It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage. – Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
It was 40 years ago, give or take a few days, that my mom, Beatriz Diaz-Granados, and I went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark, a new action-adventure movie produced by George Lucas, written by Lawrence Kasdan, and directed by Lucas’s long-time friend Steven Spielberg.
Set in 1936, Raiders introduced the world to a hero straight out of the Saturday matinee serials of the Thirties and Forties: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), an archaeologist and college professor who, when he’s not giving lectures to his students at Marshall College, is up to his snap-brim fedora in trouble when he criss-crosses the globe in search of ancient, often legendary, artifacts, many with – in Indy’s creator Lucas’s words, “a supernatural flavor.”
Major Eaton: Doctor Jones, we’ve heard a lot about you.
Indiana: Have you?
Major Eaton: Professor of Archeology, expert on the occult, and how does one say it… obtainer of rare antiquities.
Indiana: That’s one way of saying it. Why don’t you sit down, you’ll be more comfortable.
Colonel Musgrove: Yes, you’re a man of many talents.
I became aware of Raiders of the Lost Ark in November of 1980. I had just bought a book called The Empire Strikes Back Notebook, edited by Deborah Call and consisting of the screenplay for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which was credited to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan but written mostly by Kasdan, since Brackett died of cancer in 1978, not long after she handed her draft to Lucas.
The Empire Strikes Back Notebook included a short bio for Kasdan and it informed the reader that in addition to Empire, he had also recently completed the script to Raiders of the Lost Ark and was directing Body Heat, which he also wrote.
Back in 1980, of course, the Internet was only a “thing” in government circles and academia; email, BBS forums, and social media did not exist yet. And I didn’t read entertainment news – beyond Star Wars – at the time, so I had no idea what Raiders of the Lost Ark would be about, much less that it would star Harrison Ford.
My second and more definitive introduction to the Indiana Jones franchise was in April of 1981, when I was in a book store (or maybe a drugstore’s book section) in search of a Mother’s Day gift. There, for the first time, I beheld the now famous logo (inspired by the one for Terry and the Pirates) and a still image of Indiana Jones and the film’s heroine, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) against a black backdrop.
Here’s the back cover blurb on the 1981 Ballantine Books paperback:
The holiest artifact on earth is filled with dazzling, incredible power. Indiana Jones has to get it before the Nazis do.
Indiana Jones, archeology professor and swashbuckling adventurer, has unearthed many an ancient treasure. But now the very future of the world depends on his finding one special relic.
With a bullwhip in his hand and a beautiful lady at his side, Jones journeys from Nepal and Cairo to the Mediterranean, dodging poisons, traps and snakes, battling rivals old and new, all in pursuit of an ancient artifact said to give invincible power to its possessor.
I knew my mom well enough then, and I thought this was the kind of story she would enjoy. So I bought a copy, took it home, and, with a pencil, wrote an inscription:
Happy Mother’s Day!
I don’t remember if I read parts of Black’s novel then or after my mom read it; I probably did, although I do remember that Mom read the book from cover to cover and told me it was an exciting adventure story like the ones she used to watch as a teenager back in Bogota in the 1940s. She loaned me the novel after she finished, and I read it – no exaggeration, folks – over one weekend in May of 1981.
When I was finished, my mind was blown.
I have to do something really nice for Mom, I thought. Vicky (my older half-sister, from whom I am currently estranged) can give her pricey gifts like stuffed animals and flowers, I can’t. But I can buy her a movie ticket and snacks at the movies. She loved the book of Raiders of the Lost Ark, so maybe she’ll like the movie.
This was sometime in mid-May, and Raiders of the Lost Ark was set to open on June 12, 1981.
Mother’s Day had already come and gone, but I asked her if she would go with me to see the movie the weekend after it opened in Miami, I emphasized that I would pay for her ticket and her snacks as part of her present.
Happily, Mom accepted the invite.
Mom and I had strikingly similar tastes in movies. Sure, there were divergences in tastes; Mom liked melodramas and romantic movies more than I, but at the same time she had an “inner tomboy” streak and liked watching action-adventures, historical epic dramas, and even a few war movies. The only genre she didn’t enjoy much was Westerns, and that’s because it had been my late father’s No. One type of movie to watch.
So, unlike Star Wars – which she avoided watching until she agreed to go to The Empire Strikes Back the previous summer – or Jaws, it wasn’t particularly difficult to ask Mom if she wanted to go see Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Belloq: [looking down at Indy in the Well of Souls] Hello! Hello! Why, Dr. Jones, whatever are you doing in such a nasty place?
Indiana: Why don’t you come on down here, and I’ll show ya?
Belloq: Thank you, my friend, but I think we are all very comfortable up here. Yes, indeed. We are all very quite comfortable up here. So once again, Jones, what was briefly yours is now mine. What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits. You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something.
Indiana: Son of a bitch!
Belloq: I’m afraid we must be going now, Dr. Jones.
Dietrich: Our prize is awaited in Berlin. Yes… we are finished here with everything. But we do not wish to leave you down in that awful place… all alone.
It’s been 40 years since Raiders premiered in that summer of 1981, and of course the passage of time has sandblasted many of the small details of that trip to the movies in Miami. If you asked me the name of the theater we went to, I’d have to guess that it was at the Dadeland Twin Theaters, since the now-closed Ambassador Theater in Sweetwater was not yet open. Dadeland was perhaps the closest movie house to our townhouse in Fountainbleau Park, although it’s possible that we might have gone to the theater at the Concord Plaza, where the Dade County Public Library had a branch before the larger West Dade Regional Branch opened in 1982 or thereabouts.
What I recall, though, is how happy Mom looked when she watched Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. I watched the movie, too, of course, as raptly as I had watched Star Wars in 1977 and The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, but since I had insisted on paying for Mom’s ticket, her small popcorn, and her Coca-Cola (with lots of ice!), I sometimes glanced surreptitiously at her to see the expression on her face.
I can still see my mom’s expression in my mind’s eye, even now. Her eyes, brown and lively with intelligence, never wandered off that huge screen as Indy, Marion, and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) engaged in battles of wits and fists with Indy’s French arch-rival Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) and his Nazi “raiders” over the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant.
[Upon opening the Well of the Souls and peering down]
Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Indiana: Give me your torch.
[Indy takes the torch and drops it in, revealing hundreds of snakes all over floor of the Well of Souls]
Indiana: Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?
Sallah: Asps… very dangerous. You go first.
Like Indy, Mom had ophidiophobia, so sometimes she would cover her face so that she wouldn’t see the snakes. She did this every time we watched Raiders or any of the other entries in the series, but other than that, she watched the adventures of Indiana Jones as enthusiastically as I did.
And, of course, I remember her saying, as we left the theater, “That was the best Mother’s Day present I ever received. Just don’t tell your sister I said that; you know how touchy she gets.”
I also remember, with some amount of bittersweetness, that my mother became as big an Indiana Jones fan as I, and that we saw the next two films in the series – 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on Opening Day, She would have gone to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in theaters back in 2008, but by then her health was in decline and she preferred watching movies at home. She saw it a few times on DVD and Blu-ray, though.
I love the Indiana Jones series, in no small part, because the films and the Young Indiana Jones TV series are entertaining and fun to watch. I am also an unabashed fan of Harrison Ford, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. I even did a bit of cosplay as the Man in the Hat almost six years ago and listen to some of John Williams’ scores from time to time because, hey, as the song goes, John Williams is the man.
But I have a strong suspicion that I love Indy and his adventures because Raiders of the Lost Ark was a fun mother-son bonding experience that coincided with the onset of my young adulthood.