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"Fräulein Ravenwood, let me show you what I am used to..."
―Toht preparing to torture Marion Ravenwood with a flaming poker[src]

Sturmbannführer Arnold Ernst Toht was a sadistic and ruthless Nazi Gestapo agent and military officer who worked with René Belloq during the Nazi effort to locate the Ark of the Covenant in 1936.

Loyal to Adolf Hitler, Toht did everything he could to contribute to the search for the Ark. Although deep down he did not believe in the supernatural, it was the power of the Ark that would be his undoing.


Major Arnold Ernst Toht[4] had at least one sibling, a sister named Ilsa.[5] As with the rest of his fellow Gestapo brethren, Toht was trained in the art of combat, interrogation, torture, and espionage, and was well-versed in mysticism and the belief in Aryan society. Over time, Toht became a skilled torturer and interrogator, relishing the opportunity to inflict pain and suffering even for its own sake, and a firm believer in the Nazi doctrine.[2]

Search for the Ark[]

In 1936, Toht was sent to Nepal by the Third Reich Special Antiquities Collection[6] to acquire the headpiece to the Staff of Ra from Marion Ravenwood. Toht and his surbordinate Otto hired three henchmen off the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal known as the Ratty Nepalese, the Mean Mongolian and the Giant Sherpa and followed Indiana Jones to The Raven bar in Patan where Toht tried to take the piece by preparing to torture Marion with a hot iron, but Indiana Jones appeared and intervened, disarming Toht with his bullwhip.[1]

All the henchmen who went into the bar with Toht died during the ensuing fight with Jones and Ravenwood, during which Marion's bar was set ablaze. While Indy was grappling with a large thug, Toht dispassionately ordered both shot, but his henchman was quickly dropped by four bullets from his would-be victims and Toht scrambled for cover. Crouching next to a table, Toht noticed the headpiece lying on the ground during the skirmish and tried to grab it, but the bronze relic had been heated by the flames throughout the fight and began sizzling the moment he gripped it, searing its ancient design into his flesh. Screaming in agony, Toht sprinted across The Raven, leapt through the tavern's window and plunged his hand into the snow outside in an attempt to soothe it.[1]

When Toht met up with Colonel Herman Dietrich, Major Gobler and René Emile Belloq in Egypt. From his headpiece-scarred palm, the Nazis were able to create a crude, one-sided reproduction of the headpiece; but the missing information from the other side would prove critical to finding the Ark's resting place, the Well of the Souls.[1]

Toht prepares to hang his coat.

Frustrated with Belloq's inability to extract useful information from the (now captive) Marion Ravenwood, Dietrich had Toht intercede. His own interrogation proved equally fruitless however. When the Nazis finally caught up with Jones at the Well of the Souls, Toht threw Ravenwood into the Well under Dietrich's orders, for they had no further use for her. Belloq's protest against the action caused Toht to giggle with glee.[1]

He later accompanied Belloq and his fellow Nazis in the effort to deliver the Ark to a safer location, since his duty was to oversee the delivery of the artifact Hitler desired. However, Jones succeeded in taking the Ark back from them. Toht and the others located his whereabouts later on and reclaimed the Ark along with Marion.[1]

Shortly thereafter, on a small island north of Crete, Toht disembarked from the Wurrfler along with the rest of the Nazis including Belloq and Ravenwood. While walking to the Tabernacle, where the ceremony was going to be performed, Jones resurfaced and threatened to blow up the Ark unless Ravenwood was released, but Belloq distracted him long enough to be captured.[1]

That night, Toht stood with Belloq and Dietrich in the Tabernacle for the ceremonial opening of the Ark. Initially, the Ark seemed to bear only dust and sand, which was all that was left of the Ten Commandments; this amused Toht, who never quite believed in the supernatural imperative of his assignment, and the despair of Belloq on top of that had him burst into laughter. His enjoyment was cut short, however, as a power surge destroyed all equipment in the vicinity of the Ark before apparitions began to emanate from within the gilded gold chest.[1]

Toht's face melts.

The astonished Toht watched as one of the spirits approached them. Appearing as a youthful woman, the entity's visage gave way to a terrifying fanged countenance that snarled at the assembled Nazis. Toht's screams only increased as the Ark's full wrath was unleashed in the form of an intense fire that struck down the gathered soldiers; Toht's own face melted clean off his skull before his remains were carried away by the following whirlwind.[1]


After Toht's death, his sister Ilsa tried to avenge him by killing Indiana Jones, the adventurer who had contributed to his death. Ilsa, a high-ranking official of the Third Reich in the same vein as her brother, became head of a plot by the Nazis involving the theft of the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol and its use in manipulating the South American native peoples into joining the Third Reich were war to break out. A battle of wits followed as Indiana Jones attempted to prevent Ilsa from enacting her revenge and succeeding in her mission. As a direct result of Jones' intervention, Ilsa perished in a violent plane crash.[5]

Personality and traits[]

"Heil Hitler."
―Arnold Ernst Toht[src]

A sadistic psychopath reputed for his resourcefulness and cunning,[2] Toht possessed an extensive knowledge of torture methods. Besides that he displayed a sardonic sense of humor as well, picking up something that uninformed observers could misinterpret as an instrument of torture, before revealing it as simply a hanger for his coat. Usually a quiet man, Toht favored black attire, wearing a fedora, leather coat and a full suit and tie regardless of the climate he was in. He had receding jet black hair and a pair of round spectacles spread across his broad face.[1]

