The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman – Book Review
Once you get past the hyperbole, this is a pretty fun book!
by Vic Armstrong, Robert Sellers, Steven Spielberg (Foreword), Titan Books
At 64, British stuntman Vic Armstrong may not still be abseiling down any ropes for action scenes in James Bond movies (see 1967’s You Only Live Twice), but he is still working in the industry today as an experienced stunt coordinator and second unit director. (His most recent onscreen credit is for the upcoming Amazing Spider-man movie on which this updated and revised edition actually has a chapter.)
The subtitle for the already clunky title is “My life is as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and other movie heroes.” Yup, Vic Armstrong doubled for Christopher Reeve in the first Superman movie as well as working on several of the James Bond movies starring Pierce Brosnan. Sci-fi fans would also be interested to know that he also worked on several genre movies such as Krull, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds remake, Return of the Jedi, Dune and Brazil – to mention only a few.
Armstrong’s moment of glory was however being the stunt double for Harrison Ford in all three of the original Indiana Jones movies. By 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull he was frankly too old (then again, so was Harrison Ford come to think of it). With his passing resemblance to Ford, particularly when dressed in the now legendary Indiana Jones outfit and hat, Vic Armstrong practically saved Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom from financial ruin when Harrison Ford had to undergo a back operation halfway through filming by stepping in for the actor in many scenes. In one interview Harrison Ford actually quipped that: “Yeah, we look alike. He spent several nights with my wife before she realized.”
With more than 40 years working in the Hollywood film industry alongside the likes of anyone from Oliver Reed and David Lean to Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, Armstrong has a crapload of anecdotes to tell – certainly enough to fill up the 340 or so pages of this newly revised book making its debut in the States this week.
It has both a gossipy and war story feel to it. Armstrong gives his impression of the hundreds of celebrities and film-makers he has worked with throughout the years as well as regaling the reader with stories such as the time he and several others were stranded for four days in a helicopter in freezing conditions while scouting locations for the Donald Sutherland movie Bear Island with no provisions. Or the several times he continued working despite broken bones and the like.
Hollywood etiquette of course dictates that Armstrong probably isn’t entirely honest about everyone he has worked with – after all, you might still have to work with any people you badmouth, but he is at times refreshingly honest about some of the people he did work with, calling Death Wish director Michael Winner a “bully” and so on for example.
For the most however it is a case of my pal “Arnie” (Arnold Schwarzenegger) being a “lovely guy” with “no pretensions at all.” Armstrong gets a bit sycophantic at times and the book seems to be a string of chatty interviews transcribed and strung together by the book’s co-author, Robert Sellers. However, Armstrong has so many great and interesting behind-the-scenes stories to tell about his years in the film industry that no self-respecting film buff will help but lap up all this stuff.
Despite its many faults this is an immensely fun and entertaining read for movie fans. We finished it up in no time!