Doctor Elsa Schneider was an Austrian art historian and former Olympic swimmer who was recruited by the Nazis to find the Holy Grail in order to acquire immortality for the Third Reich leader Adolf Hitler.
Around 1938, Schneider was involved in a scheme with American industrialist Walter Donovan to extract information from professors Henry Walton Jones, Senior and Indiana Jones in order to discover the location of the Grail through the former's Grail Diary. The Joneses eventually realized her true nature and recovered the diary from her at a Berlin bookburning rally.
Afterwards, Schneider accompanied Donovan and Nazi Colonel Ernst Vogel to the Republic of Hatay to find the Grail Temple where she betrayed Donovan and made him inadvertently commit suicide with a False Grail. Her obsession to acquire the Holy Grail for herself, however, would end up being her undoing.
In 1933, the Weimar Republic fell and the country was subsequently taken over by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party. By then, Schneider had become an art historian and developed an interest in searching for the fabled Holy Grail. Willing to do anything to acquire the relic, she allied herself with the Nazis although she didn't share their ideology.
By the decade's end, the Third Reich authorized an expedition to recover the Holy Grail. Walter Donovan, an American industrialist-turned Nazi sympathizer who had also aligned with Hitler as a means to an end took charge of financing the expedition. In 1937, he met with Professor Henry Jones, Sr., an expert on Grail lore who had made extensive studies of the Grail in a diary compiled over many years, to acquire his services in finding the artifact. Unaware of the Nazi connection to the project, Jones was flown out to Berlin to meet with Schneider around 1938.
As the pair worked together in Venice, Italy, in search of clues to the whereabouts of the Cup of Christ, Schneider seduced Henry. However, it became apparent to Henry that Schneider was a Nazi agent when she said "Mein Führer" in her sleep. Jones managed to send his research back home to the US but was captured by the Nazis and imprisoned at the Castle of Brunwald on the Austro-German border. Following the loss of the elder Jones, Donovan to turned to Indiana Jones, Henry's son, for his unwitting assistance with the Nazi effort to recover the Grail.
Schneider met Jones and Marcus Brody after they arrived in Venice, and guided them to the library where she had been working with Henry when he "disappeared", receiving a flower that Indy stole from a street vendor. In the library, she helped to ensure that the group would be unhindered by the library's closing. After realizing that the Knight's tomb was underneath the library, as it was a former church, Schneider accompanied Jones into the catacombs through a hole in the floor.
Passing through several chambers, they eventually found the flooded tomb of the knight and discovered that the knight's shield was the second marker. Their discovery was threatened by an oil fire set by the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword. Jones' quick thinking saved Schneider, though a rat climbed in her hair, and they were able to find an exit via the sewers. Back on the piazza, the two were chased by more men from the Brotherhood, and they took a motorboat to escape. When their attackers boarded their boat, Schneider took the helm while Indy fought with the men. In a communications misunderstanding, she steered their boat between two freighters being docked alongside each other, but managed to avoid being crushed. A pursuing boat was not as lucky. After their boat's engine was shot up, Indy jumped to another boat, and started attacking Kazim. When they ended their fistfight before that boat was shredded by a freighter's propeller, they both jumped back into Schneider's boat and went to a dock where Kazim revealed Henry's location in captivity: Castle Brunwald.
The two returned to their apartments to clean up. While Jones was showering, Schneider searched his room, leaving it a mess, then also trashed her own room, and pretended to draw a bath with the phonograph playing so Jones would not hear the ransacking. When Jones discovered that his room had been searched, he sought out Schneider, who acted surprised on seeing her room torn about. He revealed that he had the Grail Diary, sent to him by his father, and she became furious that he hadn't revealed his possession of it before. Indy turned the tense situation into an afternoon of passion.
Later, Schneider drove with Jones to the Austrian border, while Brody was sent to Iskenderun. She played the role of an art collector's assistant when Indy tried to bluff his way past the butler who answered the door. Sneaking around the castle, they discovered a room likely to be holding Indy's father, and Jones left her in a side room. After Jones had rescued his father and started shooting the Nazis in the castle, the father and son returned to the side room, where SS Colonel Vogel held Schneider hostage with a Luger. While the elder Jones knew of Schneider's true allegiance, the younger Jones believed her act and surrendered to Vogel. Free of Vogel's gun, she sauntered over to Indy and took the Grail Diary from him.
In the castle's dining room, the Joneses learned that Donovan was also working for the Nazis. When Indiana and his father were tied up, Schneider told Donovan to keep both them alive in case they couldn't get Brody, who had made off with map pages from the Grail Diary. Minutes later, she gave Indy a long kiss, much to the annoyance of Henry. She received a telegram from Berlin, requesting her presence there, she took the diary with her, to show as a progress report on the quest for the Grail.
At Berlin's Institute of Aryan Culture, Schneider attended a bookburning rally with Adolf Hitler, where she was uncomfortable with the destruction of knowledge. As she was leaving, Indy, in the disguise of a Nazi officer, grabbed her throat and threatened her life until she returned the diary. After Indy departed, she alerted the Nazis, who began a manhunt for Indy and Henry.
She met up with Donovan and Vogel in Republic of Hatay, and helped to lead the expedition to find the Canyon of the Crescent Moon using the map from their captive, Marcus Brody. On the way, the convoy of Nazi and Hatay soldiers came under attack by Kazim and the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword. As Kazim's life ebbed away, he gave a final warning to Schneider and Donovan that the Grail would bring them death, which affected her greatly. While Indy attempted to rescue his father and Brody from Vogel's tank, Schneider and Donovan proceeded to the Temple of the Sun, where they sent Hatay soldiers to attempt to navigate the temple's defenses.
