[I]t is possible that in the not too distant future if the Indian wants to learn about India he will have to consult the West, and if the West wants to remember how they were, they will have to come to us. 
-Gita Mehta (from Karma Cola, p. 192)
i. Oz and India 
Blond Glinda arriving at Munchkinland in her magic bubble might cause Dorothy to comment on the high speed and oddity of local transport operating in Oz, but to an Indian audience she was arriving exactly as a god should arrive: ex machina, out of her own machine.
-Salman Rushdie (BFI Classics: The Wizard of Oz, p. 9, 11)

At the end of the 1950s, in what was then called Bombay, a boy named Salman Rushdie caught The Wizard of Oz on television. He would later write a slim volume on the movie for the British Film Institute’s Classics series. In a chapter called ‘A Short Text About Magic,’ he explains it was the film’s themes of escape and transcendence, not its Hollywood gloss, that appealed to him as a child. Indeed, the splash of Hindi musicals of the 1950s tended to make the spectacle of 1939’s Oz “look like kitchen-sink realism” to anyone raised on “the staple diet of the Indian filmgoer” (9). There were some key differences between Bollywood musicals and The Wizard of Oz. “Most Hindi movies were then and are now what can only be called trashy,” Rushdie continues, “[t]he pleasure to be had from such films (and some of them are extremely enjoyable) is something like the fun of eating junk food” (ibid 13). The Wizard of Oz, on the other hand, not only brings shiny Hollywood production values to bear on the fantastic elements of Bollywood, but also adds a more elusive X-factor: “Call it imaginative truth,” Rushdie continues: “Call it (reach for revolvers now) art” (ibid).
Rushdie claims it was the 1939 Oz film, not the turn-of-the-century book it was based on, that made a writer out of him. At the age of ten, he wrote his first story, ‘Over the Rainbow’ (ibid 9). Its twelve-odd pages were lost during his family’s many moves over the years, but the film – especially its Technicolor palette (at a time when most Hindi musicals were still black and white) would still find its way, even subconsciously, into his future, un-lost fiction: 
"The Wizard of Oz...goes for bold expressionist splashes – the yellow of the Brick Road, the red of the Poppy Field, the green of the Emerald City and of the witch’s skin. So striking were these colour effects that, soon after seeing the film as a child, I began to dream of green-skinned witches; years afterwards, I gave these dreams to the narrator of my novel Midnight’s Children [1981], having completely forgotten their source."(ibid 33)
At one point in the novel, narrator Saleem Sinai suffers a terrifying hallucination:
"No colours except green and black the walls are green the sky is black (there is no roof) the stars are green the Widow is green but her hair is black as black. The Widow sits on a high high chair the chair is green the seat is black the Widow’s hair has a centre-parting it is green on the left and on the right black. High as the sky the chair is green the seat is black the Widow’s arm is long as death its skin is green the fingernails are long and sharp and black. Between the walls the children green the walls are green the Widow’s arm comes snaking down the snake is green the children scream the fingernails are black they scratch the Widow’s arm is hunting see the children run and scream the Widow’s hand curls round them green and black." (Midnight’s Children 238)
In Saleem’s fever dream, “the nightmare of Indira Gandhi is fused with the equally nightmarish figure of Margaret Hamilton: a coming-together of the Wicked Witches of the East and of the West” (Rushdie, Oz 33).
This nightmare, as presented in Midnight’s Children, owes its hues and imagery to Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film, and not to WW Denslow’s illustrations of the same character in L Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In the novel, first published in 1900, the Witch is a diminutive old crone wearing an eye patch. She’s got pigtails sticking out from the side of her head, tied off with little ribbons. Her jester-like black skirt is covered in esoteric symbols, moons, snakes and frogs. The extremely tall, narrow pointed hat features stripes and what looks like the face of a demon. She doesn’t have a cape or a broom and there’s no indication that her skin is green. Overall, she comes across more as a medieval fortune teller than a spell-casting evil-doer.
Walt Disney’s groundbreaking Snow White, the world’s first full-length animated feature, was released in 1938. It was an enormous success. The film’s evil queen is sleekly beautiful in her form-fitting black skull-cap, regal in her purple dress; dynamic in her flowing cape. Her look influenced MGM producer Mervyn LeRoy to conceive of Oz’s Wicked Witch as “a glamorous witch, a fallen woman wearing green eyeshadow” (Harmetz 122). 
LeRoy wanted Gale Sondergaard to play the role. He had directed Sondergaard in her first film, Anthony Adverse, for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She did a screen test for Oz in a tight black dress covered in sequins, wearing a skullcap and make-up that stuck pretty closely to the Snow White evil queen template. She looked great. But not everybody was thrilled by the glamorous, “fallen woman” concept. LeRoy approached Sondergaard recalls, saying 
"‘Gale, the people around me say I can’t make the witch a glamorous witch. The children need that wicked, hateful witch. I don’t want you to be an ugly witch.’ I said, ‘Fine, Mervyn. I really don’t want to be an ugly, hateful witch.’ And that was the end of it. In those days, I was not about to make myself ugly for any motion picture.’"(quoted in ibid 123)
Margaret Hamilton had fewer qualms. Cast as the film’s “ugly, hateful” villain, her Witch is full of sarcasm and cackling menace. The sheer panache of her performance was indelibly burnt into the psyches of Salman Rushdie and thousands of others. Small children, even when meeting the elderly Margaret Hamilton – who was, by all accounts, a kind and pleasant woman – would rush to hide behind their mothers. Older children weren’t immune, either. “‘Almost always they want me to laugh like the Witch,’” Hamilton tells Aljean Harmetz, author of The Making of The Wizard of Oz, ‘“and sometimes when I go to schools, if we’re in an auditorium, I’ll do it’” (208).
"And there’s always a funny reaction, like Ye Gods, they wish they hadn’t asked. They’re scared. They’re really scared for a second. Even adolescents. I guess for a minute they get the feeling they got when they watched the picture. They like to hear it but they don’t like to hear it. And then they go, ‘Ohhhhhhhhhh’...The picture made a terrible impression of some kind on them, sometimes a ghastly impression, but most of them got over it, I guess. Although some are still struggling with it." (quoted in ibid)
The striking appearance of the Witch with her strange green skin retained its power to reactivate childhood fears as much as the sound of her cackle. The greenness, however, had more to do with the complexities of early Technicolor than any attempts to make her appearance even more bizarre and frightening. When photographed on a brightly-lit set, an actor’s pale hands sticking out of the sleeves of a jet black costume would either disappear into the background, or appear to be separated from the wrists. Painting the hands and face a bright colour solved the problem. Green just happened to look best on film. That the Witch’s skin tone echoes the colour scheme of the Emerald City is a happy coincidence. 
