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"He chose...poorly."
―The Grail Knight, upon Donovan's demise[src]

Walter Donovan was a wealthy American industrialist and collector of antiquities who allied himself with the Nazis in order to obtain the Holy Grail, which he sought for its fabled gift of immortality.

Around 1938, Donovan hired Professor Henry Walton Jones, Senior in order to track down the missing part of his Grail tablet, a marker to the Grail's resting place, but when Jones learned that his Austrian assistant, Elsa Schneider, was in fact an enemy agent, the Nazis took him prisoner. Donovan subsequently hired Jones' son, Indiana, to continue his father's work. However, Jones eventually managed to free his father from Castle Brunwald and escape from Donovan's clutches.

After the Joneses and their friends reached the Temple of the Sun in the Republic of Hatay behind Donovan and the Nazis, the industrialist shot the elder Jones to force his son into braving the traps protecting the relic. Donovan and Schneider followed him to the Holy Grail but found that there was a lethal final test: to recognize the true artifact hidden among the many fakes.

Donovan deferred to Schneider's expertise, but she betrayed him with a False Grail that rapidly aged the industrialist to the extent that all that remained of Walter Donovan was his Nazi pin, a symbol of his misplaced loyalties.


American multimillionaire[2] Walter Donovan had made several generous contributions to the Old World Museum. His copper mine engineers discovered a stone tablet in Turkey which held clues to the location of the Holy Grail. He and his wife lived in a fancy apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City.[3] Donovan kept the tablet at this home along with a manuscript which contained a Franciscan friar's account of the story of three knights who had found the Grail.[1]

Search for the Grail[]

By the late 1930s, Donovan had fallen in with the Nazis as part of his plan to achieve the Grail's reputed gift of eternal life to whomever drank from it. Towards the end of 1937, Donovan hired Scottish professor and Grail lore scholar Henry Walton Jones, Senior to lead his research team to track down the resting place of the Grail.[4] As such, Jones was paired with Doctor Elsa Schneider to find the location of a grail knight's tomb in Venice. When Jones realized that Schneider was affiiated with the Nazis, he was made to conveniently 'disappear', spirited away and imprisoned at Castle Brunwald on the Austro-German border but not before he managed to send his Grail Diary, his lifelong research of the relic to his archaeologist son Indiana Jones.[1]

Donovan kept an apartment in New York.

Donovan used the removal of the professor from his expedition to lure Indiana Jones into helping him piece together vital clues leading to the location of the Grail. As such, he had Indy brought to a cocktail party that he and his wife were hosting at his New York City apartment in 1938. In a private room away from the guests, Donovan spoke with Jones about the tablet, which was one of the markers needed to discover the cup used by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper. After learning from Donovan that his father had gone missing, Jones and family friend Marcus Brody journeyed to Italy at Donovan's expense to meet with Schneider in Venice. There, they discovered Sir Richard's tomb and the rest of the inscription of Donovan's tablet written on the knight's shield.[1]

Eventually, thanks to the help of Kazim, leader of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, a secret society dedicated to protecting the Grail by any means, Indy learned of his father's captivity. Indy and Elsa thus went to rescue the elder Jones from Castle Brunwald. Once there, however, Elsa betrayed them after acquiring the Grail Diary, handing it to Colonel Ernst Vogel. With the two Jones subdued, they were brought to a room where Donovan revealed himself as a Nazi ally.[1] Learning of Donovan's nature, Indy considered that Donovan may have been the same anonymous collector who had offered to buy the Cross of Coronado from Panama Hat, in a bad state financially following the Great Depression, in exchange for the archaeologist's death earlier that year off the Portuguese coast.[5] When reports that Brody, who had been sent on ahead to Iskenderun with vital pages ripped from the diary, was apprehened by Nazi agents, Donovan left the Joneses in Vogel's hands while Schneider was called back to Berlin to attend a bookburning rally presided by Hitler and took with her what Donovan thought was a now useless diary. However, during that same rally, the Joneses, having escaped from Brunwald, recovered the diary.[1]

Donovan and the Nazis meet the Sultan of Hatay.

With the missing diary pages that supplied a map to the location of the Grail, Donovan and the Nazis headed to Hatay to negotiate permission from the country's Sultan to cross his land and retrieve the relic. Offering him treasures 'donated' by the finest families in Germany, Donovan found that what actually held the Sultan's interest was his Rolls-Royce Phantom II. Willing to give up his prized car if that meant finding the Holy Grail, Donovan readily handed the keys to the Sultan who supplied a military escort, including a Mark VII Tank, in exchange.[1]

Shortly afterwards, a surprise attack from the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword was launched, and though some of Donovan's men were killed, the Brotherhood was mostly wiped out, including Kazim. A chase followed, through which Indiana Jones sought to save Brody who was being held inside the tank. While Vogel and many of his soldiers stayed behind to deal with the archaeologist, Donovan, with Schneider and some soldiers at his side, went on ahead to the Temple of the Sun.[1]

At the Grail temple, Donovan proceeded to send soldiers into the temple's lethal traps one by one to gain access to the relic but none were able to bypass the first challenge. After the death of another soldier, Donovan demanded more 'volunteers' but with the subsequent arrival and capture of Jones and his allies, Donovan directed Indy to go through the challenges and obtain the Grail. Jones initially refused but Donovan shot Henry in retaliation, forcing Jones to rely on the Grail's powers to save his father. After Jones neutralized the traps and reached the inner sanctum where the last of the Grail knights kept watch over the sacred chalice–and several more false pretenders–Donovan and Schneider followed in safety.[1]

Death and legacy[]

Donovan agrees with following doctor's orders.

