'Raiders of the Lost Ark': The Truck Chase Scene Took 5 Weeks to Film and Injured Harrison Ford Along the Way

Remember that iconic truck chase scene in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark? We sat on the edge of our seats and willed Indy to hang in there throughout the entire six-minute chase. Well, there’s a story behind that scene that’s almost as exciting as the scene itself. 

First, though, let’s take a look at the cast. Danny DeVito was director Steven Spielberg’s first choice to play Sallah, Indy’s buddy who instigated the truck chase. However, DeVito was tied up with Taxi at the time and the job went to John Rhys-Davies, instead. Now it’s hard to picture anyone else playing Indy’s deeply loyal, yet opportunistic, friend. 

DeVito wasn’t the only actor who had to pass up a part in the film. Tom Selleck would have played the daredevil archaeologist if he hadn’t landed the role of Magnum, P.I. first. Fortunately for us, Harrison Ford was available!

The start of a powerhouse movie franchise

Hollywood Insider describes this epic film as, “The birth of one of the most iconic franchises in film history.” The United States Library of Congress inducted Raiders of the Lost Ark into the National Film Registry in 1999. Only films that are considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” are included in this prestigious Registry. 

In the first film of the franchise, adventurer and archeology professor Indiana Jones is in hot pursuit of yet another archaeological treasure. This time it’s the long-lost Ark of the Covenant. It’s 1936 and the United States government is desperate to keep the Ark and its mystical powers out of the clutches of the Nazis. They hire Jones to retrieve the Ark and prevent its use as a Nazi superweapon.

The ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ truck scene

This thrill-a-minute chase is Indy’s opportunity to snatch the Ark from under the noses of the Nazis. The scene is a tribute to Yakima Canutt’s famous stunt in John Ford’s epic 1939 western, Stagecoach, according to Collider. It took plenty of time and thoughtful planning to pull off this version of that memorable stunt. In fact, the six-minute truck chase took five weeks to film!

According to IMDb, all three of Ford’s stunt doubles had roles in the scene. Terry Leonard played the German truck driver,  whom Ford punched out of the cab. He was also the horseman who jumped onto the truck and was the man who slid under the moving truck and was pulled behind it.

Vic Armstrong rode the horse for most of the early part of the scene and  Martin Grace was at the falling statue. They also played the German soldiers who were wiped off the side of the truck.

Just as when he did the boulder stunt at the beginning of the film, Ford was also a part of the real action during the truck chase. He was dragged behind the truck for a few of the shots and badly bruised his ribs in the process. His response to the injury? He quipped, “If it really was dangerous, they would have filmed more of the movie first.”

Preparing for the truck chase

The truck, a Mercedes-Benz LG3000 replica, was built farther off the ground than normal to allow for extra clearance. The center of the road was also dug out for even more room. If you watch closely, you can actually see the shallow trough in the roadway beneath the truck as Indy is being dragged.

Finally, the scene was shot at 20 frames per second rather than the usual 24. This makes it look like the truck is moving faster than it really was during filming.

Harrison Ford took a battering 

Besides his bruised ribs from the truck scene, Ford was also injured in the scene with the out-of-control airplane. The plane actually ran over his knee and could have crushed it. Fortunately, the extreme heat had softened the tires enough to provide a bit of cushioning and the actor only tore a ligament in his left leg. Ford carried on with his work using nothing more than ice wraps for the injury.

In one improvised scene from the movie, Ford simply shoots a swordsman rather than dueling with him. That scene came about because the star had dysentery at the time and wasn’t feeling up to an exhilarating but long-drawn-out whip versus sword battle. As he explained later, the suffering star “… found it inconvenient to be out of my trailer for more than 10 minutes at a time.” This humorous and much-loved scene in the first Indiana Jones movie was the result.

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