Hamilton would make several television appearances throughout the seventies. In 1975, she appeared on the long-running children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as Princess Margaret H. Lizard, an old college pal of King Friday XIII (one of the many puppet characters performed by Fred Rogers himself). On the set of Rogers’ non-Make Belief house, Hamilton donned her Witch’s costume, explaining to the host that it was a combination of garb, make-up and make-believe that created the character. She also pointed out that, much of the time, the Witch acts less out of evil than out of frustration, because she never gets what she wants (surely she had some sort of legal right to her deceased sister’s shoes – more so than Dorothy, at any rate). As a child prone to nightmares populated by green-hued witches intent on harming me in unspecified ways (“I’ll get you, my pretty!”), I found her explanations reassuring. 
Far less reassuring was Margaret Hamilton’s appearance on Sesame Street the following year. In the episode, the Witch’s broom has fallen out of the sky. Its owner soon turns up, demanding that the residents of Sesame Street return her implement to her immediately. Everyone is afraid of this foul-tempered visitor except the utterly innocent Big Bird and the cynical Oscar the Grouch. Oscar, perhaps recognising a kindred spirit, falls in love with this uninvited guest. The Children’s Television Network received an avalanche of mail in response to the episode; almost all of it negative. Parents complained that Hamilton had sent their kids screaming from the room. The decision was made to never rebroadcast the episode, and, at least as of early-2021, not even YouTube has been able to dredge up anything more than a couple of behind-the-scenes stills (Oz fans have been asking The Children’s Television Network to release the episode for years, hoping that rumours of the erasure or destruction of the master tapes prove false). 
Hamilton reprised the character at least once more that same year when she appeared alongside clown-esque rock band KISS on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. “We’re trying to soften the image [of witches],” she tells Lynde, before adding what might be an acknowledgement of the Sesame Street controversy: “...we’ve had some bad press.” 
The Hallowe’en special, incidentally, was included in the 2006 DVD package KISSOLOGY Volume One: 1974-1977. On the commentary track, KISS frontman Paul Stanley recalls appearing on the show and, in an entirely unprovoked manner, decides to inform anyone listening that Hamilton was “old as dirt.” She was in her mid-seventies. 
By the time KISS played the first show of their second farewell tour (The ‘End of the Road’ tour kicked off in Vancouver in late January 2019), Paul Stanley had turned sixty-seven. The tour was originally meant to come to a close in the band’s hometown of New York City on 17 July 2021 (if you visited KISS’ official website in 2019 or in early 2020, you would’ve seen a clock ticking down the seconds; the numbers rendered in that hard-to-read KISS-logo typography). The self-styled Star Child, pushing seventy by the time July 2021 rolled around, didn’t spend the 17th mincing across a New York stage. The COVID-19 pandemic had put the brakes on the rest of the tour (their second farwell jaunt), pushing its completion date even further into the future. Thus, Stanley may very well end his stage career in his mid-seventies. Like Margaret Hamilton before him, he’ll have spent his golden years smearing on the same make-up he’d first applied as a young person.
Meanwhile, after years languishing in development hell, interrupted by the occasional false start, Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning Midnight’s Children was finally made into a feature film. Directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta from a screenplay by Rushdie, who also provides the film’s narration, Midnight’s Children was released in 2012. It would make a fantastic double bill with The Wizard of Oz. 
ii. India, Indiana and 007: the ‘comeback of the British Raj’ 

 The only 'truth you see on the screen is the fancy that you see on the screen. We expect too much and too little from Hollywood. 
-Thomas King (from the Inconvenient Indian, p. 45)

Imagine coming across a cinema marquee pairing the 1983 James Bond entry Octopussy with Richard Attenborough's Gandhi.
In an essay entitled ‘Outside the Whale’ (the title is a reversal of ‘Inside the Whale,’ George Orwell’s Jonah-referencing look at English literature in the 1920s and 1930s), from his collection Imaginary Homelands, Salman Rushdie wryly suggests just such a fantasy double bill in order to attack what he considered the “comeback” of the British Raj in 1980s Anglo-filmmaking. 
Octopussy was the first 007 film I remember being aware of (TV commercials; Siskel and Ebert). I had some fuzzy, pre-existing knowledge of the character and some of the series’ motifs – thanks mostly, I bet, to parental comments during Roger Moore’s Bond-parodying scenes in The Cannonball Run. Somehow my family managed to make it all the way through that movie at the Skyway Drive-in in Vernon, BC (it was paired with Megaforce, another motor-heavy flick). I thought my father’s gloss on Moore’s appearance in the Burt Reynolds vehicle – “that’s the guy who plays James Bond, and here he’s playing a guy who thinks he’s James Bond” – had to be the zenith of intertextual postmodern play. 
My older brother Jason, two of our cousins and I saw Octopussy at the Galaxy Theatre in Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Well, we saw most of it – the adults in charge of dropping us off were late setting out, so we didn’t catch the pre-credit sequence. Not yet familiar with all of the rituals of the Bond films, we didn’t know we’d missed anything as we settled in during the opening credits (I also missed the punning single entendre of the movie’s outrageous title, assuming it instead to be a rather pointless, diminutive form of the word). I enjoyed the movie. To the chagrin of my father, who’d grown up with Sean Connery in the lead role, the late Roger Moore was forever seared onto my brain as the quintessential Bond. Something else attempted to sear itself onto our brains that evening – namely a Westernized view of twentieth-century India. 
Adding a dash of Indian spice to Anglo-American films became an odd early-to-mid-eighties trend. David Lean’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India was not far behind Octopussy. Forster had refused to allow his novel to be turned into a movie, but, as Rushdie points out, “once a revisionist enterprise gets under way, the mere wishes of a dead novelist provide no obstacle” (Imaginary Homelands 91). 
In another essay titled ‘Attenborough’s Gandhi,’ Rushdie mocks the director by calling him “Mahattenborough” and dismisses the movie as “inadequate as biography, appalling as history, and often laughably crude as a film” (ibid 102). Pauline Kael concurs. “Leaving the theatre where I saw Gandhi,” she writes, “I felt the way the British must have when they left India – exhausted and relieved” (Taking It All In 432). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences disagreed, granting the film eight of the eleven Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Director. 
