It turns out that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are as much movie nerds as Quentin Tarantino and that their four Indiana Jones films are just as full of references and echoes. But while Tarantino discovered most of his favorites on video, Lucas and Spielberg probably saw many of theirs in film school on 16mm prints, many of which never made the transition to video. Last month our own Richard von Busack wrote a post about a rare film called The Secret of the Incas (1954), with Charlton Heston as a fedora-and-leather-jacket-wearing adventurer. (Another Heston adventure, The Naked Jungle (1954), is also a definite influence.) Richard found his info at TheRaider.net, which is where I also went to work on this list of potential Indy influences. Many of the titles they list are difficult to find, and I'm also trying not to give away crucial plot points in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so -- to quote Indy himself -- I'm making this up as I go.
1. Saturday Afternoon Serials
For those that don't know, serials were presented in front of regular features in 20-minute installments over a period of 12 weeks (mainly in the 1930s and 1940s), leaving off each time with a cliffhanger, to be miraculously resolved the following Saturday. Many of them are rentable today, and you can watch the entire 240 minutes in one sitting, if you so wish. To date, I've made it all the way through only one serial, though I've attempted many. Most reviewers credit serials as a major Indy influence, but few reviews actually name which ones. I've narrowed it down to five. The first two are Zorro Rides Again (1937) and Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939), mainly for the swashbuckling hero's use of the bullwhip. These two are in the public domain and widely available on DVD and for download, but I'd suggest going with VCI Entertainment's DVD versions. The other three are examples of the "jungle adventure" subgenre: Perils of Nyoka (1942), Secret Service in Darkest Africa (1943) and Perils of the Darkest Jungle(1944) -- although each has also been released under alternate titles.