The scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones casually shoots a sword-wielding attacker with his revolver, has become an iconic piece of cinema, and for decades, rumors have been circulating about the inspiration behind the epic moment, and finally, the gun/knife fight urban myths are being clarified 42 years later. Fans have debated whether the scene was devised by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, or star Harrison Ford, with theories about budget cuts and illness adding fuel to the fire over the years. Only recently has anyone involved with the movie been able to clarify how the iconic scene came about.


Since Raiders’ release in 1981, the Indiana Jones franchise has become a global phenomenon, but information about its production wasn’t as readily available as it is now. As fans became more interested in the reality behind the movie magic, Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford started sharing more about their experience on set in books and interviews. Even with more information readily available, there have been conflicting reports over the years, but there are a few primary reports of the scene’s impetus that when taken as an aggregate, seem to present the full story.

Yes, Harrison Ford Shot The Swordsman Because Of An Illness

Indiana Jones confronts a swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark

The predominantly held viewpoint is that Harrison Ford shot the swordsman because of an illness. A much more elaborate fight scene was planned, but Ford developed dysentery while filming in Morocco, and devised a much easier way for Indy to get out of the scrape. The scene was intended to play out much more like a duel, with the swordsman facing down Indy’s bullwhip, but Ford’s symptoms were so debilitating, and he was in so much discomfort that he came up with the alternative scene that ended up being perfect for the movie in the end.

RELATED: 6 Ways Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s Opening Scene Establishes Indy’s CharacterUltimately, the scene works better because it’s more aligned with Indy as a character. He knows his way around a whip, but given how analytical his mind is and how adaptive he is in different situations, it would make sense for him to discern the quickest and easiest way out of the confrontation. After all, he’s trying to find Marion, so there’s an added sense of urgency to the scene that would have been hindered if he’d stopped to fight the swordsman, and it has the added benefit of getting a big laugh from the audience due to subverting expectations.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s Gun/Sword Fight Wasn’t Changed Just Because Of Harrison Ford’s Illness

Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark

While Harrison Ford’s illness played a large role in the Raiders of the Lost Ark’s gun/swordfight scene, there were other factors that contributed to changing it. Producer Frank Marshall revealed that the shoot was already taking too long and production was going over budget, so filming the elaborate fight scene as planned would have just caused other setbacks. “We had been shooting in Tunisia in 130 degrees for six weeks and we had three days left,” Marshall said. “We were supposed to shoot this huge fight between the whip and the sword. It took the whole morning to shoot just three storyboards.” (via Hollywood Reporter)

By making use of Indy’s gun, the scene was shot in just a couple of takes, putting the entire production two full days ahead of schedule at a time when the first Indiana Jones movie was delayed already. Marshall’s commentary provides an insightful look into the minutiae of how movies are made, and how something that was born from a sense of utility can end up becoming a piece of Hollywood history. Had certain factors not coalesced at the exact time that they did, then the scene might not have been as memorable.

It’s Unclear Who Actually Came Up With The Idea Of Indy Shooting The Swordsman

Raiders of the Lost Ark gun vs. sword

Marshall couldn’t recall exactly who came up with the idea of Indy shooting the swordsman since it was all discussed over lunch. While he explained that Harrison Ford’s illness definitely forced everyone to consider a different scenario, and the actor often gets credited with it, no one can say for sure who said Indy should shoot his assailant and jump on to the next part of the adventure. No one has come forward other than Ford to definitely claim the glory for devising such an iconic scene.

While the truth of the matter most likely lies somewhere in the middle, there’s no denying that something special was born from necessity. Not only does it add to Indy’s mystique as a character, but it also reveals how involved Ford was in developing one of his most famous roles. It’s also an interesting anecdote that highlights the difficulties of shooting Raiders of the Lost Ark at a time when people thought the first Indiana Jones movie wouldn’t work, that somehow manages to set the foundation for one of the most dynamic action franchises and provide inspiration for all those that have followed in its footsteps.

Source: Hollywood Reporter

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