As for Octopussy, Rushdie continues, one can only conclude that “its portrait of modern India was as grittily and uncompromisingly realistic as its depiction of the skill, integrity and sophistication of the British secret services” (Imaginary Homelands 87). Rushdie doesn’t turn his crosshairs on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which came out around the same time as these British set-in-India films, but we can imagine his reaction to this 1984 prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Let’s really push viewer endurance over the top and make our hypothetical Octopussy/Gandhi evening a triple-header by adding Temple of Doom to the bill. The film presents another white male saviour figure. Unlike Bond, however, Indiana is American. He even has a go at The Empire as represented by a character named Captain Phillip Blumburtt. According to the TSR Indiana Jones role-playing game, the Captain, first seen in the film decked out in formal dress uniform, is “a typical British officer – a little stuffy, competent, and very conservative”:
"He knows little of the Palace or of the maharajah, except that the area is generally very quiet. There have been no reports of violence in the area, so only routine patrols are made. The Captain becomes incredulous at any suggestion of terrible events or cult activity in the area, for he believes that he would have learned of it long ago." (Dobson and Hickman 9) 
Indy berates Blumburtt for dismissing ancient Indian culture as “mumbo jumbo” – at least he does in the Marvel Comics adaptation (and, presumably, in the original screenplay). “You think the British rule India, Captain,” Marvel’s Indy says. “But you don’t. The old gods still do” (Michelinie; no page numbers given).
By the end of the story (which is set in the early 1930s), at least one of the old gods – or goddesses, in this case – has been wiped out. Kali, the Goddess of Destruction, is herself destroyed. Shiva lives, though; and Kali would be resurrected in time for the Beatles to encounter her in Help!, their second feature film, released in 1965 (and, apparently, also set in 1965). And, despite the stance he adopts in his conversation with the Captain, Indy’s fist-punching, whip-handling and machete-swinging is undertaken in the service of British imperialism. 
After lots of doom, Temple of Doom movie reaches its action-drenched climax. A caption in the Marvel Comics adaptation informs the reader that “[t]he battle quickly grows in intensity with the arrival of Zalm Singh and the valiant British Cavalry!” (ibid). Zalm Singh is the reformed child Maharajah, brought out of the evil trance of Kali thanks to the quick-thinking intervention of Indy’s fun-sized pal, the quick-kicking Short Round. When the freshly-repentant Maharajah apologizes, Shorty thinks – there’s a thought-cloud here, not a speech balloon – “he awake from black sleep”; his idiosyncratic English syntax carrying over into his thoughts (ibid). 
The young actor Raj Singh as the Maharajah skips across the screen, leading the “valiant” soldiers, made up of what the role-playing module describes as “crack Indian troops” under the command of Captain Blumburtt, to their targets (Dobson and Hickman 23). The Cavalry then demonstrates its crackness by gunning down a lot of Thuggee bad guys. They load, fire and reload repeatedly, picking off their opponents like insects from across the ravine. Meanwhile, Willie, Indy’s dumb-blond love interest, crouches amongst them, covering her ears. Another troupe appears on the other side of the bluff, surrounding the remaining Thuggees. Blumburtt orders a cease fire, and the surviving members of the cult are captured. Peace, order and good government is restored. 
These scenes – whether in the film, comic adaptation or role-playing game module, portray ‘mere’ action and adventure. But aside from the overarching Hollywood unbelievability, it’s a false portrait. And the aim of this sort of false portrait, Rushdie continues, is “to provide moral, cultural and artistic justification for imperialism and for its underpinning ideology, that of racial superiority of the Caucasian over the Asiatic” (Imaginary Homelands 89). He references Edward Said’s classic study Orientalism, which points out that in the postmodern world, electronic mass media had a golden opportunity to smash ‘exotic’ ‘Eastern’ stereotypes, but not only did it squander the opportunity, it ended up reinforcing the tropes. 
“Television, the films, and all the media’s resources,” Said writes, “have forced information into more and more standardized molds” (26). These molds include the “imaginative demonology of ‘the mysterious Orient,’” epitomized by the popular Western depiction of Arabs as “camel-riding, terroristic, hook-nosed, venal lechers whose undeserved wealth is an affront to real civilization”:
"Always there lurks the assumption that although the Western consumer belongs to a numerical minority, he is entitled either to own or to expand (or both) the majority of the world [sic] resources. Why? Because he, unlike the Oriental, is a true human being. No better instance exists today of what Anwar Abdel Malek calls ‘the hegemonism of possessing minorities’ and anthropocentrism allied with Europocentrism; a white middle-class Westerner believes it is his human prerogative not only to manage the nonwhite world but also to own it, because by definition ‘it’ is not quite as human as ‘we’ are." (ibid 108)
“But what about Sallah?” the Raiders apologist may counter, coming dangerously close to that classic, morally-licensed defense that begins ‘some of my best friends are…’  Yes, Indiana Jones has a loyal, smiling Arab buddy who provides Marion and Indy with plenty of hospitality. But the character “is defined completely by the word ‘friend’” (Kael, Taking it All In 210). And what does Sallah get out of this friendship? Are the favours returned? “When Marion kisses Sallah a grateful goodbye,” Kael observes, “you’re surprised by the show of affection: they barely seemed to have met” (ibid 211). Sallah then bursts into exuberant song, as if the kiss was more than enough reward for risking capture by Nazis, facing all of those snakes and helping a pair of American chums haul a priceless ancient treasure out of his homeland. 
At the annual Conference of the Society for Cinema Studies, Frank P Tomasulo delivered a talk in which he linked the fictional Sallah to the real-life Anwar Sadat, the smiling Egyptian leader who aligned himself with American interests. Sadat was assassinated in October 1981, just as Raiders was enjoying its final week as the ruler of the box office (Hoberman 129). Tomasulo also noted that Indy’s outfit had been previously modelled by the then-spokesperson of American interests, President Ronald Reagan himself. Reagan, in his previous incarnation as a film actor, appeared in the 1952 movie Hong Kong, wearing what we would recognise today as an Indiana Jones costume (critic J Hoberman points out that Charlton Heston pulled on the same garb – leather jacket, fedora – for 1954's Secret of the Incas)(Make My Day 130).
