I’m a huge Indiana Jones fan. So when my latest script took a turn toward beats that fit Last Crusade, I took the opportunity to write out a scene summary of the whole movie. It’s amazing what you learn when you pay close attention to something. It has a traditional structure but it’s not quite as obvious as I would have thought. The character arcs are incredibly strong and woven through every scene of the movie. And most surprising: reoccurring dialogue. Writers can get skittish about hitting the audience over the head with something. Last Crusade strikes just the right balance of simplicity, subtlety, and practically on the nose storytelling.
So! Here is a summary of Last Crusade in my own words. Included are some timecodes to denote sections of storytelling structure. Bold items denote particular goals and attitudes pertinent to tracking plot and characters. I have no particular analysis included, beyond what I’ve just said, so hopefully it can be a useful tool to someone out there. It’s great for seeing patterns and threads.
Without further ado…
Scouts take to Monument Valley for an excursion. Indiana is one of them. (“Don’t wander off… some of these passageways can run for miles…” –so Indiana…)
He discovers a group of men uncovering artifacts in a nearby cave. And he knows what the artifact is. (“It belongs in a museum.”)
Indie steals the cross and so begins the chase. (“Everybody’s lost but me.”) Indie takes off on horseback while the bad guys chase him down in cars. Enter: the train. Alligators, snakes (which he’s covered by and develops a fear of), the rhino, face off with his inspiration guy, the lion (and whip), and the magic box.
Indie darts home to tell his dad what he’s recovered. His dad is working on Grail lore and demands he wait. (Sets up the relationship.) The sheriff arrives and hands off the cross to the bad guys. Indie inspiration guy hands off the hat after a piece of advice.
Cut to present day: Indie steals back the cross as his newly formed self, someone able to truly face off against the bad guy, based on the his childhood inspiration. Boat and explosion! The bad guy is officially defeated and his past is seemingly resolved.
Indie teaches his archeology class. (“We do not follow maps to buried treasure and ‘x’ never, ever marks the spot.”) Marcus comes to see him to collect the cross. The piece will now be in a museum.
Indie is swamped by students, showing what happens when he leaves on his adventures. Ie, chaos. He gets the package from his dad and then runs away.
Shady people stop to pick him up. He’s taken to a very nice house and introduced to Donovan, a collector. He tells the story of the Grail, introduces the pieces he has that has led him toward the Grail, and asks Indie for help. He wants to find the tomb that will give the location of the city where the Grail journey begins. Indie refuses. Donovan reveals Jones Sr. was helping the hunt and has now disappeared.
Indie and Marcus race to Jones Sr.’s house to find it ransacked. Indie remembers the package from Venice and understands how serious the situation is when he sees it’s his father’s Grail Diary. Indie and Marcus wonder if the stories could be true. They decide to pick up the project and pursue Jones Sr.
Donovan sees them off at the airport. (“Don’t trust anybody.”)
MAP TRANSITION – Indie studies the Grail Diary. Includes bits we’ll need in the coming scenes.
Indie and Marcus arrive in Venice and meet Elsa Schneider. Lots of flirting happens. She takes them to the library (converted church) where she last saw Jones Sr. as they looked for the tomb location.
They decide to keep the fact that they have the Grail Diary to themselves until more info comes available. Passing along a scrap with Roman numerals leads them to look under the floor. Fun gag with a book stamp and cracking the floor. (“10. ‘X’ marks the spot.”)
(“You’re a great deal like your father.” “Except he’s lost and I’m not.”) They enter the underground catacombs. Bad guys introduced upstairs who knock out Marcus. Indie and Elsa continue, encountering petroleum and rats. When they finally find the tomb and discover the needed info, the bad guys catch up and torch the tunnels driving Indie and Elsa into the streets of Venice.
Chase ensues: The bad guys chase the pair to nearby boats. Lots of punching and shooting as the boats race through the water. Hey barely make it through the closing gap of two boats. And finally, Indie fights the last one, the leader, demanding to know where his father is.
