When shooting in Venice, they were allowed to have complete control of the Grand Canal from 7am to 1pm for one day.
Because steam locomotives are very loud, Michael Lantieri’s crew would respond to first assistant director David Tomblin’s radioed directions by making the giraffes nod or shake their heads to his questions, which amused the crew.
River Phoenix and Brad Gregg previously played brothers in Stand by Me (1986). In this film, Phoenix steals a treasure from Gregg. In the previous film, Gregg attempts to steal the treasure (the dead body) from Phoenix.
Stop motion animation was used for the shot of the German fighter’s wings breaking off as it crashes through the tunnel. The tunnel was a 210 feet model that occupied 14 of ILM’s parking spaces for two months. It was built in eight-foot sections, with hinges allowing each section to be opened to film through. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery were filmed against bluescreen; the sequence required their car to have a dirty windscreen, but to make the integration easier this was removed and later composited into the shot. Dust and shadows were animated onto shots of the plane miniature to make it appear as if it disturbed rocks and dirt before it exploded.
The gun used to shoot the Sean Connery character is a Walther PPK, the same model as Connery’s James Bond gun.
Due to his commitment to the film, Steven Spielberg had to drop out of directing Big (1988) and Rain Man (1988).
The temple set, which took six weeks to build, was supported on 80 feet of hydraulics and ten gimbals for use during the earthquake scene. Resetting between takes took twenty minutes while the hydraulics were put to their starting positions and the cracks filled with plaster. The shot of the Grail falling to the temple floor-causing the first crack to appear-was attempted on the full-size set, but proved too difficult. Instead, crews built a separate floor section that incorporated a pre-scored crack sealed with plaster. It took several takes to throw the Grail from six feet onto the right part of the crack.
The shot of the boats passing between two ships was achieved by first cabling the ships off so they would be safe. The ships were moved together while the boats passed between, close enough that one of the boats scraped the sides of the ships. An empty speedboat containing dummies was launched from a floating platform between the ships amid fire and smoke that helped obscure the platform. The stunt was performed twice because the boat landed too short of the camera in the first attempt.
When Donovan’s wife comes into the study to tell him he’s neglecting his guests, the Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme) from Star Wars can be heard playing on the piano in the background.
Body Count: 50, 13 by Indiana Jones.
Indy’s trademark hat, jacket, and whip currently reside in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
When Professor Jones Sr. scares the “seagulls” to fly up and stop the plane, they are in fact pigeons, and not seagulls, as seagulls cannot be trained. Looking closely, one can also see that there are a number of ‘cut out’ seagulls in the sand, which do not move as the others do.
Denholm Elliott had been diagnosed with AIDS shortly before filming began, and was seriously ill on various production days.
When Indy’s bag is caught on the gun and is being dragged along the wall no stuntman was used, Harrison Ford did it himself the crew just went along with shovels tipping dirt and clay on him from above
The four horses used in the final scenes outside the temple were loaned to the film personally by King Hussein of Jordan.
The production had two tanks for the tank chase scene; one of them was made of aluminum. The whole chase took about 10 days to film, instead of the projected two days.
Unable to keep his hat on during the scene where he was chasing the tank on horseback despite trying glue, tape, and newspaper wedges, Harrison Ford pretended (in a “Making Of” special) to staple the hat to his head.
The difficulties shown by the tank-driver in maneuvering the vehicle were very realistic. The Mark I tank –or indeed, any World War I tank– was so unwieldy that its manufacturers rushed to produce an upgrade; the Mark IV was ready in only one year’s time.
Director Steven Spielberg included the opening scenes as a tribute to his own experiences as a Boy Scout.
The idea of an airplane being carried by an airship was actually taken from the U.S. Navy airships U.S.S. Akron and U.S.S. Macon. Each airship, slightly smaller than the Zeppelin shown in the movie, actually had a trapeze (also known as a “sky hook”) under the belly of the airship, and hangar space inside for up to four small planes. The planes were intended to act as scouts that used the airship as a flying aircraft carrier. The builders of the Hindenburg also attempted, with help from the Navy, to install a similar trapeze on the Hindenburg shortly before her disastrous last flight in 1937. The idea was for the small plane to act as a mail courier. However, the pilot was unable to “hook on” to the trapeze consistently, the experiment was abandoned, and the trapeze was removed from the Hindenburg before she departed for her final flight.
Baking soda was applied to Sean Connery to create Henry’s bullet wound. Vinegar was applied to create the foaming effect as the water from the Grail washes it away.
Sound Designer Ben Burtt wanted an echoing gunshot for Donovan wounding Henry, so he fired a .357 Magnum in Skywalker Ranch’s underground car park, just as George Lucas drove in.
When Indy’s father expresses surprise that Indy can fly a plane, Indy responds with “Fly, yes. Land, no”. This may be a nod to Indy’s improvisational piloting in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
Harrison Ford nominated River Phoenix to play him as a teenager. When describing how he prepared for playing the role, Phoenix explained that he didn’t really base his portrayal on the Indiana Jones character, but on Harrison Ford. So he observed Ford out of character before acting his part.
Two thousand rats were bred for the production (they had to be bred specially as ordinary rats would have been riddled with disease).
Most of the uniforms worn by the Nazis in the Berlin book burning scene are authentic WW2 uniforms and not costumes. A cache of old uniforms was found in Germany and obtained by costume designer Anthony Powell to be used in the film.
Steven Spielberg is on record as saying he made the film for two reasons: 1) to fulfill a three-picture obligation he had made with George Lucas, and, 2) to atone for the criticism that he received for the previous installment, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
In the scene where Indy has to choose which cup is the grail, he picks the right one by saying “That’s the cup of a carpenter”. It is said in the Bible that Jesus – like his mortal father Joseph – was a carpenter. Interestingly, as a struggling actor Harrison Ford used a book on carpentry from the library to start doing odd jobs and earn a living. One of those jobs was working on George Lucas’ house.
Sean Connery and Harrison Ford wore no trousers during the shooting of the entire Zeppelin sequence (mainly because it was filmed in a very hot studio and Connery didn’t want to sweat too much).
River Phoenix becomes the first actor to portray Indiana Jones as a teenager. The prologue sequence featuring young Indy inspired George Lucas to create the TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992) released three years later. Phoenix was asked to play young Indy in that series, but turned it down, since he didn’t want to return to television.