Richard Lester’s Help! presents many of the same ‘Orientalist’ assumptions outlined by Said. Characters make deadpan, sarcastic comments about “the mystic East” and Beatle John wonders if the Beatles can trust Ahme (Eleanor Bron) and her “filthy Eastern ways.” Help! also visually foreshadows the second Indiana Jones film. Note, for example, Lester’s pre-opening-credits sequence. Members of a blood-lusting – but goofy – Indian cult, played by English actors, prepare to offer a human sacrifice to Kali. The goddess is presented as an exotic deity, thirsty for human blood (in Hindu culture, Kali has never simply been a figure of fear and menace: she may even give a helping hand – or eight – to sainted personae from other faith traditions. One of Mother Teresa’s first achievements in Calcutta was to establish a hospice called Nirmal Hriday, housed in a section of Kalighat, a massive temple dedicated to its namesake goddess. The very name ‘Calcutta’ might have been derived from the word ‘Kalighat’)(Harpur 177).
The sacrificial temple in the opening sequence of Help! strongly resembles the one Harrison Ford will stumble upon in Temple of Doom. The biggest difference? Lester wants us to laugh at the Indian bad guys. Spielberg wants us to fear them.
iii. Spielberg serves up gore; PG-13 
Ten-year-old kid to his dad: 'Ugh, they're not playing IT here.' 
Me walking by: 'That's okay. You wouldn't be allowed to watch it anyway.'
Kid: 'I've seen it. I've seen movies that would make your head explode.' 
-Steve Ferguson, filmmaker, writer and former manager at Chinatown’s SilverCity multiplex in Vancouver
(Facebook post, 07.10.2017) 

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who had worked on the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi scripts (and would go on to help pen The Force Awakens and Solo) shook his head at Lucas’ story outline for Indy’s second-big screen outing. “‘I didn’t want to be associated with Temple of Doom,’” Kasdan explains (quoted in Baxter 337).“‘I just thought it was horrible. It’s so mean...I think Temple of Doom represents a chaotic period in both [Spielberg and Lucas’] lives, and the movie is very ugly and mean-spirited’” (ibid). Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz were hired in Kasdan’s stead to write the screenplay. 
Spielberg himself would be, eventually (once the reviews were in), disturbed by some of the “ugly and mean-spirited” images he’d create to illustrate their script. While Help! wrings comedy out of its depiction of Kali worshippers repeatedly, and clumsily, attempting to offer human victims (primarily Ringo) to the goddess without much success, Temple of Doom offers audiences actual human sacrifice. We see a heart being yanked from the chest of a living man. The heart keeps beating (black magic hovers over much of this film), and the astonished victim looks down to see the hole in his chest close up on its own. As he repeats an unheeded prayer to Shiva with mounting panic, he’s lowered into a sizzling pit of lava. As he bursts into flames, so does his still-beating heart, which is being held high by Mola Ram, the high priest. Mola shrieks with laughter. 
It’s not the fact of its depiction of human sacrifice that renders Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom problematic at best and off-puttingly morbid at worst – depicting is not condoning. Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet ‘Le sacre du printemps,’ or ‘The Rite of Spring,’ intimates pagan rituals and also involves ritual sacrifice. In a section known as ‘The Sacrificial Dance,’ the ‘Chosen One’ dances to death. But the music still achieves greatness. It’s not the subject matter that should determine whether or not we dismiss, condemn or reject a work of art, but rather how its purpose and execution work in tandem. The Rite of Spring is a serious, challenging piece intended for adults. Temple of Doom – along with its attendant wave of action figures, playsets, abbreviated ‘storybooks’ and music-and-sound-effect-laden Disneyland records – was made for, and marketed to, children. 
For all of this brutality, “nothing would equal the distorting horrors perpetrated on the shrieking [Kate] Capshaw,” who plays Willie Scott, the film’s “bimbo-in-residence,” as the Village Voice put it (Hoberman 93). “[H]ow much violence against women in movies,” asks Spielberg biographer Molly Haskell, “the ubiquitous ‘turn-on’ of gorgeous women being gleefully tormented, is a delayed revenge perpetrated by nerds on the high school beauties who wouldn’t give them a backward glance?” (106). This is what she calls ‘the Alfred Hitchcock Syndrome,’ in which “socially awkward, unprepossessing artist delights in finding ingenious ways to punish the women who have held a thwarted attraction” (ibid 107).
The shrieking Kate Capshaw indeed. During their panel at the 2017 Dragoncon convention, Michael French and Melinda Mock, the couple behind the pop culture YouTube channel Retroblasting, presented a tally of every one of the shrieks emitted by Capshaw in Temple of Doom. The total? Thirty. They did, however, count a long lung-buster, in which the characters plummet out of an airplane in an inflatable raft, as three separate screams. One could argue it’s one long scream, broken only by Capshaw pausing – twice – for breath (YouTube, Retroblasting 02.02.2018). 
Capshaw’s screams are not the primal, weight-of-the-world-on-well-oiled-and-muscular-shoulders, from-the-belly roars of Rambo. Check out the unmotivated howl he lets rip while piloting a chopper towards the end of Rambo II – it’s an exclamation worthy of rock n’ roll that seems to lament and celebrate the havoc his rockets and gatling gun are wreaking upon both his Russian opponents and the foliage of Vietnam. Capshaw’s outbursts, meanwhile, are terrified, near-hysterical screams. Kim Basinger gave Capshaw a run for her money with her larynx-straining portrayal of Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). But even if we count the raft-plunge scream as one extended utterance, Willie Scott still racks up more yelps in this ignoble contest. It’s understandable, though. Willie has far more cruelty heaped upon her.
