Scarred for Life
by Rusty W. Spell

Everyone remembers the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) when a young Indiana (played by River Phoenix) clumsily uses a whip for the first time, leaving a bloody mark above his chin, thus explaining the scar on the older Dr. Jones.  Some even remember one year earlier in Working Girl (1988) when Harrison Ford's character first explains that the scar came from a knife fight, later admitting that it actually came about when he fainted while getting his ear pierced, hitting his chin on the toilet.  These are the only two explanation scenes appearing in Ford's movies so far.  Many more, however, are on the editing room floor.

After Harrison Ford made a name for himself in American Graffiti, Star Wars, and Return of the Jedi, he had gained enough star power to make certain demands.  His primary demand was that -- for each film he starred in -- a scene would be shot in which an explanation for Ford's scar is given.  Only two of these scenes have made the final cut so far, but this doesn't matter to Ford.  He explains: "Just shooting the scene is enough for me.  I have this scar, and it is important on some cosmic level to have the background of the scar filmed.  It's important to the character, and it's important to me.  What the director does with the scene afterward is up to him."

This trend began on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark when Harrison Ford lost Steven Spielberg an entire shooting day because of an argument over the scar scene.  Spielberg explains: "He went on and on about how it was important for the audience to know where this scar came from, that they wouldn't completely understand the character otherwise.  I later thought he was right and included it in the third movie.  Now, however, I feel that what made the first movie special was that mystery.  The real magic didn't come from the Ark of the Covenant; it came from wondering where that scar came from."

When Mike Nichols was asked why he included the scar scene in his movie Working Girls, he said, "It seemed as good a scene as anything else.  Also, I wanted to beat Spielberg to the punch."

The first time that a director was contractually obligated to shoot a scar scene was in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982).  Reportedly, Scott loved the scene but was forced to take it out.  "I wanted to leave it in because I wanted to please Harrison and it was a beautiful moment," Scott said.  "But the scene explained that the scar was given to Deckard in order to make him seem 'more real.'  I wanted that question to be there: was Decker a replicant or not?  Leaving the scene in would have ruined the mystery."

In Return of the Jedi (1983), George Lucas shot a scene in which Han Solo explained to Princess Leia that he had obtained the scar while making the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.  Lucas removed it from the movie for reasons of pacing, though he recently stated that he would like to include it in an upcoming edition of the original trilogy.

For Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Spielberg didn't want to get in another argument, so he quickly shot a scene in which he instructed Ford to "just make something up."  The shot was a ten-minute long segment in which Indiana explained the scene that eventually was brought to life in the next Indiana Jones installment.  "To shoot that scene: that was the main reason I wanted to do another Jones," Spielberg said.

The scene shot for Witness (1985) was dear to Ford's heart because it was the true story of the scar.  The character John Book (and Harrison Ford himself, in real life) was driving a car when he remembered to buckle his seatbelt.  While doing so, he swerved off the road and into a telephone poll.  When this scene didn't make the movie, Ford asked if he could do it again and again -- in The Mosquito Coast (1986), Frantic (1988), Presumed Innocent (1990), Clear and Present Danger (1994), Air Force One (1997), The Devil's Own (1997), and Random Hearts (1999) -- hoping that at least one of them would include the scene in the final movie.  None of them did.

Though Harrison Ford was typically content with simply having the scene shot, if not included, he became very vocal about his dissatisfaction during the premiere of Regarding Henry (1991).  Apparently, Ford rose from his seat when he realized the scene was not going to appear and screamed, "It's a goddamned movie about memory loss!  Why wouldn't you include a scene in which Henry asks about his goddamned scar?"

During press junkets for The Fugitive (1993), a more subdued Ford simply smiled that well-known charming smile and said, "Don't you think if the U.S. Marshall was searching every whorehouse, doghouse, and outhouse, he'd also like to know the backstory of the chin scar?"

Though a scar scene was shot for Sabrina (1995) and though director Sydney Pollack wanted to include it, the scene was somehow lost (some believe stolen) and has never resurfaced.  "I blame the failure of this movie on the loss of that scene," Pollack later said.  "I wake nights thinking about what would have been."

Movies were well into the digital age by the time Six Days, Seven Nights (1998) began filming, and director Ivan Reitman took advantage of this fact by digitally removing Harrison Ford's scar from the scenes before his plane crash with Anne Heche and then allowing the scar to appear, presumably as a result of the crash.  Ford was particularly happy with this elegant execution, but at the last minute Reitman felt that Ford "just wasn't as handsome" without his trademark scar and worried that -- without it -- audiences might leave the theater unhappy, especially after Anne Heche came out as being a lesbian, causing viewers to be skeptical about the on-screen romance.  In an interesting twist, rather than returning to the unaltered filming of the initial pre-scar scenes, Reitman felt it was easier (as most of the post-production had already been done) to digitally add the scar over where it had once been digitally removed.

What Lies Beneath (2000) is an anomaly among Harrison Ford's movies as Robert Zemeckis, knowing full well of the chin scar clause and surrounding stories, decided to not only include a scar scene in the movie but actually build the entire movie around the scar.  In one scene, Zemeckis would have had Ford's scar actually talking to Michelle Pfeiffer.  Ford felt that Zemeckis was going overboard and, in order to save the movie, told him to "forget it."

Ford said "forget it" to his next three movies as well -- K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Hollywood Homicide (2003), and Firewall (2006) -- explaining: "The scar thing isn't as satisfying as it once was.  There were a great couple of years when my scar was explained on the big screen, but no one treats it seriously or with true knowledge anymore.  These guys have forgotten something very deep, something very profound about what makes these characters human, and I find that sad."

During the premier of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford stood on stage together and Ford had this to say: "This man and I, Steven, have been through some ups and downs.  But I want you all to know that he was one of the two, two mind you, directors with enough balls to explain my chin scar on this big silver screen you see before you.  Mike was the other, Mike Nichols, who can't be here tonight.  When you watch tonight's movie and when you feel you've known this character Indiana Jones all your life, you'll know why.  You'll know why."

Latest sources say that Harrison Ford has now retired the scar clause of his contract indefinitely, but that he'd "be happy to shoot a scene or two for any director with enough vision to realize the significance of this distinct mark."

Copyright 27 May 2008 We Like Media.
You may email Rusty W. Spell.