The bad guy turns out to be a good guy, a member of a secret order devoted to protecting the grail. He gives them the name Castle of Brunwald where Jones Sr. is being held. (“I didn’t come to find the cup of Christ. I came to find my father.”)
Marcus and Indie look over the new information and discuss the name of the city on the tablet. Alexandretta. They refer to the Grail Diary where there’s a map with no names. Now they have the starting point. The name of the city. Indie sends Marcus to Iskenderun to meet up with Sala and pursue the Grail. He’s going after his father.
Indie finds his room ransacked and discovers Elsa’s room ransacked too. Indie reveals they were looking for the Grail Diary, which he has. They get into a fight and end up making out.
MAP TRANSITION – they drive to Castle of Brunwald.
A fun scene where Indie and Elsa try to BS their way into the Castle and no one buys it. Indie punches his way through and they discover a Nazi stronghold. (*The shot looks exactly like him discovering the bandits from the beginning. Also, “Nazis… I hate these guys.”)
Indie and Elsa search the castle and find the room Jones Sr. is in. Indie uses the adjacent room to swing into his dad’s room where his dad promptly knocks him over the head with a vase. Jones Sr. laments an antique vase (confusion over their relationship) and tosses it on the floor drawing more attention. Indie shares that he picked up where his dad left off and has found the name of the city: Alexandretta.
Jones Sr. tells Indie that he sent the diary because the Nazis wanted it and he was trying to keep it away from them. Indie kills some Nazis and they try and escape.
Indie goes after Elsa where she’s being held hostage. Jones Sr. says she’s a Nazi but Indie doesn’t believe his dad. He hands over the diary. (“But you should have listened to your father.”)
Indie and Sr. are tied up and addressed by one of the Nazi leaders. (“How did you know she’s a Nazi?” “She talks in her sleep.”) Donovan shows up as a Nazi sympathizer. They discover the map with no names is missing and Indie says Marcus has gone after Grail with it.
Marcus has no idea what he’s doing. Sala finds him but in the process of trying to get under way, they’re chased by Nazi agents. Sala tries to protect him but instead delivers him to the truck that takes him away.
The Nazis debate what to do with the Jones’ and determine they’ll send the Grail Diary to Berlin. They get word that Marcus has been captured and Germany has declared war on the Jones’. The Jones’ try to escape and end up setting the whole place on fire. (Funny fireplace gag, then secret passageway gag.) They finally escape the castle when they steal a motorcycle.
Chase ensues: Motorcycle chase. A few Nazis on motorcycles come after them. They bust through barriers and pick up a flag like a jousting lance, knocking one off and foiling others. The last guy gets the broken lance in the spokes of his cycle. Jones Sr. is unamused by Indie’s antics.
The Jones’ have it out over whether or not to go get Marcus and the map or go back to Berlin for the Grail Diary. Jones Sr. tells Indie that there’s more in the diary, clues through the final challenges to get to the Grail. (“Half the German army’s on our tail and you want me to go to Berlin, into the Lion’s Den?”) Indie takes the Lord’s name in vain and they both ponder the Grail and its meaning. (Really gets into their relationship.)
Indie shows up at a book burning in Berlin. He gets the diary back from Elsa ( a great moment talking about the Nazis vs the Grail) and runs right into Hitler for a funny autograph moment.
They head to the local airport where the Germans pursue them. The Nazi leader has caught up to Jones Sr. when Indie, impersonating a ticket agent, punches him out. (“No ticket.”) They get away.
Indie and Jones Sr. talk about their lack of relationship. Self-reliance and the Grail Quest vs the lack of normalcy. Jones Sr. goes over the challenges they’ll face (penitent man, word of God, leap from the lion’s head) and they bond. The blimp starts turning around toward Germany.
They race to the attached airplane and steal it. Nazis chase them. Jones Sr. ends up shooting up their tail. They land and run while Nazis shoot at them. They steal a car and continue to run from the plane, ducking into a tunnel where one plane is eviscerated. Then the planes drop bombs and Jones Sr. thinks to scare a flock of birds into the plane engines.
