Monkey status: This film features monkeys
Raiders of the Lost Ark was created an homage to old Hollywood serial heroes like Doc Savage and… um… Uncle Scrooge. It followed that such a script would take its hero to exotic locales like Peru, Egypt and… that big room with all the boxes of artefacts.
Perfect opportunity for a monkey role. The Cairo scenes have one of the real classics of the genre. The capuchin that follows the main characters around for a few scenes is enshrined in the hearts of the world.
George Lucas’ first ideas for the script involved the monkey giving a Hitler salute. While this would have been a novel experience for audiences, one has to wonder exactly how an animal trainer would get the animal to perform the gesture. And while they were at it, why don’t they make it goose step as well?
Extensive research by the team here at Is there a monkey in it? found that the Sieg Heil effect was created by hanging a grape off a fishing rod and dangling it above the monkey’s head. That’s what they call method acting.
We are treated to a monkey character that is villainous. He is shown hanging out with an Egyptian fellow (played by the multi-talented Vic Tablian, who also played a Peruvian mercenary in the same film) moonlighting as a Nazi henchman – by proxy that is a Nazi monkey.
You have to wonder what the life path was that lead the character to this place. Did Lucas have any ideas of back-story that he may h
ave shared with the actor? Maybe the political vacuum and economic wasteland of post-war Germany had driven this monkey to skid row, and reactionary politics were the only weapon that his limited brain function allowed him to see that he could even envisage fighting back with. Sounds sort of relevant to certain events of this year, doesn’t it?
So somehow that little Nazi monkey represents all of us. Searching for the way through this confusing world while holding onto the shreds of dignity we have left. But there’s a warning in there for our inner Nazi monkey. The poisoned dates.
It’s the monkey that takes the forbidden fruit in Sallah’s house and dies alone and uncared for on the floor, serving only as a warning to bigger animals that danger is afoot. If we keep on going in this direction, we too will be nothing but a little capuchin corpse on the sandy floor of an Egyptian man’s apartment.
But all that gross polemic aside, the monkey is really cute. It really pulls at your heartstrings that you don’t know whether to cheer for it or root against it. He may be on some level working for some pretty evil people, but he doesn’t know that! He’s just doing what he’s been trained to do, right? That’s what I want to believe.
But taking the monkey’s agency away in my head to preserve its morals kind of makes his story even sadder. He reaches for that poisoned date without the space in his head to conceive that it might pose a danger to him. His death is uncelebrated, his sentience feather dusted away into the great abyss of post-life with barely a word from Indiana Jones.
On a cheerier note, the monkey was voiced by the third highest grossing actor in Hollywood history, unbeknownst to many. In his turn as the ill-fated simian’s shrieks and cries, Frank Welker wowed critics – particularly with his soliloquy scene. But one has to wonder – are we humans really better at making monkey noises than the monkeys themselves? I knew human-washing would rear its ugly head again before too long.