Who Really Authored RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK’s Swordsman Gag?

It is the scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark that gets the biggest laugh. As Indiana Jones is chasing after the Nazi agents who have kidnapped Marion through the marketplace in Cairo, he is beset by numerous turbaned adversaries. After dispatching them in hand to hand combat, he is confronted with a hulking thug armed with a rather menacing sword.After the swordsman does some impressive posturing with his lethal looking scimitar, Indy just rolls his eyes, pulls out his pistol and casual shoots his opponent.

And for years, we have been told that that humorous moment came at the suggestion of Harrison Ford. During the film’s month long shoot in Tunsia, which was doubling for Egypt, nearly the entire crew came down with dysentery and on the day they were shooting the fight scenes, Ford was feeling particularly under the weather. Rather than go through with the arduous task of shooting yet another fight scene, Ford reportedly grumbled to director Steven Spielberg, “Why don’t we just shoot him?” Spielberg liked the idea, shot it that way and a classic film moment was born.

But Vic Armstrong, legendary stuntman and who doubled Ford on Raiders, remembers a different way as to how that moment came about. In his new book The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman: My Life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroesexcerpted over at the LA TimesHero Blog, Armstrong relates a different set of events that lead to the creation of that moment –

In “Raiders” there’s that famous scene where Indy meets this hulking great Arab swordsman and simply shoots him dead. Originally there was an elaborate fight sequence planned and a stunt team went up to the coast for two weeks working it out. They really drew the easy ticket – we heard all this talk about fabulous beaches and topless tourists, and there we were stuck down in bloody Nefta with the dysentery mob. When the main crew finished with us they flew up to the coast to join Peter Diamond, who showed Steven the fight routine. Big Terry Richards played the Arab and he swished his sword about and then the fight carried on through the whole of the Casbah.

Steven watched and said, “Look, I’m going to shoot whatever I can until three o’clock because then I’m getting out of here.” Peter Diamond was dumbstruck: “You can’t do that, it’s gonna take four days to film this fight. It’s a huge fight and the guys have been rehearsing it for weeks.’ Steven said, ‘I’ve got a plane coming at three, I’m out of here, I’ve got enough, I don’t need any more here.’ Tomblin butted in, ‘For Christ’s sake Steven, you’ve got to do this.’ But Steven was standing firm, “No, I’m out at three.” Tomblin said, “Well, it’s stupid doing this whole routine, you might as well just shoot the guy with a gun.” “Don’t be facetious Dave.” Then Steven paused. “I’ll tell you what, let’s try that. Yes, let’s try just shooting him.” And the rest is history.

So, whose version do you believe? Granted, Ford has gotten a lot of mileage out of the version that casts him as the author of the gag. And admittedly it does make a good talk show anecdote. But I have to think that maybe Armstrong’s version might be closer to the truth. Granted, it doesn’t cast Spielberg in a particularly flattering light, but that may be why the other version has been circulated for years.

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About Rich Drees 7192 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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