Donovan bribes the local political regime who provides him with all the military items we’ll see in the caravan. Secret order good guy is there and has heard everything. Elsa tells Donovan that the Jones’ have escaped and they’re in a race against time.
Indie finds Sala and finds out that Marcus is being held by the Nazi caravan in the desert. (“Now they have the map.”)
In the Nazi caravan, Donovan and Marcus talk about the Grail. Indie and Co. look on and try to figure out what to do when the Caravan starts shooting at them, blowing up their car. The secret order good guys start shooting and tie up the Nazis. Indie and Sala look for transportation while Jones Sr. sneaks into the tank to grab Marcus and ends up captured.
Indie finds out that his dad is captured and goes after them on horseback. The tank starts shooting and Indie has to dance around it on horseback employing various methods to destroy the guns. Nazi leader himself goes after Indie. Indie takes on Nazis on the tank and Sr. takes on Nazis in the tank, each using his strengths to do so. (“You call this archeology?”)
Marcus escapes but Indie has to take a beating to save Sr. from falling off the tank. Sala grabs Sr. but Indie continues to struggle with the Nazi leader as they approach a cliff. The tank goes over and we’re not sure what happened to Indie.
01:37:00 – All is Lost
Sr., Marcus, and Sala all look over the cliff and lament Indie. (“Oh God, I’ve lost him. And I never told him anything.”) They continue to mourn when Indie shows up, beaten but alive. They hug and Indie looks like he really enjoys it. Jones Sr. is reinvigorated and Indie gets his hat back.
Donovan, Elsa, and the bad guys reach the canyon. Indie and his party show up as well. When Indie and party sneak in, the Nazis are throwing man after man at the first challenge. They’re all beheaded.
The Nazis capture Indie and party and demand Indie recover the Grail. Donovan outlines his actual goal: eternal life. To force Indie into action, Donovan shoots Jones Sr. Indie is helpless and Donovan tells him only the Grail can save Sr. (“It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.”)
Indie refers to the Grail Diary. The Breath of God. Only the penitent man will pass. Sr. whispers his way through the challenge. He creeps through, repeating the phrase, and finally realizes he must kneel in humility. Indie stops the blades for the Nazis.
Second challenge: The Word of God. The name of God. Sr. whispers his way through the challenge. Indie missteps when he forgets to spell Jehovah in Latin. He gets through.
Third challenge: The Path of God. A leap from the lion’s head across a gaping canyon. A literal leap of faith. Indie steals himself. Sr. whispers. (“You must believe, boy. You must believe.”) Indie steps out onto what seems like nothing but he discovers is actually a well-hidden natural bridge. He leaves gravel for the Nazis.
Indie crawls into the cavern holding a collection of cups and an ancient knight. The knight tries to defend the room but can’t do it out of old age. This is the third brother. The knight expects to pass his mantle to Indie but the Nazis show up.
Donovan asks which cup it is. The knight explains that the true Grail gives life but a false grail will take it. Elsa chooses a cup for Donovan based on their assumptions. He takes water, drinks it, and disintegrates. (“He chose… poorly.”) Indie chooses a cup. (“That’s the cup of a carpenter.”) Indie takes water, drinks it, and lives. The Grail can’t leave the caverns.
Indie takes the cup back with water to save Sr. The wound disappears and Sr. is saved, perfectly healthy. Indie and party defeat the Nazis (they’re afraid of the power of the Grail) and Elsa takes the Grail for herself. She walks over the Seal and the place collapses.
Elsa is swallowed by a crack in the floor as she chases the Grail. Indie tries to save her but she slips as she reaches for the Grail. Indie falls and Sr. grabs him. He tries reaching for the Grail but Sr. uses “Indiana” to get his attention and tells him to let it go. (Something he couldn’t do in that opening sequence? He couldn’t let that piece of treasure go…)
Sr. gets a glance at the knight and they all run for it. Safe, they ride into the sunset toward civilization and new adventures. (“What did you find, Dad?” “Me? Illumination.” A throwback to Sr.’s first lines.) All the closing lines of dialogue are absolutely perfect.