What's left to say about "Raiders of the Lost Ark?"
For 35 years, since the movie's release on June 12, 1981, we've loved Harrison Ford's whip-cracking Indiana Jones, we've argued about the relative quality of the sequels, and we've thrilled to the relentless machine of pure action that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas devised. We've watched the movie a zillion times without getting bored, and we've even familiarized ourselves with much of the behind-the-scenes trivia. And yet, there still remain secrets to be unearthed, buried under decades of mythmaking like so many ancient artifacts.
Here are some of them -- just watch out for booby traps. And snakes.
1. Indiana Jones's name really did come from the dog -- the dog owned by George Lucas's then-wife, Marcia. That Indiana had also been the inspiration for Ford's "Star Wars" pal, Chewbacca.
2. Spielberg took the directing job at a low point in his career. His World War II spoof "1941" had been a costly flop, and he felt he had to prove he could bring in a movie ahead of schedule and under budget. Indeed, he would succeed in doing so with "Raiders," which he managed to shoot for $18 million in just 73 days, despite locations in four different countries.
3. The giant boulder was made of plaster, wood, and fiberglass and weighed 300 pounds. It could have seriously injured anyone in its path. Spielberg agreed to let Ford film the stunt himself, from five different angles, each shot twice. Of Ford's ability to outrun the boulder, Spielberg later said, "He won 10 times and beat the odds. He was lucky, and I was an idiot for letting him try."
4. Karen Allen's character, Marion Ravenwood, got her first name from screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan's wife's grandmother, and her last name from a Los Angeles street he drove down every day on the way to the studio.
5. Yes, Paul Freeman (Belloq) really swallowed a fly as he uttered the line, "You're going to give mercenaries a bad name." Said Spielberg, "Paul was so absorbed that he didn't realize he'd swallowed the bugger." For his part, Freeman recalls his ability to stay in character despite the mishap earning him praise from feared New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, who otherwise didn't much care for "Raiders." ("What a trouper!" she wrote.)6. Spielberg had sketches drawn of Toht (Ronald Lacey), the bespectacled, Peter Lorre-like Gestapo interrogator, as a "Mad Max"-worthy villain, complete with a prosthetic hand that served as a flamethrower and a machine gun. "He was like the Terminator before 'The Terminator,'" Spielberg recalled. Lucas insisted that the conception of the character was wrong for the genre, and Toht became a normal (but especially sinister) man. "All that hard work just became refuse in the art department," Spielberg said.
7. The gag where Toht wields what looks like a torture device, but turns out to be a coat hanger, is a joke Spielberg recycled from "1941." He filmed a similar scene with Christopher Lee in that movie, but ended up cutting it when it didn't get laughs.
8. The food poisoning that afflicted nearly everyone on the Tunisian set (but not Spielberg, who brought his own canned Spaghetti-Os and bottled water from London) resulted in the improvisation of one of the most famous "Raiders" scenes, the one where Indy faces down an Egyptian swordsman.
The script had Indy fighting the assassin with his bullwhip, but Ford's diarrhea kept him from filming the long, elaborate sequence. Also, as Ford would tell the audience at a 2011 LA Times Hero Complex screening, the production has already shot a fight scene with Indy disarming a group of baddies with his whip. Lest the film get repetitive with all this whip fighting, Ford suggested: "Why don't we just shoot the son of a bitch?" To shorten the scene, Ford and Spielberg agreed Indy should just pull out a pistol and shoot the man.
9. For the Well of Souls sequence (above), shot on a British soundstage, the producers rustled up 2,000 snakes, but they weren't enough to cover the floor. Scouring pet shops across Europe, the filmmakers found thousands more; different accounts say there were ultimately between 6,500 and 10,000 snakes in the scenes, plus lizards and lengths of rubber hose.
Medics wearing hazmat suits and carrying syringes of anti-venom stood just outside camera range. Unlike his character, Ford was unfazed by the snakes, but Allen was freaked out. Animal handler Steve Edge had to complete some of her scenes, shaving his legs and putting on Marion's dress.10. Much of the truck-chase sequence involves Ford himself being dragged behind the vehicle. "I'm sure it's not dangerous," he said of the stunt. "If it was dangerous, they would have waited 'til we got more of the movie done."
11. One way Spielberg saved money was by incorporating stock footage. Shots of the passenger plane in mid-flight came from 1937's "Lost Horizon," and a 1930s street scene came from 1975's "The Hindenburg."
12. Also borrowed was the German submarine (above), which had been rented from the makers of the then-recent "Das Boot," Wolfgang Petersen's soon-to-be-classic World War II drama. The "Raiders" climax was shot in what had been an actual Nazi submarine base in France.
13. Michael Sheard auditioned for the role of Toht, which went to his pal Lacey. Instead, he got to play the U-boat commander. He'd play a more prominent Nazi role -- Adolf Hitler himself (pictured) -- in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
14. Toht's melting face was made of a combination of gelatin, colored yarn (to simulate muscles and veins), and alginate (what dentists use to make impressions) -- all molded over a skull made of stone. It took 10 minutes to melt under the onslaught of propane space heaters and a hair dryer; the footage was then sped up.
15. A fan theory -- mentioned prominently in "The Big Bang Theory" and elsewhere -- suggests that, despite being the protagonist of "Raiders," Indiana Jones has no real impact on the story's outcome. Had he not been involved, the Nazis would have found the Ark on their own (they wouldn't have dug in the wrong place because they'd have had the actual medallion), opened it, and been destroyed. Do you think this is a fair criticism? Discuss.