Raiders Of The Lost Ark's Flying Wing Fight Was A Split-Second Idea From Steven Spielberg

It's one of the coolest fights in movie history. In Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," archeologist-adventurer Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) has escaped from the Egyptian Well of Souls, linked up with partner Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), and plans to escape from the German Nazi forces (who are there in pursuit of a biblical artifact) by stealing a plane. All goes well until a German mechanic hassles a clearly out-of-place Indy, and a quick scuffle takes place. Despite being at a disadvantage, he disarms his opponent and scurries up the plane to take control. Then, a towering behemoth of muscle in the form of wrestler Pat Loach emerges from a normal-sized hut like Gandalf out of a Hobbit-hole, grinning at the prospect of a bare-knuckle fight.

The bout that ensues is seared into the minds of movie lovers around the world, a love letter to the old 20th-century serials that inspired it like "Buck Rogers." The fight-and-escape sequence was shot in Tunisia, where temps would reach 125, according to producer Frank Marshall. It was hot, dry, the crew decimated by dysentery. But over three days, what became known as the Flying Wing fight would evolve, contrived off the top of Spielberg's head on the set of "Raiders." In a 40th anniversary look-back at the 1981 adventure masterpiece, the "War of the Worlds" director tells Empire:

"The whole Flying Wing fight was improvised. One idea gave access to the next, it was a real lesson in cinematic improvisation. I was getting really excited, as the possibilities were overwhelming. I had to stop myself before the sequence became an eight-minute-long one that George [Lucas] would cut down to three-and-a-half."

Watch your head

One of the best parts of the Flying Wing fistfight is that it features a certain type of action hero, one you really have to search for in American action-adventure movies these days. For most of the fight, Jones is doing what the fast and the furious abhor: he is obviously losing. This academic just got finished fighting a grown man wielding a wrench, and now he has to go toe-to-toe with a walking bicep, who is literally looking for a fight. He gives the Teutonic titan his best kick to the gut and completely whiffs his first swing, earning a swift return jab for his troubles. It's enough to make his knees buckle. Ford's stunt double, Vic Armstrong, praised the actor's dedication to the role, and his desire to do as many stunts as possible. Ford tells Empire:

"The stunts were the key part of the thing, getting as far into them as I could. Working with the brilliant Vic Armstrong, working out how much I could do. We would always devise how the character would work in these circumstances."

And how does Indiana Jones work in these circumstances? He takes multiple hits to the jaw. He fights dirty, biting limbs and throwing sand in his opponent's eyes. At one point, he even takes cover behind a wheel of the plane. But the best part of this brand of action hero is that his brawn doesn't win the fight. First, he is nearly shot by the pilot but saved by Marion's quick thinking. Four of his hardest haymakers do absolutely nothing to the mechanic, so it's clear that muscle won't win. 

In the end, common sense prevails and the victor is the one who listens to the timeless wisdom: be aware of your surroundings, especially around giant spinning blades.