A Severe Illness Led To One Of Harrison Ford's Most Memorable Indiana Jones Moments

From the comforts of 2023, it's easy to think of Indiana Jones as the ultimate on-screen adventurer. After all, the character has managed to capture young hearts for decades. But for the adventurer to amass such a strong legacy, his early films — "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in particular — had to establish him as confident and skilled. Sure, director Steven Spielberg always wanted to make sure that Indiana Jones could get hurt (there was no bulletproof plot armor here), but if Indy didn't stand a fighting chance against daunting threats, what kid — or inner kid — would want to root for him?

Fortunately, moments like the famous sword versus gun fight in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" quickly proved that Indiana Jones could hold his own against intimidating bad guys, making it easier to cheer for him in the future. However, the scene was originally going to look very different — and curiously enough, the character's quick reputation as a skilled adventurer might've simply been the silver lining of a bad case of dysentery on set.

No time to rest

As Harrison Ford would tell Entertainment Tonight, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was shot on a very tight schedule, with little time to account for delays. This presented a major problem when the majority of the crew came down with dysentery and simply couldn't afford to take any time off. To make matters worse, the illness hit just as Ford was supposed to film an elaborate sword versus whip fight. He and George Lucas had spent a long time creating a 3-page script for the choreography (it was one of the movie's few relatively structured sequences), and Steven Spielberg "had searched the world for the best swordsman." Even if everyone was healthy, the sequence would have required three days of filming.

On the first of the three dedicated days, Ford was feeling unwell and decided to see if Spielberg — one of the few healthy people on set — would be willing to scrap the fight. "I went up to Steven as soon as I arrived and I said, 'Steven, why don't we just shoot this son o'b****?' And Steven said, 'Uh ... my God, I was thinking that too,'" Ford explained. The rest, as they say, was history.

The makings of a legacy

The fight might've been over unexpectedly fast, but it had a massive impact on the rest of the movie. Let's be honest: the swordsman looked pretty intimidating and it's hard to imagine that Indiana could've beaten him without the use of a gun. By quickly being able to eliminate a situation that otherwise would've spelled his end, the adventurer proved that he was more than capable of taking care of himself — at least, for the moment.

While it's easy to cheer for Indiana as he beats the swordsman, the exchange humbles the adventurer just as quickly. For a moment, Dr. Jones seems invincible — look how easily he won against such a terrifying opponent! But by that same token, every time he now struggles to beat the Nazis to the Ark of the Covenant, the group's strength is silently reinforced. If the Nazis can outpace the great Indiana Jones — the man who could defeat an intimidating swordsman without a second thought — they suddenly seem like a frighteningly competent threat.

At the end of the day, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is such an entertaining watch because Indiana Jones remains the scruffy, ever-determined hero, even when the cards seem to be stacked impossibly high against him. But if we didn't see such a big contrast between his cool confidence when fighting the swordsman and his struggle to beat the Nazis, would the movie still be so enthralling? If not, the on-set dysentery that affected so many crew members might just have been key to the movie's (and later, the franchise's) enduring success.