Whatever buried nerd-revenge motivations prompted such overt on-screen cruelty, it was on-screen only. Spielberg and Capshaw were already an item before Temple of Doom went into production (they would get married in the 1990s). But on-screen was enough for a lot of parents, many of whom were astonished that Temple of Doom had only been given a PG (‘parental guidance recommended’) rating. The film’s director sympathized with them, but didn’t feel the film deserved the R (‘restricted’ admittance to anyone under eighteen years of age). However genuine his concerns over the film’s dark violence were, he was canny enough to know that an ‘R’ would cut off a huge portion of his target audience. Nevertheless, he felt that Doom needed something in-between. He personally approached the Motion Picture Association with a suggestion. “‘I remember calling Jack Valenti [then the president of the MPAA],’” Spielberg told Vanity Fair in 2008, to suggest a new rating somewhere between PG and R, since “‘so many films were falling into a netherworld…of unfairness’” (quoted in Pallota, web). It was unfair, Spielberg believed, that
"certain kids were exposed to Jaws, but also unfair that certain films were restricted, [films that] kids who were thirteen, fourteen, fifteen should be allowed to see. I suggested, ‘let’s call it PG-13 or PG-14, depending how you want to design the slide rule,’ and Jack came back to me and said, ‘we’ve determined that PG-13 would be the right age for that temperature of movie.’" (quoted in Pallota, web)
This determination was too little, too late for the producers of Crimes of Passion. Released the same year as Temple of Doom, this sadomasochistic psychodrama stars Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins. Not even three re-cuts could shake off the X-rating the Motion Picture Association of America had slapped on it. Ken Russell, the director of Crimes of Passion, was incensed by the hypocrisy he detected in American censors’ freewheeling acceptance of violence on the one hand, and puritanical rejection of sexuality on the other. And never mind Temple of Doom – Russell saw its predecessor, Raiders of the Lost Ark, as an obscene “hymn to violence” flaunted as family-friendly entertainment (ibid).
Such objections notwithstanding, the new rating category would prove extremely popular. Of the top ten highest-grossing Hollywood films in history, six of them bear the PG-13 stamp. James Cameron’s Avatar was rated PG-13 upon its 2009 release and pulled in $760 million in domestic box office. Meanwhile, The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s R-rated 2004 exercise in religious torture porn (which held the distinction of being the industry’s highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time until being usurped by Deadpool in 2016) earned just under half that amount (ibid).
While many Canadians throw around the term ‘PG-13’ in a generic way, the rating was never officially adopted in this country. The nearest equivalent is Québec’s ‘13 ans et plus,’ while most of the rest of the country goes with ‘14A’ (no admittance for children under 14 years of age without adult accompaniment). But these are relatively recent designations. I remember a category known as ‘Mature,’ a rating that seemed to straddle the PG and Restricted categories. When our parents took us to see Return of the Jedi at the Paramount Theatre in Kelowna, Jason and I were surprised and we saw that the film had been rated ‘M.’ As a nine-year old, I was technically outside of the suggested age range, but the woman who sold us our tickets barely looked at us. 
The following year, on the weekend of my tenth birthday, three classmates and I went to see Temple of Doom at the Towne Theatre in Vernon. If the violent but bloodless Jedi had received a Mature rating (I suppose the scene in which a Gamorrean Guard is eaten by a gigantic monster is pretty grim, and Kevin Smith’s cult classic Clerks dares to ask how many thousands of innocent plumbers and contractors are killed offscreen when the heroes destroy the incomplete second Death Star), I’m sure Temple of Doom easily qualified for the Mature label. I can’t remember noticing the rating, though. Either way, our money was breezily accepted and we were whisked into the auditorium to be presented with plenty of swashbuckling adventure alongside spigots of blood, a heady dose of human sacrifice, generous portions of eyeball soup (followed by, among other delicacies, chilled monkey brains) and a flaming skewer or two thrown into the chests of Chinese gangsters, for good measure.
Partly as a result of so many youngsters storming their local movie house to see the new Indiana Jones adventure as soon as possible, Doom took in a record $9 million on opening day, 23 May 1984, when it was lavished upon 1,685 US screens. But was the film worthy of such a stampede? Chicago-based critic Roger Ebert thought so, writing that Doom “makes no apologies for being exactly what it is: Exhilarating, manic, wildly imaginative escapism,” and that it is “the most cheerfully exciting, bizarre, goofy, romantic adventure movie since Raiders...it’s not so much a sequel as an equal” (370).
While no fan of Raiders, the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael agreed with Ebert calling the film “one of the most sheerly pleasurable physical comedies ever made” (362). Other critics would disagree with the suggestion that the movie was “cheerful” or in any way a comedy. Both the Village Voice and the Washington Post damned Doom as “‘mean spirited’” (that term again), with the latter adding‘“corrupt at its core,’” and the former bluntly stating that the film is “inordinately racist and sexist, even by Hollywood standards” (Hoberman 200; quoted in Jones 335). 
Temple of Doom was immune to critical assault. The film raked in over $42 million in its first week, shattering the record set by the previous year’s champ, Return of the Jedi (which, to be fair, had opened on nearly seven hundred fewer screens)(Monush 355-356). Doom rounded out its worldwide theatrical run with a total box office take of just over $333 million, making it the third biggest box office hit of 1984, just behind Ghostbusters and the year’s winner, Beverly Hills Cop (ibid 356). 
A couple of months after my pals and I made it into Temple of Doom, we would have had trouble getting into Red Dawn if we’d tried to see it in the United States. This Patrick Swayze Cold War action drama was the first ever PG-13 release in the US. In Canada, it might have been rated Mature or even Restricted. I’m not sure. It wasn’t a movie I was aware of until after it had finished its theatrical run. We finally had the chance to see Red Dawn when it ran during a ‘free weekend’ of movies on Super Channel, a Canadian version of HBO. My own viewing was interrupted when my brother and I were called upstairs for supper. We were profoundly annoyed at having such a big chunk of the movie ‘taken’ from us (meals in front of the television were, for the most part, forbidden). But my ‘profound annoyance’ was, in part, an act: there was a whiff of The Emperor’s New Clothes-ism hovering over the event. Despite feeling dread and excitement while watching the startling footage of Soviet paratroopers swooping in (the memorable shot of the tank rolling up to a McDonald’s restaurant right in the American heartland which appeared in the trailer had been edited out, almost certainly as a response to the mass shooting at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California, that July in which twenty one people were killed and nineteen injured by a lone gunman), I kept willing the rest of the movie to be better. I was secretly relieved by the call to supper – something I didn’t dare admit at home, let alone the next school day when all of the boys at the bus stop were talking about how awesomely rad Red Dawn had been. 
It was for the best, in retrospect, that I didn’t get to see all of Red Dawn that weekend. I suspect, but don’t know and, frankly, don’t have the heart or stomach to go back and check, that the film’s look at the Cold War Soviet-era militarism is likely as accurate as Temple of Doom’s look at India under colonial rule (I’m not sure that Red Dawn near-miss helped me out that much in the end, though, since the Vancouver-shot Rocky IV, released the following year, could only cause what Rocky’s manager Mickey calls “a variety of damage” to my fragile understanding of US-Soviet geopolitics (and whatever understanding was left after that pummelling was surely wiped out by the asinine look at the arms race in the fourth entry of another muscle-bound series – namely 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace). 
iv. Anything goes: the Twilight Zone tragedy 

That son of a bitch is crazy.