When Indy, Henry, Marcus and Sallah showed up, they were captured, resulting in one final confrontation between Donovan and the Joneses. Henry was shot by Donovan, much to Schneider's horror as she still had some lingering affection for the Joneses, forcing Indiana to pass the three trials in order to reach the Grail Chamber in order to save his father. After he passed through the trials, Schneider and Donovan followed into the final chamber, where the Grail Knight presented the challenge of choosing the one true Grail among many false grails. Donovan was unable to make a choice, so Schneider offered to choose for him. Inspecting the many cups, Schneider chose the most ornate golden chalice studded with jewels and presented it to Donovan, who drank from it, and began rapidly aging. Recognizing Schneider's treachery, he turned on her, but only terrified her as he withered away into death.
After composing herself, Schneider and Indy began inspecting the grails, the former noting that the real one would not be made out of gold and the latter noting an old, wooden cup. This turned out to be the true Holy Grail and Indy used it to heal his father's bullet wound back at the entrance of the temple. After Henry had set it down, Schneider picked up the grail and, forgetting the warnings of the Grail Knight, insisted that she planned to share it with Indy. As Indy ordered for her not to move, Elsa found it too late to heed his warnings and stepped across the Great Seal at the temple's entrance. The entire structure began to quake. Elsa lost her footing, causing the grail to roll away from her grasp as she hit the ground. Elsa lunged forward to try to recover the chalice, but in doing so, she knocked it into the splitting floor. Elsa could not maintain her hold on the rising earth, and fell on to tilted ground, sliding towards the chasm. Indiana dove to grab her hands just in time.
Elsa held on for her life, but before Indy could pull her up, she wrenched one of her hands free to reach the Grail after realizing it was right below her. Elsa's hand was just inches short of reaching the cup, and Indiana pleaded for her to save herself. Elsa ignored Indiana's warnings, greedily insisting she could reach it. All the while, the glove on her other hand was slipping off. Elsa continued to stretch her arm out, but before she could manage to touch the grail, her hand slipped from its glove. Elsa lost her life when Indiana was unable to catch her as she fell into the misty chasm below. After they escaped, Henry told Indy that Elsa didn't believe in the Grail, that she thought she had found a prize.
Personality and traits
Elsa was a very conflicted woman. She claimed that she didn't believe in the swastika and indeed was saddened at the destruction of knowledge. As an art historian, she was very devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and regarded books very highly; at the Nazi rally in Berlin, she wept at the sight of so many books being consigned to the flames. She was also quite ruthless, as demonstrated by her deliberately choosing a false Grail for Donovan, and seduced both Joneses to get closer to them and the Grail. She was capable of qualities like sympathy, sorrow and compassion – having reacted in horror when Donovan shot Henry Jones Sr. – but ultimately her lust for the material gain of the Grail corrupted her.
Behind the scenes
Elsa Schneider was portrayed by Alison Doody in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Doody was only twenty-one when cast as Elsa, making her the youngest Indy girl. She was twenty five years younger than Harrison Ford and thirty seven years younger than Sean Connery.
The character's claim of competing and winning the silver medal in the 50 meter freestyle at the 1932 Summer Olympics for the Austrian swim team is anachronistic; the event wasn't introduced in the real world Olympic Games until the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. At one point in the film, Elsa also erroneously addreses Ernst Vogel as Oberst, as an SS officer the equivalent is Standartenführer
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, Elsa can make it past the end of the game if the player gets Indy to catch the Grail with his whip before she tries to reach it. If she survives, when it's revealed that Indiana's name was taken from the dog, and Marcus shares that his father had a cat named Marcus, Elsa recalls that her father had a secretary named Elsa. Elsa's role in both Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures and the Taito adaptation of the Last Crusade is considerably reduced. In both, she only appears in Venice, which is an optional mission in the Taito game, and her affair with Henry Jones, Sr. is omitted completely. However, in Greatest Adventures, she was still mentioned as working with Henry before his disappearance, even though her allegiance with the Nazis is cut. With Elsa absent from the Temple of the Sun, Walter Donovan independently chooses the wrong cup to drink from. In the Taito game, despite her reduced role, she is still a double agent as, if Indiana Jones fails either to rescue Henry or Marcus, he will mention her having stolen Jones Sr.'s diary before he has to return to Berlin to retrieve it.
In LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, Elsa grabs the Holy Grail from Brody but then falls into a hole that opens up directly beneath her. She doesn't enter the Grail Temple at all in the sequel, however, as Henry Sr fights her outside while Indy and Sallah go after Donovan. By the time they return (after defeating Donovan), they find the professor teaching Elsa how to play golf. The four of them then drive away together in Donovan's car.
Elsa is the only female lead from the original three films not to feature in any form in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Marion Ravenwood appears as one of the main characters, and a photo of Willie Scott can be seen in Indy's house).
- Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (First appearance)
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade novel
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade junior novel (1989)
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade junior novel (2008)
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade comic
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade game
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure
- Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead (Mentioned only)
- Indiana Jones and the Spear of Destiny (Mentioned only)
- LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (Non-canonical appearance)
- LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues (Non-canonical appearance)
- Grail Diary
- The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine 10
- The World of Indiana Jones
- Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine: Prima's Official Strategy Guide
- Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide
Notes and references
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure
- The World of Indiana Jones
- Grail Diary
- Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide, A Simple Misunderstanding, Pg. 87
- 15 Things You Might Not Know About Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at Mental Floss
- The Complete Making of Indiana Jones