Famous Hollywood Hills in California, USA. Hollywood Sign. California Photo Collection.
By Regina Duffy
This summer Falvey Library is going to the movies! Well, we’re using our beloved Library’s resources to research the coolest film scenes set in libraries. So grab a seat and a box of popcorn because the we’re going to look at when libraries go to Hollywood.
When I think about films with fascinating libraries, something that immediately comes to mind is a scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The library in this film plays a pivotal role in helping Indiana Jones reach an initial breakthrough in a mystery he’s trying to solve.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, released in 1989, is the third film in the ever-popular Indiana Jones franchise. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Harrison Ford and the late great Sean Connery, it seems to be one of those films that stands the test of time. It has everything a movie-lover could possibly want—mystery, suspense, adventure, cool scenery, great action scenes, feisty dialogue, and dynamic actors who bring the characters to life on screen.
In the film, which is primarily set in 1938, Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr., (Harrison Ford) an esteemed professor and archeologist, sets out on a mission to find his father, Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery), a professor of Medieval literature, who he learns recently went missing. Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. was in Venice, searching for his obsession, the Holy Grail, and suddenly disappeared. According to the New World Encylopedia, “The Holy Grail is a mythical object or symbol associated with Jesus Christ. In earliest Grail literature, it was described as the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, and was said to possess miraculous powers.” In this film, many believe that drinking from the Holy Grail will give you eternal life, so it is a much sought-after artifact by fellow researchers, collectors, and, as it turns out, Nazis.
Setting out on his quest along with family friend Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), Indiana uses his father’s detailed Holy Grail diary notes to lead him to Venice, Italy, where he meets a fellow researcher, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). There they travel to the location where his father is last seen, a picturesque library, where they follow clues to uncover an underground crypt containing vital information needed to unearth the Holy Grail. In the process they also meet members of a fanatical religious group sworn to protect the Holy Grail who tell them that Dr. Jones, Sr. is being held against his will at a castle on the German-Austrian border.
More chaos and hijinks ensue on the path to saving Indiana’s father and in pursuit of the Holy Grail, but you’ll have to watch the film to experience the full cinematic adventure!
When looking up information about this scene, I discovered to my surprise that the library is not actually a library at all! The façade of the library was a church in Venice, Italy, called the Church of San Barnaba. Today, the church features exhibits. I learned that the scenes filmed inside of the library were actually shot in a studio, not in the Church of San Barnaba. Nevertheless, the library represents a gateway to knowledge in this film, so it would make sense that this setting is utilized as one of the major vehicles of discovery for Indiana, a man who values research and education.
Fun fact: there is also an exhilarating library scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This 2008 film received mixed responses from audiences, but I still enjoy going on the nostalgic adventure. The Reading Room in this film reminds me of Falvey’s Dugan Polk Reading Room with its high ceilings.
Want to follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones and company on their journey? Learn more about the Holy Grail, the city of Venice, and more, below!
The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief (Richard W. Barber)
Eternal Chalice: The Enduring Legend of the Holy Grail (Juliette Wood)
Servants of the Grail: The Real-Life Characters of the Grail Legend Identified (Filip Coppens)
Venice Walks (Jo-Ann Titmarsh)
Venice, the Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City (Robert C. Davis, Garry Marvin)
The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light (Nigel Morris)
Excavating Indiana Jones: Essays on the Films and Franchise (Randy Laist)
Borrow Indiana Jones series via Interlibrary Loan:
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
The Indiana Jones series is also available via Disney+ for those who have a paid subscription to that streaming platform.
Be sure to check out the final movie in the series, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023), in theatres now.
Regina Duffy is a Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Library.