-Actor Vic Morrow describing Twilight Zone director John Landis to Virginia Kearns, the film’s hairdresser (quoted in ‘Death in the Twilight Zone’ by Randall Sullivan, p. 40)

Steven Spielberg has tried to disassociate himself from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 
In 1989, the same year the much lighter Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released, the director stated that he thought Doom “‘was too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific...I thought it out-poltered Poltergeist,’” (quoted in Longworth 64). Spielberg was referring to the ghost story he’d produced for the late Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. ‘“There’s not an ounce of my own personal feeling in Temple of Doom,’” he adds, perhaps protesting a tad too much (ibid). 
It’s easy to praise the director as auteur – the sole author of the film – when the film works. It’s just as easy to downplay his or her role when it doesn’t. Sometimes we feel an urge to protect the filmmaker’s reputation when his or her latest effort misfires. In such cases, it’s a snap to shift blame to the actors, producers, the studio, the writers, the special effects team; the editor. Just as disingenuously as Alfred Hitchcock blaming Vertigo’s frosty box office reception on the age of star James Stewart (he was fifty, exactly twice as old as Kim Novak, who plays his love interest in the film – but Stewart takes risks in Vertigo, playing against type and arguably giving the greatest performance of his career), Steven Spielberg has tried to distance himself from the two most criticized Indiana Jones entries by attempting to shift the blame onto George Lucas. 
The “subterranean” darkness of Temple of Doom, Spielberg has hinted, is mostly down to Lucas’ story rather than his – Spielberg’s – direction. It seems a little unfair, especially when you consider Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). Spielberg served as executive producer for this Barry Levinson film, which, like Doom, features a mysterious temple lair, dodgy orientalism and intimations of human sacrifice (after its initial release, the movie was renamed Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear, in a retroactive effort to grant the film more of an ‘Indiana Jones’ vibe). While Lucas’ team at ILM and the then-Lucas-owned computer animation company Pixar created the special effects (including some early CGI) for Holmes, the Star Wars creator himself had little or nothing to do with it. 
Lucas has admitted that depression over his acrimonious divorce from his first wife, Marcia, may have cast long, dark shadows over Doom’s story. It’s possible, therefore, that the torments visited upon Kate Capshaw’s character in the script were as much the result of bitter marriage failure as it was retroactive nerd vengeance (Lucas reportedly sold Pixar to Apple Computers’ CEO Steve Jobs primarily to pay off a major portion of the settlement). But there might have been another decidedly more tragic event behind the film’s overweening darkness.  
In a motorcycle park near Santa Clarita, California, known as Indian Dunes (a rendering of the name ‘Indiana Jones’ such as you might find in Cracked Magazine, Marvel’s Crazy, Scholastic’s Bananas or Joe Simon’s Sick – whichever MAD rip-off you prefer), John Landis was about to shoot the climactic scene for his contribution to Twilight Zone: the Movie. Producer Spielberg wasn’t around, but Landis made his own presence known that night, barking orders through a bullhorn from atop a perch like a caricature of a Hollywood director. 
For this motion picture version of the classic Rod Serling TV series (which ran from 1959-1964), four directors were to helm a segment each. ‘Time Out,’ Landis’ segment, stars Vic Morrow as a repugnant racist who is given a chance at redemption. For the grand finale, an American Huey gunship was to unleash a hellfire assault on a Vietnamese village. Morrow’s character would redeem himself by rescuing two orphans as the village explodes behind them. Morrow was told to wade through a shallow river while carrying the children, one in each arm, through a barrage of pyrotechnics. The orphans were to be played by two child actors, Rennee Shinn Chen and My-ca Dinh Lee, ages six and seven respectively (My-ca, whose parents had fled Vietnam as refugees in 1975, bore a first name fashioned out of the words ‘America’ and ‘Canada’)(Sullivan 31). The low-flying chopper would be hovering above them the whole time – something the children’s parents were not told about. 
Landis was excited about how spectacular the scene would be, but Morrow sensed something wasn’t quite right. There had been something haphazard about the entire production. The film’s hairdresser Virginia Kearns noted how “‘upset’” Morrow seemed when watching the crew rig the set with explosives, going so far as to inspect the eyes of both helicopter pilot Dorce Wingo and Landis (quoted in ibid 40). The pilot passed Morrow’s test, but Landis’ eyes were “‘pinpoints’” (ibid).
Morrow voiced his worries to his lawyer shortly before heading to the set that evening to shoot his last scenes. The lawyer reminded his client that he was within his rights to pull out of his contract over safety concerns. Morrow thought it over for a while before deciding to go ahead with the scene. “‘I’ve got one more day to go,’” he said, ‘“and it will be behind me’” (quoted in Taylor 34). 
At 2:18 am, Landis shouted ‘action!’ Morrow grabbed the kids and began his run. Meanwhile, the chopper took off into a maelstrom of fireballs as the special effects crew detonated bomb after bomb. The pilot tried to avoid flames shooting off a nearby cliff, only to be engulfed by explosions billowing up from below. The heat was incredible. The tail rotor failed and the craft began spiraling to the ground. Morrow was directly below, trying to heave the petrified children through knee-high water being whipped into a froth. He was fifty-three years old, carrying two children with a heavy wind bearing down on him from above. The children dropped from his ribs to his hip. He slipped to one knee, losing his grip on Chen. He was struggling to get back on his feet when the chopper came down on them. Its right skid crushed Chen, killing her instantly. The main rotor decapitated both Morrow and My-ca Dinh Le. Landis’ five cameras were still rolling as the pilots crawled out of the wreck, suffering only minor injuries. The fake village continued to burn until emergency vehicles arrived. 
Vic Morrow never had the chance to utter his final line. It was written for him by John Landis: “I’ll keep you safe, kids. I swear to God” (Sullivan 40). 
