‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’: Steven Spielberg Avoided Food Poisoning by Eating Spaghetti-O’s the Whole Time He and Harrison Ford Filmed in Tunisia
Raiders of the Lost Ark, starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, is one of the most important movies in pop culture history — having inspired so much of the current media landscape thanks to its unique spin on the 30s and 40s adventure novels that inspired Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to make it. As fantastic as the film turned out, however, it wasn’t always an easy project to work on. Beyond just coordinating the dangerous yet impressive stunts and wrangling the star-studded cast, there were a few moments where everyone might have wished they were working on Jaws. One of these occasions came when almost the entire cast and crew came down with an illness at the same time except for Spielberg himself.
Most of the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ cast and crew got sick in Tunisia — except Steven Spielberg
Just like in the movie, the filming of Raiders took everyone around the globe to get the right locations. One of the countries where Spielberg and the gang decided to shoot was Tunisia, using it as a stand-in for Egypt. This proved to be a mistake.
According to IMDb, over 150 crew members became sick at the same time from eating the local food. It probably didn’t help that the desert heat was also peaking at around 130 degrees most days, either. Put all of that together and you have yourself a truly miserable shoot.
Surprisingly enough given his past experience on the aforementioned Jaws, Spielberg managed to dodge the food poisoning that wrecked the rest of his people. Seemingly having foreseen this kind of thing happening, the director opted to only eat and drink what he’d brought with him from England — primarily Spaghetti-O’s and bottled water. While he was probably sick of the flavor by the end of filming, he was at least not sick with dysentery.
Harrison Ford’s illness changed one key scene in the film
Among the people affected by the food poisoning was none other than Harrison Ford himself. The Han Solo actor had a miserable time on set during this part of filming, especially since he had to perform in a number of action scenes while actively sick. Despite this, it’s hard to tell without this foreknowledge given just how good he is as an actor, keeping up his energy and banter with Karen Allen like nothing was wrong.
That said, some things did have to change because of the illness. This was most notable in what was meant to be the epic confrontation between Doctor Jones and the sword-wielding henchman seen near the middle of the film. What was meant to be a full fight scene complete with extensive choreography by both parties was reduced to a single, comical gunshot by Indy, taking out his would-be nemesis in a single attack. This happened because Ford was simply too sick to be doing all the necessary stunts for the scene, so he suggested the now-iconic change to Spielberg.
Filming ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in Tunisia was not pleasant
Even without the food poisoning, Tunisia was not kind to the people behind Raiders of the Lost Ark. The deserts were extremely hot throughout the entire shoot, which was bad news for everyone who had to be shoveling sand for the dig site scenes. For his part, Ford suffered yet another injury during filming when a real plane went out-of-control and ran over his knee. Thankfully, his injuries were less serious than expected, as the heat had actually worked in the crew’s favor and softened the rubber tire enough to prevent a broken bone. Ford, apparently fed up with the whole country by this point, opted to simply wrap his knee in ice and keep filming instead of seeking out a Tunisian hospital.
All in all, the experience was so unpleasant that Spielberg managed to compress the six-week shoot schedule into just four and a half weeks. That kind of efficiency is almost unheard of, but it makes a lot of sense knowing what everyone was dealing with on location. According to Spielberg and Lucas, the only thing that kept them going was thinking of David Lean, 54 at the time of shooting Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, when they endured these conditions for 14 months of filming. Compared to that, things didn’t seem too bad.