playing field before the next.

Fast forward another decade. The Chicago Blackhawks lose star Patrick Kane to a broken collarbone on Feb. 24, 2015 that supposedly will force him to be out until late May. Over the next six days, the Blackhawks make three trades and bust the salary cap by the exact amount that they¨re saving by putting Kane on long-term injured reserve.

Kane, as it turns out, returns for the first game of the playoffs and goes on to lead Chicago with 23 points in 23 games on the way to an NHL championship. And the team Chicago beats for the Stanley Cup? Of course, it¨s the Lightning.

And Chicago, by the way, was coached by Joel Quenneville, who is now Florida¨s coach. And that might explain why Quenneville said he had no complaint about Kucherov¨s comeback coinciding with the start of the NHL playoffs.

So, yeah, the Lightning took advantage of long-term injured reserve this season. It allowed them to hold on to players they might otherwise had lost if Kucherov had not been in rehab during the regular season.

They didn¨t make up a phantom injury for Kucherov, and they didn¨t keep him off the ice for any longer than past precedent. That¨s not cheating. That¨s playing within the NHL¨s own salary cap rules.

No one knows that better than the Lightning.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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