Indiana Jones, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Tintin. Many similarities, including the motorcycle, and one single inspiration.
In 2008, Harrison Ford dusts off his leather jacket and Borsalino for the fourth iteration of his favorite role, Indiana Jones. The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, directed by Steven Spielberg (like previous episodes), offers an unexpected jump into science-fiction, with some Area 51 action and a final alien flying saucer. The slightly jaded hero worthily copes with the torments of a sooty scenario, and assemble with his son (Mutt / Shia LaBeouf) to compose an effective duo, funnily reflecting himself and his own father (Henry Jones Senior / Sean Connery ) in The Last Crusade (1989).
Two motorcycle scenes are contributing to this dialogue between episodes: the sidecar getaway of The Last Crusade, and the Harley chase in The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Technically, two vehicles that look like what they are not, since the German side actually is a Soviet Dnepr, an Ukrainian brand founded in 1957, well after the supposed movie period, and Mutt’s Harley is not the 50’s glory that we might think of, but an original creation by Justin Kell of Glory Motor Works, based on a modern Softail Springer. Aesthetically, three generations engaged in a common cause, three positive and willing characters, modern knights in the service of a Greater Good. Each custodian of a particular archetype: Mutt, rebel replica of Johnny Strabler / Marlon Brando in The Wild One; Indy, always at home, charming in all circumstances; and Henry, venerable scholar, serious or playful, solitary patriarch. Catalysts of universal identifications, they also symbolize the story’s accessibility to spectators of all ages, from 7 to 77 years, as the saying goes on the most famous cartoon.
But before discussing the genesis of director Steven Spielberg’s visions, another cinematographic couple brings us closer of it. Because it drinks from the same source, and it inspires even more directly Indiana Jones’ character: The Man from Rio (1964), Philippe de Broca, and its lower counterpart, Tribulations of a Chinaman in China (1965). In The Man from Rio, Jean-Paul Belmondo lays the foundations for Raiders of the Lost Ark, action and adventure, relaxation and humor, seduction mixed with exotic features, and establishes itself as the unparalleled leader of a glorious line of actors/stuntmen, in the midst of the construction of Brasilia. Connections with Spielberg’s work are striking, lush landscapes full of archaeological mysteries, from a transatlantic airplane crossing to a motorcycle chase. This one takes the streets of Paris as a familiar stage, starting in Île Saint-Louis, crossing the city until the south border of the périphérique, to end near Orly Airport, where Adrien Dufourquet / Belmondo abandons the Triumph TRW 500cc borrowed in Rue Bretonvilliers to track the kidnappers of Agnès / Françoise Dorléac.
A motorcycle for a motorcycle requires a sidecar for a sidecar: The Last Crusade’s Dnepr counterpart appears in Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, as a momentary container of characters templates. Indeed, chased by the Hong Kong Triads, five characters will escape within this vehicle. In the side, a couple composed of Arthur Lempereur / Belmondo, disillusioned hero very similar to Kin-Fo in Jules Verne’s novel, and Alexandrine Pinardel / Ursula Andress as a prototype of James Bond girls to come. On the machine, the final clue to the main quote: a trio composed of the valet Leon / Jean Rochefort, who mirrors a certain Nestor associated with Cornac / Paul Préboist and Roquentin / Mario David, insurance company bodyguards, obvious duplicate of Hergé’s Thompsons.
For that is the Starting Point, for De Broca as well as Spielberg, the “King of entertainment”: a common childhood memory, the friendly and sometimes naive creature of a belgian cartoonist, ultimate hero which Spielberg will definitely honour in 2011, in three dimensions: The Adventures of Tintin. The three layers of inspiration are conspicuous, the reporter boy-scout for the protagonists of Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, and for the screenplay of The Man from Rio. Then Belmondo, via De Broca, who develops the character of the positive adventurer, fortunately enriching him with a touch of humor and a nifty sex-appeal, giving it the carnal thickness, the assured and mature character he was missing. Finally, Indiana Jones, as a combined result of these previous influences, whose universality proceeds from the ideas he stands for.
And like the latter, constantly searching for a relic, nothing prevents us from digging a little deeper. Hergé having never openly expressed himself about the birth of the young reporter, multiple studies and analyzes around his work suggested a few leads. One is interesting enough. Motorcycles only appear sporadically throughout the Tintin albums, yet its importance is not insignificant at all. It is even one of the founding elements of the hero, starting at the third page of his first Soviet adventures. It is, above all, the utter mechanical counterpart, the ultimate vehicle of a legendary and too discreet rider; a real life adventurer who probably inspired the cartoonist. The absolute origin: Robert Sexé, photojournalist, author of one of the first round the world trip on a Gillet-Herstal (Belgium) motorcycle in 1926. To his credit, also, Turkey, Moscow, Europe and other tours around the Globe, an expedition from the Seine river to the Euphrates river, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied (one of his companions was the land speed record holder René Milhoux). The accounts of his travels have certainly passed through the offices of the Belgian newspaper, Le Vingtième Siècle, which counted among its employees the famous Georges Rémi (Hergé), illustrator for the youth supplement Le Petit Vingtième. Thus, when he draws his character on a motorcycle, in the album King Ottokar’s Sceptre, it is a Gillet-Herstal (or its twin, the FN M90 500cc), of course.
From this absolute origin to the Hollywood retelling, extends a chain of connections that underline the construction of a mythical character, the big-hearted adventurer, the modern knight whose horse, of course, burns asphalt with its two wheels, as a true vehicle for a glorious hero. Delighted to avoid the pain of a journey by car, the rider still understands the old sorrow of Proud Lancelot, condemned to travel in the Cart of Infamy to save his Lady, to the harsh cost of his own honor.