Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doubles

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When now world renowned stunt performer and co-ordinator Vic Armstrong first joined the Indiana Jones film family on Raiders Of The Lost Ark, crew members often mistook him for star Harrison Ford, especially when clad in Indy’s distinctive garb.

He didn’t start off as Ford’s double, however. His first job on Raiders was doubling for a Nazi stooge. While stunt co-ordinator Peter Diamond was off setting up the truck chase, Vic was handed storyboards and told to get on with coordinating the first unit (with Spielberg) on the fight around the flying wing, between Ford and Vic’s old mate, Pat Roach.

Time dragged and the fight hadn’t been shot yet, so Vic broke for lunch. As he walked off, Spielberg kept calling “Harrison!” after him, catching him up and realising it wasn’t him. From then on, Vic doubled more often than not as Harrison Ford.

The man(s) in the hat is back

By the time of the prequel follow up, Temple Of Doom, Vic had been bumped up to stunt coordinator. At the time it caused a bit of friction (now forgotten about) between him and American stuntman Glenn Rendall (who performed the truck drag on Raiders). Vic recounts in his autobiography, The True Adventures Of The World’s Greatest Stuntman:

“Look,” I said. “You’re here because I’m allowing you to be here because it’s a union picture out of England. You don’t have any work permits, you don’t pay taxes, and I’m officially the stunt so-ordinator.” He said, “I’m the co-ordinator on this, and if I pull out of here Steven and his whole crew are going to pull out of the UK and go back to the States and leave you.”

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Vic called him on it and Spielberg backed him, not Randall, leaving Vic free to concentrate on his job. In a spectacular stunt where Indy and Willie crash through the window of Club Obi-Wan, then dive through awnings into a waiting car below, driven by Short Round, Vic and wife Wendy Leech doubled for Ford and Kate Capshaw. (Incidentally, Vic and his wife met on the set of Superman, doubling as Superman and Lois Lane in the helicopter stunt.)

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For this stunt, Vic used his own invention, the Fan Descender, to slow their fall. The Fan Descender (he got an Academy Award for inventing it) is basically a spindle in bearings that the jump wire wraps around. As the stunt performer descends, the wire is pulled out and spins the spindle, creating air pressure that controls the descent.

The stunt was actually filmed in two segments, the crash first, then the descent, over four months apart. The longest fall ever?

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The Fan Descender was used again on location in Sri Lanka, where Vic once more doubled for Ford on the rickety rope bridge, now cut in half, from which the hero and villain Mola Ram fight while hanging off it against the cliff edge. Dummies did the actual fall when the bridge was cut. Frank Henson as Mola Ram was rigged up to the Fan Descender, Vic 15 feet below him:

I thought, “God, he’s going too fast.” The cable snapped and we both fell another 15 feet on my safety cable. It was quite scary.”

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Amrish Puri, his double Frank Henson, and Felix Silla (Shorty double)

Amrish Puri, his double Frank Henson, and Felix Silla (Shorty double)

Vic’s biggest contribution to Temple Of Doom came when Ford was incapacitated by back pain, exacerbated by elephant riding in Sri Lanka. Ford:

“No one had  calculated the risk to people unfamiliar with riding them. The position that you have to be in put a huge strain on my back.  I ended up with a herniated disc…So I took a few weeks off and had an operation to prevent further damage. But thank God for Vic, because of him the production did not need to be shut down.”

Vic stood in for Harrison Ford during a lot of the Temple fight scenes, especially the fight on the stone crusher with Pat Roach, as the nasty Thuggee overseer. Spielberg:

“That scene was all made up; it wasn’t storyboarded. at all. I shot it like the Flying Wing scene in Raiders. “

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Spielberg was careful to shoot Vic in shadow or from behind. Ford’s close-ups were added later when he recovered. One time during the Ford interval, to prank Spielberg, Kate Capshaw bundled Vic and Roy Alon, Ke Huy Quan’s (Shorty) double into a mine car with her, ice cream rubbed all over their faces. As they hurtled past the camera, propelled by sweating grips, they popped up eating ice cream cones.

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They’ll never sell any ice cream going at that speed

As well shooting the fight scenes, Spielberg rearranged sequences to shoot Kate Capshaw’s big song and dance number, Anything Goes, choreographed by Danny Daniels.

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Despite these heroic efforts, production was shut down for three weeks-still a lot shorter than originally anticipated. Ford made a rapid recovery, already being in peak physical shape. On screen, it’s impossible to tell who is Vic and who is Ford. The star later quipped, “Yeah, we look alike. He spent several nights with my wife before she realised.”

For more great Temple Of Doom articles, head over to Paul Bullock‘s site, From Director Steven Spielberg.

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