Ok, so I have not exactly hidden my opinions of Indiana Jones and Gilbert & Sullivan under a bushel. While one has been a unmitigated mainstay of my upbringing and imagination, the other remains, IMO, a unreservedly awful amalgamation of Victoriana nonsense and whimsey, if with a couple of catchy tunes, oft whistled by retired high-ranking Naval-types as they step out from South Coast guesthouses to pick up a copy of their morning Argus. No beating round the bushel here. I even have the fedora (thank you Oxford Risk), and I am never, ever, sick at sea…
So as I enjoyed watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for the 897th time last week (it’s on iPlayer again) I was amazed to discover a snippet from those masters of musical malaise had been cunningly slipped into one of the finest films every to grace the silvered screen. It was as if Turner had painted a cunningly disguised turd floating down the Thames past the Fighting Temeraire as she was gently tugged to her last berth to be broken up, or Constable slipped in a silhouette of some rogue pissing up the side of the hay wain in his depiction of the Suffolk bucolicism. So while I have the greatest of respect for Salah and his choice of natty headgear (few men can pull off a Cairo tarboush (‘fez’, if you must) as he can) I have to wonder about his obsession with Gilbert & Sullivan early operetta HMS Pinafore.
When Indi tells him that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place in order to find the Well of Souls, the map room that will locate the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, he busts into the the opening lines of “I am the Monarch of the Sea“. He even does it with some gusto. He compounds the error later in the film when he blurts out “A British Tar” from the same operetta as Indi and Marion board the Bantu Wind alongside Port Said. Mercifully we are spared more than the opening lines on both occasions. Well… we all make mistakes.
Incidentally, if you want a really good account of what the Well of Souls might actually be like, without the musical interruption and worrying about snakes, look no further than your old friend and mine, Sir Richard Francis Burton. He explored it in 1871, and his wife gives a really good account in The Inner Life of Syria, Palestine, and the Holy Land: From My Private Journal. See pages 376-377.