Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood in Steven Spielberg's latest film "Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull", featuring Harrison Ford (shown here in silhouette), opens worldwide on May 22.  (Photos: David James/Paramount Pictures)

The Man In The Fedora Hat Is Back . . . And So Is She -- 27 Years Later

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

May 14, 2008

Everyone knows that it's been some 19 years since Harrison Ford last appeared on the big screen as Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade" but some may not have realized that it's been 27 years since Karen Allen made a distinct impression on the silver screen as heroine Marion Ravenwood in the classic Spielberg actioner "Raiders Of The Lost Ark".  Ms. Allen has been invisible in the action genre, but next week she will be back to help save the day in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", which is certain to make hundreds of millions of dollars in North America alone.
While Karen Allen may have been invisible to "Indiana Jones" fans after "Raiders" she has been no stranger to the big screen in the intervening three decades between Spielberg book-ending "Indy" adventures.  Avid film fans will note that the Illinois-born actress has appeared in such films as "Shoot The Moon", "Starman", "Scrooged", "Malcolm X", "The Sandlot", "King Of The Hill", "The Perfect Storm", "In The Bedroom" and "When Will I Be Loved", among others.  She has also been on the theater stage on and off-Broadway on numerous occasions, taking more time away from movies.  Ms. Allen also appeared on television, including at least one episode of "Law And Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Knots Landing", among others.

The news of Karen Allen's addition to the cast of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was first announced last July at the annual Comic-Con event in San Diego, California, when she was introduced in a live video transmission from the set of the film with fellow "Crystal Skull" cast members Harrison Ford, Ray Winstone and Shia Le Beouf and the film's director Steven Spielberg.  This, almost as much as the news of the fourth installment, was the major highlight of last year's Comic-Con extravaganza, which also included news of "The Incredible Hulk" (opening next month) and "Star Trek" (opening in the summer of 2009.) 
Ms. Allen, born to a teacher (her mother) and a male FBI agent in 1951, is an ardent hand-knitting enthusiast proficient in the art of knitting.  According to one online site, she owns Karen Allen - Fibre Arts, her knitwear design shop which she opened in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 2005.  (She also has a knitwear design studio entitled Karen Allen - Fiber Arts Studio, which she started in 2003, as well as Berkshire Mountain Yoga.)  Her achievements on a personal level are juxtaposed with more trying times in life.

Karen Allen has overcome major adversity -- besides the trying times of a divorce in the late 1990's -- notably back in 1978 when she suffered from Kerato Conjunctivitus, a rare and rather dangerous eye condition giving her temporary blindness.  The severity of the condition lessened dramatically however and the following year she had a small role in Woody Allen's "Manhattan" before debuting on Broadway in 1982 in the play "The Monday After The Miracle", for which she won the Theater World Award for Best New Actress.  Just eight years later though, a second miracle would be experienced by Ms. Allen offstage: the birth of her son Nick. 

The mid-westerner Allen's approach to acting was defined in an interview she gave several years ago.  "It's a very instinctual relationship, a reaction to something in the script. I read a script and ask myself, 'Is this a story I want to tell?'  An actor is really a storyteller and sometimes the story being told is as important as the character in the story.  Sometimes, I look at a character and say, 'I don't know the first thing about this person, who she is and where she's coming from.'  That fascinates me.  I know in order to get there I have to do my work, to think through in psychological terms who this person is and examine her whole thinking process.  Sometimes you recognize certain elements of yourself that you didn't know were there," Ms. Allen has been quoted as saying in several places online.

There is the saying that says that timing is everything and if one had the chance to talk to Karen Allen right now she might say that her role in "Animal House" in 1978 proved to be the calling card for playing Marion Ravenwood in "Raiders".  Steven Spielberg watched the film and noted an energy and vitality in her character in the madness and hell-raising of fraternity boorishness that led him to cast her in the first Indiana Jones film, which broke many box-office records when it was first released in 1981.
The last time we saw Marion Ravenwood she was memorably ensconced amongst hundreds of snakes, screaming her head off while Indiana Jones was standing still, scolding and praying for Marion to be quiet.  If foggy memory serves correctly, fire was the eventual solution to get out a squirmy predicament and the duo lived to see another day in "Raiders of the Lost Ark", a film that not a few have hailed as one of the greatest action-adventure films of the last 100 years.  Now Ms. Ravenswood is back lending a huge helping hand to Indiana and his student Mutt (Mr. Le Beouf) in this latest installment, which leaps forward 12 years to 1950 in America, amidst the escalating Cold War, with the onset of the Korean War.  This time around, the Soviet officer Irina Spalko (played by Cate Blanchett) is the new face of villainy for Jones and company.  Indiana's last name is shouted more than a few times during the new film -- just watch the latest trailer to see the evidence of this.  "Whoever returns the (solid gold crystal) skull to the city's temple will be given control over its power," notes Indiana Jones in the trailer.  The race is on.

Ms. Allen hasn't hinted at whether the Indiana Jones series will continue past this new adventure, but she will continue to explore depth, complexity and reality in the characters that she chooses to play, whether they are brave, gutsy heroines like Marion Ravenwood or cold characters like Mrs. Dunne, an indifferent child welfare officer in "Malcolm X". 

These days when Ms. Allen isn't acting she is teaching it, directing theater at Simon's Rock College of Bard.  But starting on May 22 it's all Marion, and her big screen persona will be sure to teach Indiana Jones, Irina Spalko and her college students a thing or two.

"Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull" also stars Jim Broadbent and John Hurt.  The film opens worldwide on May 22.

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