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The truth behind the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' sword fight


For one of cinema’s most iconic actors, Harrison Ford is an individual well known for his down-to-earth attitude and blasé approach to the typical Hollywood studio system. Depicting the space-cowboy Han Solo, futuristic cop Rick Deckard, and of course, the whipped archaeologist Indiana Jones, Ford is responsible for some of cinema’s coolest characters, each of which unafraid to ‘shoot first’. Perhaps Harrison Ford’s most famous scene is his clash with the Egyptian swordsman in Indiana Jones’ first adventure, Raiders of the Lost Ark, a scene that well encapsulates Jones’ frank approach to his work, and may have never come to be if it wasn’t for Harrison Ford’s own practical mind.

The film, set in 1936, follows Indiana’s mission to rescue the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ an ancient and mysterious golden chest that Adolf Hitler believes will make his Nazi army unstoppable. After a violent bar fight that ends in a furious blaze, Jones travels to Cairo, Egypt to meet his friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and search for further clues, only to be discovered by Nazi soldiers. 

Tunisia was used in the film to portray Egypt, a location director Steven Spielberg described as “one of my worst location experiences” due to the boiling 54 °C (130 °F) temperature, as well the sickness of over 150 crew members due to amoebic dysentery from the local food. In addition to this, a whole day of filming was lost in Tunisia because of the 300 TV antennas that had to be removed from the surrounding area before filming. Suddenly, the ‘Cairo’ sequence had become an absolute ordeal. 

The most iconic part of this sequence is when Jones comes face-to-face with a menacing Egyptian swordsman, depicted by British stuntman Terry Richards who went through several weeks of training to prepare for the promising fight sequence. As Harrison Ford described in a recent Reddit AMA, “It was meant to be the ultimate duel between sword and whip,” but due to the actor’s own bout of dysentery, he was unable to perform for long periods of time. As a result of this illness, Ford suggested to Steven Spielberg “that we just shoot the son a bitch,” to which Spielberg answered: “I was thinking that as well.”

As Harrison Ford recalls of the scene, his fellow stuntman “was quite surprised by the idea that we would dispatch him in five minutes,” though he reluctantly agreed to shoot the new scene, “He flourished his sword, I pulled out my gun and shot him, and then we went back to England.” 

Thus was born one of Harrison Ford’s greatest moments, a scene that perfect illustrates his own effortless style…