‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’: It Took 50 Tries to Get the Nazi Monkey to Salute, and It Became Steven Spielberg’s Favorite Scene

Considered one of the greatest films ever made, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark was the premier movie in the Indiana Jones franchise. It stars Harrison Ford who plays the whip-snapping, fedora-wearing Indiana Jones, an adventuring archaeologist who seeks to stop Nazi Germany from getting their hands on the fabled Ark of the Covenant. It’s packed with fun — from beautiful set pieces, to the jungle to Egypt, to thrilling action sequences. In the years since the movie was created, director Steven Spielberg has opened up about his favorite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it includes the Nazi monkey.

Steven Spielberg’s favorite scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ is the Nazi monkey’s salute

Raiders of the Lost Ark monkey
Vic Tablian as Barranca / Monkey Man and capuchin monkey in ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ Initial theatrical release June 12, 1981. | CBS via Getty Images

The movie is riddled with memorable moments, from Jones running away from the rolling boulder in between all the booby traps, to the famous “Why’d it have to be snakes?” one-liner scene.

But one part sticks out: a Nazi spy monkey raising his little paw to salute the Reich and the Fuehrer. He even squeaks out a “Sieg Heil” in his own monkey tongue. The idea came from Lucas, and it turned out to be one of the two scenes Spielberg calls his favorites. (The other scene is the ship where Jones’ former lover, Marion Ravenwood, yells at him, “Well, damn it, Indie, where doesn’t it hurt?” after all his whining and complaining.)

However, it wasn’t an easy feat to get the take. It took 50 tries before they were finally able to get one where it looked like the Nazi salute.  But how did they get the monkey to act it out? The film’s producer Frank Marshall told Empire how it all worked.

At first, the animal handler would go over and tap the monkey on the head with a stick. However, it did not give them the desired results. The monkey would only cover his head in defense. That’s when Marshal had the idea. He took a grape and tied it to the end of a fishing pole. Then, by hanging it just out of reach (and the camera’s view), the monkey reached out and they were able to film the scene. That’s when “it finally looked like he was doing his Heil Hitler.”

Who is the voice behind the monkey?

Now, getting the monkey to say, “Sieg Heil,” took some extra steps from the crew. According to the trivia section on IMDb, the voice actor Frank Welker supplied the noises and chirp-like sounds for the monkey. Coincidently, Welker would go on to be the voice of another famous monkey a decade later: the spider monkey Abu from Aladdin. Similar to the Raiders of the Lost Ark’s capuchin monkey, Abu helps his owner with deception and trickery as well. They both even sport a little red vest. 

‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ used real snakes

Another famous scene has Jones and Ravenwood descending into the Well of Souls, which is filled with snakes. Today, they would add in the snakes digitally in post-production, keeping everyone on the set safe. However, in the movies, they were all real — and there were around 6,000 of them!

In an interview with the Daily News, animal handler, Steve Edge, detailed his time getting the scene where his legs made their debut in the film. He recalled the stuntwoman for Karen Allen was afraid to step in with the snakes and Spielberg asked him, “Would you shave your legs and wear a dress?” Not a shy man, he did just that and stepped down in the pit of serpents. 

He went on to say, “I got bitten quite a lot on my legs, because I was wearing the dress and I stood calf-deep among the creatures.  Those bites are pretty painful, so when I got bitten several times on my feet and legs when I was in that shot there was a lot of bruising.”

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