One of the best scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn’t contain a single stunt or even the crack of a whip. Before Indiana Jones truly gets into it with the baddies, his biggest nemesis — Dr. René Emile Belloq (Paul Freeman) gives Indy a lesson in nostalgia. He holds up a pocket watch, and tells Indy that at this moment in time the watch is “worthless.” But, “bury it in the sand for a thousand years, it becomes priceless!” This summer, Raiders of the Lost Ark has turned 40-years-old. So, was the film just a throwaway action movie in 1981? Did it become priceless in our minds over time, or has it always been awesome?
“None of us knew how big Raiders would become, or that it would lead to this enormous franchise,” Paul Freeman — Belloq himself — tells Fatherly. “But nevertheless, it was plain from the script and the outset that it was going to be a very good film. How good, we didn’t know.”
In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was far from the only big movie. Superman II, Cannonball Run, and For Your Eyes Only all came out that year. But, arguably, the freshest of those films was Raiders. The film felt old-fashioned and brand new at the same time. And even though The Last Crusade has great father-son comedy with Sean Connery and Harrison Ford, it’s hard to argue with the fully-formed pop artistry of Raiders. In some ways, it is still the only perfect Indiana Jones film.
“I do have a theory as to why it has lasted so long,” Freeman says. “And I’d even generalize from it. What makes a memorable script and story is the wit and the humor. And this might be blasphemy, but it seems to me that some of that was lacking in the subsequent Indiana Jones films. I felt they took themselves much too seriously.”
While it’s hard to say The Last Crusade isn’t totally hilarious (it is!) Freeman has a point when it comes to The Temple of Doom and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Unlike Raiders, those two Indy flicks are more earnest, which is why, well, they’re simply not as timeless. Freeman also says that this where James Bond movies might also falter. “When they take themselves too seriously, I don’t like that. But then again, I only say this because they never asked me to play a Bond villain!”
Although Freeman has had a long full career (including playing Ivan Ooz in the 1995 Power Rangers movie) he still looks back on this time filming Raiders of the Lost Ark with fondness. In fact, when it comes to that famous scene exchange Belloq and Indy, Freeman says Harrison Ford actually bailed him out of a tough situation.
“I was meant to be smoking a hookah pipe in the scene, ” Freeman recalls. “But I don’t smoke, and I was trying to get used to smoking this thing. And I was puffing away before we began shooting. And when Harrison arrived, suddenly, I thought I was going to be ill. So, during the scene, I thought this was the end of my career because I thought I was going to throw up on Harrison Ford!”
Luckily, thanks to Ford’s support and patience, the scene got filmed, and the rest is immortal film history.
All four Indiana Jones films have just been re-released on 4k Blu-ray and they’ve never looked better.
This article was originally published on