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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In interviews conducted at the time, producers George Lucas and Rick
McCallum mentioned how varied the episodes of the Young Indiana Jones
Chronicles were. One week it's a drama, the next a love story, and the
one after that is a comedy. As far as being funny was concerned, two
episodes really stuck out, and it is only natural that they would be
combined into one feature length film (even though chronologically, the
very serious episode Petrograd, July 1917 was to have happened in
between Barcelona and Prague assignments). Both of the stories are
played completely over the top by all the actors concerned (not unlike
Spielberg's '1941'), something which immediately sets them apart from
the rest of the Young Indy series. The first half, "Barcelona, May
1917", directed by Python Terry Jones, is the funnier of the two, while
the second half, "Prague, August 1917" is full of the kind of slapstick
that must have seemed funnier on paper than it does on film. I suppose
George Lucas really enjoys this kind of humor, as evident from the use
of it in "Radioland Murders" and the much maligned Jar Jar Binks of
"The Phantom Menace"
Each Chapter in these complete adventures starts with a title splashy 'old fashioned serial style' title, but this one has a silly and cheap editing machine wipe added to it that that looks quite dated and pathetic in this, the age of Youtube. The film begins with some establishing shots of Barcelona, than we see the opening of the Prague episodes as Indy (S.P. Flanery) enters a shop. Instead of meeting Timothy Spall and Charles McKeown as he originally did, here he is introduced to Terry Jones in a brand new scene shot especially for "Espionage Escapades". Jones then takes on the part of narrator originally filled by George Hall (as 93 year old Indiana) as we segue into the Barcelona episode. There is another, much shorter new scene between Flanery & Jones after Barcelona concludes, in which the real life Jones (Terry) points the actor playing Jones (Flanery) towards Spall and McKeown and the rest of the Prague footage.
An amazing line up of British comedy talent is featured herein, but unfortunately a lot of them are completely wasted in thankless cameos. Terry Jones, suspiciously cast as an Italian, heads a trio of silly international spies: Spall as a Brit and McKeown as a Frenchie. Harry Enfield gets little to work with playing a chauffeur with a little Hitler mustache. Raiders veteran Bill Hootkins, who usually only got to play single scene characters, fares better as Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Dutch actress Amanda Ooms plays ballet star Nadia and proves that comedy is not her forte. There are many more familiar faces from the British comedy scene in smaller roles, such as Liz Smith and Stephen Frost, and even Danny Webb makes a return as Pablo Picasso. Here's a bit of trivia for you: according to Dan Madsen's book "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles - On the set and behind the scenes", Terry Jones objected just as much to having his hair cut as his character Marcello does in the story.
The Prague episodes is even more packed with British talent (but unfortunately far lower on laughs). Nickolas Grace, who was such a scene stealer as the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin of Sherwood", is completely miscast here as 'colonel Clouseau' a bumbling French spy who is obviously some sort of misguided reference to the Peter Sellers' most famous alter ego. Philip Davis, Prince John to Grace's sheriff, appears briefly, as do two regulars from Blackadder: Bill Wallis and Tim McInnerny. The later gets top billing as Franz Kafka. Why on Earth writer Gavin Scott decided to make all sorts of silly joke references to Kafka's work I'll never understand. The misguided caper concerns our Indiana trying to install a telephone in his hotel room in order to receive an important call. Trevor Bannister (of 'Are you Being Served') and Harry Fowler manage to raise a smile as two telephone installers, but Michael McShane (of Who's line is it anyway) does not. Still, it was nice to see 'Carry On' regular Bernard Blessaw one last time in his last screen role at the Ministry of Telephones.
I must confess I did not like the Prague installment the first time I saw it on television and was not looking forward to watching it again as part of this feature. I even found myself viewing the two stories separately on different days of the week instead of in one sitting. 'Prague' is without a doubt the worst Young Indy episode ever made. There is even some unbearable sped up slapstick of the Jar Jar kind concerning a filing cabinet. Nickolas Grace's turn as Clouseau is unforgivable. Somebody in the credit department must have thought so as well, as his part is simply listed as 'The Prague Spy' in the end credits. Surely they couldn't have been afraid of MGM suing them for character infringement? After filming the bulk of the series in and around the studios in Prague, it's a shame the only episode to actually feature the city is such a dud.
5 out of 10
Ps. At the start of the Prague assignment, Indy (calling himself "Amadeus Schubelgruber") is sent to the Netherlands. Although this sequence was obviously filmed in Prague (with the possible exception of one establishing shot which might well be a matte), we do get to hear some peasants speaking flawless Dutch. However none of the lines match the Czech actors lip movement at all and the women's voices sound much younger than the old crones we see on screen. Also, there seems to be some confusion concerning money: the old man mentions 3 Stuivers (Dutch currency), yet the sub tiles say 50 Francs (French currency).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As like the other Young Indy "movies" there are two stories in one. The first part is set in Spain and Paulo Picasso returns which is quite nice but he doesn't have a huge part like in his first episode. The second Austria. The latter is one of the most annoyingly hilarious episodes ever made for either just television or even if the 45-minute second part was a feature length movie. It was so tense that my eyes have never been so wide open and my jaw just like in classic cartoons was down to the floor. It's just a simple adventure for Indy but it turns really frustrating. All he needs to do is stay in an apartment for three days and on the third day he will receive a "very important phone call that could change the course of history". But in the apartment he discovers there is no phone and asks a woman where it is and she says people took it. Indy then goes into the most nightmare-like incidents that gets him in court, jail, up and down every single building and rolls down flocks of stairs on the cabinet. It is terrifying, and really really tense and it would be nice if there was another episode that was like this, even though comedy doesn't suit Indiana Jones it would be nice to see another one
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A potentially exciting series of adventures in the life of young
Indiana Jones (Sean Patrick Flanery) is ruined by a dip into unfunny
slapstick comedy. Indy is posted to Barcelona on another intelligence
mission to monitor Colonel Schmitd (Kenneth Cranham), a German military
man based in Spain. Later on, he ends up in Prague, where a simple
mission to install a telephone becomes a bureaucratic nightmare...
The production values and the acting are all still good quality, but the performers are severely hampered by a script which plays all their scenes for out-and-out comedy. Comedy, as demonstrated by the "Star Wars" prequels, is not Lucasfilm's strongest suit. The nonsense that ensues includes a scene where Indy, masquerading as a dancer, communicates with his colleagues using his diamond codpiece (don't ask) and a slapstick scene where Indy chases a vital document through the city streets, upsetting many people along the way. Some of the actors in these sequences are lumbered with French accents right out of "'Allo Allo".
There are still a few gems here. Flanery is still highly watchable as Indy and it's nice to see Danny Webb make a return as Picasso. It's a relief when Tim McInnery turns up as Kafka and he plays his part straight, balancing out the absurdity of the episode.
Not as good as the others but still watchable entertainment.
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