The knight explained to his visitors that only by drinking from the true Holy Grail would grant that person eternal life, while a false one would take it away. Faced with this dilemma, Donovan relied on Schneider choosing for him. She gave Donovan a bejeweled, golden chalice that Donovan convinced himself was indeed a cup befitting the King of Kings.[1]

Toasting to his own longevity, Donovan drank from the Grail but, after a long pause, he gasped in pain, dropping the golden chalice to the ground. To his horror, Donovan found his hair rapidly growing out from his skull and his skin quickly wrinkling. He grabbed Schneider, his desperate questioning of what was happening turning to furious, undead roars of anger upon realizing Schneider had tricked him, Donovan would go on to have his eyeballs shrivel into nothing, his face grow crusty and his mouth wither away, leaving his rotten gums and teeth on full display in a matter of seconds, but Indiana Jones pushed what was left of the doomed Donovan away.[1] As his bony arms still flailed in desperation,[5] the skeletal Donovan fell against a wall where he shattered into dust. With a Nazi pin left lying amongst all that remained of him, the knight announced that Walter Donovan had chosen poorly.[1]

Walter Donovan's death later became known and it was while researching the 1936 disappearance of his own father in connection with Indiana Jones that the son of René Emile Belloq learned of Jones' involvement in the American businessman's mysterious demise and pieced together accounts made by Henry Jones, Sr.[6]

Personality and traits[]

"Didn't I warn you not to trust anybody, Dr. Jones?"
―Walter Donovan[src]

Walter Donovan was a ruthless, arrogant and greedy man though he was able to hide it under the mask of a warm, genial and understanding person who was concerned about other people.[3] Though distinguished, Donovan was duplicitous.[7] He was also somewhat hypocritical, as he told Indiana not to trust anybody but then relied on his equally ruthless colleague, Elsa Schneider, to pick out and deliver the correct Grail for him, a trait which ultimately cost him his life.[1]

An example of his ruthlessness was through desire for objects of great historical significance, like the Holy Grail, for his own purposes: Henry Jones Sr. regarded Donovan as a man willing to sell his own mother for an Etruscan vase In his desire for eternal life, he had no regard for others; when two soldiers were beheaded by a trap trying to reach the Grail, Donovan merely ordered another forward and later shot Indy's father so the former would be forced to retrieve the Grail.[1]

Behind the scenes[]

Walter Donovan was played by actor Julian Glover in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.[1] Glover originally auditioned, unsuccessfully, for the role of Colonel Ernst Vogel, but was called back by producer Robert Watts to be interviewed for Donovan's part. A British actor, Glover adopted an American accent to play Donovan, but he was ultimately dissatisfied with the final result.[8] Donovan, however, ended up being the favorite villain of Glover's career, finding Donovan a "well developed and funny" character.[9]

During the development of the film's script, Donovan was named Walter Chandler by writer Jeffrey Boam. While Chandler was one of the main villains, he was not intended to be the primary antagonist with the character falling to his death with the tank in Hatay (a fate which would later go to Vogel). Tom Stoppard changed the character's surname to Donovan in his revisions as well as the manner of his demise.[10]

Walter Donovan ages rapidly to dust.

The effect of Donovan's rapid aging and explosion into ash was dubbed "Donovan's Destruction" by the ILM staff and marked a technological breakthrough in effects work as the first shot completely computer composited and then scanned to film. ILM used life-size articulated puppets of Donovan's head in different phases of decomposition. Images were scanned into a computer where they were processed to form a seamless transformation.[11]

As previously mentioned, Glover liked to play Donovan in Last Crusade and enjoyed his experience acting in the film overall. However, while Glover and Sean Connery maintained a friendly relationship after the film's release, he has admitted that he never talked with Harrison Ford again as of 2018.[12]

At the end of the movie, in Donovan's remains, is shown the Golden Party Badge. These badges were numbered 1, Hitler's number, to 100,000. Although only 22,282 badges were given, these were intended to reward the first 100,000 members who joined the NSDAP beginning in 1933; suggesting that Donavan was not just a Nazi sympathizer but a member of the party.

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, Donovan dies off-screen, decapitated when he tries to follow Jones (who doesn't block the mechanism of the rotating blades as in the film). However, Indy himself will suffer Donovan's original fate if he drinks from the wrong Grail. Donovan is the final boss in the game Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures. Rather than perish upon drinking from the False Grail chosen by Elsa (who is absent from this scene), he "grabs a cup and drinks. But that was not the Grail and in fright he begins to transform into a skeleton" who can dislodge his body parts and must be put out of commission by Jones. Donovan also selects the False Grail for himself in the film's Read-Along Adventure adaptation, where he sinks to the floor as an ancient skeleton blackened with age.

In LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, Donovan independently chooses the wrong Grail; he is shown eagerly running to that grail and just immediately drinks from it. Indy never kicks him into a wall, either: Donovan simply ages to death in a somewhat comical manner. Three different versions of Donovan are unlockable in the game: his tuxedo, normal suit and, in the portable versions, his appearance after aging. In the sequel, which had a much looser depiction of the first three films, Donovan becomes super-powered by a whirlwind, which can only be destroyed through use of a bazooka and silver objects. After being defeated by Indy and Sallah, Donovan loses control of his tornado and falls to an unknown fate into the abyss, destroying the Grail Temple in the process.

Walter Donovan has the distinction of being the only main antagonist of an Indiana Jones film that has never been released as an action figure in official merchanside. No Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade toyline was made in 1989 due to Kenner's closure, but when Hasbro released a Last Crusade toyline in 2008, Donovan was again absent yet Elsa Schneider and Ernst Vogel had figures on the line. There were plans by Hasbro for an action figure of Donovan for the following year, but the toyline was cancelled before one could be made.[13] Similarly, Donovan wasn't released in any actual LEGO Indiana Jones set by LEGO, despite being featured in the two LEGO video games.



Notes and references[]