The incident haunted headlines for months. The litigation piled up. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued thirty-six safety violations and fined the production company, the studios and Western Helicopters (the company that had supplied the chopper) tens of thousands of dollars. Since no child should have been on a set at that time of night, never mind a set rigged with so many explosives, the Cal/OSHA recommended the LA County district attorney pursue manslaughter charges and seek criminal prosecution for labour law violations. Both Chen’s and Le’s parents, who had witnessed the whole thing, sought damages from all parties. Western Helicopters filed lawsuits against Spielberg, Landis and Warner Bros. Vic Morrow’s daughters sued Spielberg and Landis. Most of these suits were settled out of court for undisclosed sums. Landis ended up paying Cal/OSHA about $30,000 in fines, while the studio paid less than $4,000. The helicopter pilot lost his license. 
John Landis made a surprise appearance at Renee Chen’s funeral, placing flowers on her coffin while her relatives glared at him. He also showed up at Vic Morrow’s service, delivering a short eulogy, which included a comment so face-palmingly tone-deaf that “it could have gone down only in Los Angeles”: “‘Tragedy can strike in an instant,’” Landis told the assembled mourners, “‘but film is immortal’” (Sullivan 41; quoted in Taylor 37). 
He couldn’t have been talking about his own film. Twilight Zone: The Movie was met with an avalanche of criticism when it came out on 24 June 1983. The film was so “tedious,” according to Rolling Stone’s Randall Sullivan, that it was “panned even by the TV critics,” who regarded Landis’ segment as the lamest of the four (33). 
The events on that last day of shooting had already tarnished ‘Time Out,’ which, according to Time magazine’s Richard Corliss, “‘[h]ardly looks worth shooting, let alone dying for’” (quoted in ibid). But two of the other segments didn’t exactly thrill critics, either. Joe Dante took ‘It’s a Good Life,’ a popular episode from the original series, and “trashed it” (Monush 29). While it doesn’t hold a candle to most episodes of the original series or even the colour remakes of the 1980s TV revival, I didn’t find the ‘It’s a Good Life’ episode from the film that bad. My ears picked up whenever a character called Ethel spoke. It seemed familiar. It hit me when I read the end credits: the actor who portrays Ethel, Nancy Cartwright, is the voice of Bart Simpson. 
Spielberg had chosen to remake an uncreepy TV episode called ‘Kick the Can,’ about a mysterious visitor (Scatman Crothers) who shows up at a retirement home and is able to transform the senior residents back into the carefree children they’d once been. Directing children is one of Spielberg’s strengths, but here, most of the kids come off like over-eager understudies at a school play finally given their time in the limelight thanks to a measles outbreak. “Spielberg’s visual style in this segment is so convoluted and shadowy that the action is hard to follow,” writes Roger Ebert (801). “[T]he master of clear-cut, sharp-edged visuals is trying to say something that doesn’t work” (ibid). Perhaps, in the wake of the accident, Spielberg had lost his enthusiasm for the whole project. 
The film’s prologue features Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd driving through the night, chatting, in a pleasant, self-referential way, about old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits episodes. Then there is a shocking turn of events. Spoiler alert: Aykroyd turns into some kind of beast! But the timing is off and the scene fizzles. Unconvincing make-up doesn’t help. As I child, I assumed Aykroyd’s character had just slipped on a mask rather than actually transforming into a bloodthirsty creature (the same premise – mysterious road trip; monstrous metamorphosis in the front seat – is far more effective in the unforgettable ‘Large Marge’ scene from Tim Burton’s 1985 feature Pee-wee’s Big Adventure). 
Only George Miller’s Zone segment, an update on ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,’ the story of a frightened airline passenger who is convinced he sees a gremlin on the plane’s wing, has any of the same punch of the original. William Shatner had played the passenger in the 1963 TV version, and was reportedly the first choice for the lead in the remake. Shatner was, however, busy and unable to reprise the role. For me, Shatner’s non-reprise in The Twilight Zone ties with the Dark Knight’s creator Bob Kane’s non-appearance as an editorial cartoonist in 1989’s Batman for the most unfortunate missed opportunity in Hollywood casting – but John Lithgow makes for a fine replacement, bringing a steely mix of paranoid restraint and full-on terror to the character. 
Lithgow’s and Miller’s white-knuckle contributions notwithstanding, Twilight Zone: The Movie was otherwise dismissed as “a vapid, unintelligent disservice to Rod Serling’s legacy,” lacking in any of the “karmic ironies and macabre wit” its creator had brought to bear on the black-and-white series (Taylor 38, Sullivan 33). 
The same day the scandal-barnacled film hit theatres, the grand jury announced the charges against Landis: two counts of manslaughter for the deaths of Che and Le, as well as three counts of manslaughter through gross negligence for the children and Vic Morrow. The children, investigators discovered, had been hired privately and paid with cash to avoid having to deal with policies meant to protect them (Baxter 336). The segment’s producer and production manager, as well as the helicopter pilot and special effects supervisor, were similarly indicted for manslaughter and/or charged with breaching child labour laws. 
Four years later, the trial finally began. Landis and his lawyer openly mocked Gary Kesselman, the prosecutor (Sullivan 78). Shyan Chen’s moving testimony momentarily wiped Landis’ smirk off his face. Describing the death of her only child through an interpreter, Chen quietly reminded everyone of the pointless loss of innocent life that had occurred at Santa Clara that night. But it wasn’t enough: the case descended into an irrelevant debate over whether it was the heat or the bombs that sent the helicopter crashing; a squabble that only served to distract the participants from the central issue, the one “unequivocal crime,” namely “the illegal hiring of children in violation of safety rules” (Haskell 102). Landis was acquitted on all accounts. He took advantage of his freedom to make a crummy sequel to The Blues Brothers in 1998.
Spielberg told the LA Times that 1982 had been “the most interesting year of my film career…[i]t has mixed the best, the success of E.T., with the worst, The Twilight Zone tragedy. A mixture of ecstasy and grief. It’s made me grow up a little more’” (quoted in Taylor 39). However much growing up he’d done, privately, he was shaken by this “abrupt plunge into death and scandal” (Baxter 336). Did Spielberg’s anguish leak into “the theme of child endangerment and rescue” in his second Indiana Jones movie? (Haskell 103). When a slightly younger (the movie is, after all, a prequel), more irresponsible Indy learns that all of the children of a remote Indian village have been kidnapped, he sets out to find them – despite claiming to only be in the adventure game for personal “fortune and glory.” As a result, he grows into the marginally more mature Indy we find in Raiders. 