Toht was loyal to Adolf Hitler despite his own skepticism of anything claimed to be supernatural,[7] as his primary goal was to just please his Führer by carrying out his orders to the letter in order to ensure his place in the Gestapo hierarchy.[2] He enjoyed René Belloq's disenchantment when the opening of the Ark appeared to contain nothing but sand.[8] He was flabbergasted when the Ark began to unleash spirits which swarmed amongst the soldiers, and quickly became terrified when they showed their true colors.[1]

With a faith in Aryan society like many within the Schutzstaffel and the higher levels of Germany's military government,[2] Toht believed that "pure" Germans were a race of superbeings and that their supposed racial and political purity gave the Nazis the right to destroy any threat to their supremacy.[7] He was sure that one day, the Nazis were going to conquer the world.[2]

Behind the scenes[]

Toht was portrayed by the late Ronald Lacey in Raiders of the Lost Ark who is never referred to by name beyond the credits and only has a total of sixteen lines in the film.[1] The film's novel establishes Toht's first name as "Arnold" but in Marvel Comics' The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones, the character's sister Ilsa refers to him as "Ernst Toht".[6][9] The third issue of the UK Indiana Jones Comic reconciles both names, establishing Ernst as Toht's middle name.[10] Although Dennis Muren plays a similarly bespectacled, nameless trenchcoated spy who boards the plane in San Francisco with Indy, this is not Toht.[1] Author Campbell Black in his novelization of the film has Toht boarding with Indy in Shanghai and not San Francisco.[6]

Before Lacey was cast in the role of Toht, famous actors like director Roman Polanski and the late Klaus Kinski were offered the part. However, they both declined the offer with the latter dismissing the script as being "moronically shitty".[11][12] The late Michael Sheard, who played the U-boat captain, later named Oskar Schomburg, in the finished film and later went on to portray Adolf Hitler in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, was in contention for the role, but lost out to Lacey.[13]

Toht concept art by Ron Cobb.

The character, originally identified as "Belzig" in Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay, remains unnamed in the film dialogue and was listed as "Toht" in the closing credits of the film, reflecting script revisions. The production played around with the idea of Toht being a cyborg with a metal arm that could change into a machine gun and a flamethrower. Concept art was drawn up by the late Ron Cobb, some which also gave him a light in his right eye. However, George Lucas pushed against the development, telling director Steven Spielberg that he was mixing genres so it was dropped.[14] The idea of a character with a mechanical limb resurfaced in the unmade Indiana Jones and the Monkey King script before becoming part of canon with Helmut von Mephisto in Indiana Jones and the Mystery of Mount Sinai.[15] The concept later greatly influenced the appearance of Star Wars antagonist Gable Karius in Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series.[16]

Drafts of the Raiders script indicate that Toht was originally intended to die alongside Gobler after flying off a cliff in their troop car during The Desert Chase.[17] Toht's survival was a late development and the character was spared until the opening of the Ark of the Covenant. This might explain why Ronald Lacey isn't actually present at the conclusion of the chase outside Omar's Garage as, although the character is there, Toht is represented by his hat and jacket propped up in the front seat of the staff car.[1] Cut from the film, the alternative fate for Toht was retained in Black's novelization.[6] That depiction was also included in the comic[9] and storybook adaptations.[18] Ryder Windham's junior novelization has a more screen accurate portrayal of Toht's death.[19]

Toht's death as depicted in the comic.

The gag in which Toht seems to pull out a torture device only for it to be revealed as a coat hanger was originally intended by director Steven Spielberg to be performed by Christopher Lee in 1941, the last film he had directed before taking on Raiders. The moment didn't work out so Spielberg cut it from the film but later reused it with Toht.[14] Lacey shaved the top of his head in order to play Toht. When he removes his hat to wipe the sweat off his head, stubble showing his hairline can be seen.

During the early development of the fourth Indiana Jones film, Frank Darabont's first draft of his Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods script featured Nazis seeking revenge against Indiana Jones due his role in the deaths of Toht and other Nazis that he had fought before and during World War II. Spielberg disliked the idea, however, and it was dropped.[14] Although Toht doesn't appear in Crystal Skull, he briefly appears in a trailer for the film as footage from the opening of the Ark scene from Raiders was included.

In the video game Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures, Toht attacks The Raven alone and without his black fedora. He battles Indy from upper platforms jumping from one to another but when Indy defeats him, he escapes without burning his hand with the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, which remains with Marion Ravenwood during the whole stage. However, Toht is never seen with the Nazis afterwards and thus absent during the opening of the Ark, leaving his fate unclear.[20]

In LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, Toht burns his behind instead of his hand on the headpiece. His death during the opening of the Ark differs from the film, however, in that his head appears to shrink while his foot seems to melt, a fate shared with Herman Dietrich. The portable versions of the game don't explicitly show the fates of Dietrich, Belloq and Toht.[21] In the sequel, Toht appears in every Raiders level, but his demise differs greatly. A disco ball emerges from the Ark which makes Toht and the other Nazis dance until Belloq, transformed into a lightning monster, makes Toht explode with a ray beam.[22]

Kenner released an action figure of Toht as part of its The Adventures of Indiana Jones toyline in the 1980s, and Toht's figure had the distinction of being the most common figure of the series along with the Arab Swordsman. He also had the most cardback variations. In its second release, the character's name was misspelled on the cardback as "Thot", but this was corrected for the third release.[23] There were plans by Kenner for a playset of The Raven which would have included a new Toht action figure, but the set went unproduced when the whole The Adventures of Indiana Jones toyline was abruptly cancelled.[24] Hasbro also released an exclusive action figure of Toht from their unreleased fifth wave of Indiana Jones Action Figures at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con.



Notes and references[]