While the adventurers relax in front of a campfire in Temple of Doom, Indy tells Willie – before the scene descends into quite a bit of unfunny, unedifying screaming and running about as she encounters the wildlife of the area – that he had rescued his sidekick, an orphan nicknamed Short Round, from the streets of Shanghai (taking Short Round along with him on his adventures involves putting the child in near-constant life-and-limb-threatening jeopardy – this is some rescue). While Shorty is meant to be Chinese, he’s played by Saigon-born Ke Huy Quan. My-ca Dinh Le, the seven-year old boy whose head had been severed from his body at Indian Dunes, was the child of Vietnamese immigrants to the United States. Indy and his two ragtag companions – one an Asian kid in an American baseball cap, the other a nightclub singer who opens the film by singing ‘Anything Goes’ in Mandarin – manage to rescue of an entire village of children from slavery and reunite them with their grateful parents. Is there, thus, a tributary of wish-fulfillment running deep below the already-subterranean River Styx that flows through Temple of Doom?
Steven Spielberg hadn’t approved the extra pyro for Twilight Zone: The Movie. He hadn’t given permission for the kids to be working at two o’clock in the morning. He wasn’t even on set. Maybe if he had been there, he could have made a difference. Even if he hadn’t been able to protect the actors, as the film’s producer, he could have at least ordered the Vic Morrow sequence cut from the finished film. His only real public response to the deaths at Indian Dunes was to abandon his initial ideas for his own segment. Originally, he’d considered updating either ‘The Monsters are due on Maple Street,’ a TV episode from 1960, or another story about a victim of bullying who gets his revenge on Hallowe’en. But since both scripts called for shooting at night with children and special effects, he dropped them. He went instead with the non-violent, non-alien, non-monster ‘Kick the Can.’
v. Peter Pan and Hitchcock wrap it all up  

Two men are sitting on a railway train passing through England (or sometimes Scotland or Wales). One of them is crumpling up pages of newspapers and throwing them out the window. The other man finally cannot contain his curiosity and asks the first man what he is doing. He says, 'Oh, this keeps the elephants away.' The second man says, 'But there are no elephants in England (or Scotland or Wales).' The first man says, 'See.'
-Michael Wood on the origins of the term ‘MacGuffin’ (from Alfred Hitchcock: The man who knew too much, p. 100)

Is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom film a subconscious projection of how the ‘Time Out’ segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie should have turned out? Surely all stories should wrap up like Temple of Doom and Peter Pan do, with the kids making it home safely after harrowing adventures, with the previously distant parental figure finding redemption through the return of his children; the wayward or too-busy dad restored to a child-like, yet knowing, innocence (just the sort of from-adult-to-child restoration that Spielberg had bungled in ‘Kick the Can’). 
When George Darling’s children return from Neverland, they find their previously terse father warmer and more understanding. He is reminded of his own youth, heretofore forgotten in the pea-soup haze of adulthood. Darling hints that he, too, very well might have shared adventures with Peter Pan in Neverland as a child. He is growing down, as it were, to access the delightful, carefree parts of himself he’d lost touch with. But the kids had to defeat Hook before their father’s personal transformation could happen. 
The link between the two father figures has been traditionally forged on stage by having the roles of George Darling and Captain Hook played by the same actor (in the same vein, I've often felt that Margaret Hamilton should have played Dorothy's Auntie Em as well as the Wicked Witch of the West). For Peter Pan’s 1950 Broadway revival, the roles of George and Hook were taken by Boris Karloff. Another Peter Pan stage tradition was the casting of a woman as Peter, and so Jean Arthur took the title role for 321 performances opposite the Frankenstein star. The boy who never grew up was, therefore, played by a woman who turned fifty during the play’s run (Monush 40-41). Such was her energy and athleticism on stage (and flying over the stage on wires) that only KISS' Paul Stanley would have dared offer a heckle as gormless as one suggesting that the fifty-year old Arthur was "old as dirt." 
The last shot of Temple of Doom, just before the end credits roll, shows the little family that is Indy, Willie Scott and Short Round, embracing in a small Indian village. The last time they’d wandered through the area, it had been devastated by drought. Now, thanks to this trio of visitors (with a little help from Shiva and the magic stone Indy managed to retrieve from the doom-reek temple of the film’s title), the region is green and flourishing again. They’re surrounded by the cheering kids they’ve just rescued. Indiana Jones has successfully completed Vic Morrow’s savagely interrupted dash. Indy and Spielberg have brought the kids safely to shore. 
Right: I should caution myself against such armchair analysis. But there does seem to be much more at play in Temple of Doom than it first appears – something deeper and more haunting than the surface screams and all that gore Spielberg would later attempt to distance himself from. But he would go on to wash his hands of 2008’s “much-maligned” Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in a similarly evasive manner, suggesting he was once again merely putting Lucas’ ideas on the screen, even the ones he didn’t agree with or even like (Longworth 96). 
“‘I sympathize with people who didn’t like the MacGuffin, because I never liked the MacGuffin,’” Spielberg says of the mysterious skull of the fourth Indy film’s title; the elongated skull being the plot element that sets the story in motion (quoted in Franich, web). “‘George and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin,’” Spielberg continues, showing remarkable solidarity with disgruntled Crystal Skull viewers (ibid). One can imagine Hitchcock raising an eyebrow at the thought of a director blaming negative fan response to his own film on the MacGuffin – one he comes close to claiming was forced on him somehow (we can only assume Spielberg lost most or all of those “big arguments”). Was the MacGuffin the only problem? the corpulent filmmaker might deadpan. Was everything else perfect? 
Hitch would have been justified in feeling a little smug. In one of his lavish 1950s films, he’d pulled off the ultimate narrative-device rug-sweep: despite the presence of some microfilm hidden in a statuette causing consternation, the plot of North by Northwest hinges on the non-existence of the man Cary Grant is mistaken for, and whose non-identity he eventually assumes. “‘Here [in North by Northwest], you see,’” Hitchcock remarks to Francois Truffaut, “the MacGuffin has been boiled down to its purest expression: nothing at all!’” (139).
In the end, I’m going to stick with my original double bill: The Wizard of Oz backed by Midnight’s Children. But if we really want to make it a triple, we should skip all of the questionable fare. Forget Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Octopussy, Gandhi or Twilight Zone: the Movie. Just for fun, let’s round out our programme with North by Northwest. We need some of our escapism to not be soaked in blood. The odd McGuffin can be non-existent. And we should all take a few breaks here and there while we – like George Darling, Dorothy Gale and Saleem Sinai – make our way home.
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