Sunday 18 August 2013

Chapter 8, Part 2 - Harrison Ford: Indiana Jones is back


Filming on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom began on 18th April 1983 on location in Sri Lanka and in Macao. When the Chinese sequence was safely in the can, the Macao unit joined the crew in Kandy and, with the two crews working side by side, the location work was wrapped in three weeks. From that lush setting, the cast and crew came back to earth with a bump, spending the next twelve weeks toiling through the British summer at EMI’s Elstree Studios at Borehamwood, just outside London. 

Director Spielberg and his two principal actors arrive at
London's Heathrow Airport for the studio shooting 

of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Additional location scenes were filmed in Northern California in the United States, where Hamilton Air Force Base stood in for Shanghai Airport and the Tuolomne River played the part of the Ganges. Principal photography finished on September 8 1983 without incident, barring one mishap, though the special effects work would continue up until March 1984.

Like Raiders before it Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is packed to overflowing with complex and dangerous stunt work. The ‘one mishap’ very nearly shuttered production on the movie when Harrison Ford fell from an elephant and aggravated an old back injury – with a third of the picture still to be completed! Ford was jetted back to Los Angeles to undergo emergency laser surgery and filming was halted while the star recuperated. 

Riding an elephant (and falling from one) are all in a day's
work for the average action movie star.
When he returned to the set, he found the most strenuous stunts – including his battle with the henchmen of Mola Ram and his climactic fight on the rickety rope bridge – were still before him. Fortunately for Ford, his doctors had patched him up perfectly and filming resumed without a hitch. Ford, as usual, was dismissive about the incident.

‘I’m now as fit as a fiddle,’ he said, ‘but I could never have done it without Vic Armstrong. Guys like Vic are invisible. They never get any credit. Nobody ever interviews them.’

Armstrong had worked with Ford several times before, on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner and Return of the Jedi, doubling for Ford when the going got too rough. Armstrong was philosophical about Ford's remarks.

‘We have to be invisible,’ he conceded, ‘if people are going to believe in the film.’

Peas in a pod ... Vic Armstrong (left!) was often mistaken
for Harrison Ford on set
Maybe ‘invisible’ isn’t the right word, for Armstrong bears a striking resemblance to Harrison Ford. While working on the set of Raiders, so many people mistook Armstrong for Ford that it came to be something of a running gag. But there’s more to doubling for an actor than just physical resemblance. Of Ford, Armstrong said, ‘He’s a natural athlete and he wants to do it all. I say to him, “H, we can’t afford to get you smashed up in this scene because we’ve got a whole crew that needs to make a living.” And he says, “Yeah, you’re right,” and does the scene anyway. He could have made a great stunt man himself.’


When Steven Spielberg called ‘Cut!’ for the last time on 8th September 1983, it’s unlikely that he would have realised just how literally that order could be taken. As with Raiders, certain scenes had been cut from the screenplay before and during shooting, obviously with Spielberg’s blessing, but when Temple of Doom was presented to the censors, the word ‘cut’ began to take on sinister overtones.

On the plus side, the scenes that had been excised from Raiders had been modified and incorporated into Temple of Doom.

‘The idea of the plane crash and then jumping out of the door in a life raft had, at one time, been in the original,’ confirmed Huyck.

‘The other thing was the mine car,’ added Katz. ‘George had thought of the mine car race for Raiders. But I don’t know how it was written or what happened to it. He wanted a roller coaster ride.’ And he got one!

Though much of the mine-car roller coaster scene was shot
with miniatures, some of it was filmed full size,
with Harrison Ford and Ke Huy Quan riding the truck.
So there was every reason to believe, then, that scenes cut from Temple of Doom could find their way into some future Indiana Jones movie. Like the scene in which Kate Capshaw, as Willie, was to wrestle a boa constrictor.

‘We had a snake scene that Kate wouldn’t do,’ explained Huyck. ‘They had a boa constrictor and they had trained it. For weeks in advance, she had been trying to psyche herself up for this. She said she touched it and, the first time, it sort of ... undulated. And she thought she was going to die. She started sweating. Then they tried to put it on her shoulders to show her what it would be like, and she just freaked out. Steven (Spielberg) was sort of ashen and said, “That’s all right.”’

‘It was a very funny scene,’ added Katz, ‘because there she is, being strangled by a snake, and Indy is just helplessly standing there!’

‘So they didn’t do it,’ continued Huyck. ‘Kate just couldn’t do it. That’s when Steve said, “Okay, if you’re not going to do this, there’s no way you’re not going to do the bug scene.”’

But Lucas, never one to waste a good idea, did recycle the sequence for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, almost twenty-five years later.

Another cut, involving the child Maharajah, ended up causing the film to be a little less clear than it should have been. It comes as something of a surprise to audiences to discover, late in the film, that the young monarch is under the control of the Thuggees. A couple of explanatory scenes had been written, but had never been filmed. During the banquet sequence, the prime minister Chattar Lal is seen talking to the shadowy figure of Mola Ram in the gardens outside the Palace. Later, Indy is teaching the young Maharajah how to use his whip. When the child comes to try it himself, he gets it wrong and hurts himself. Short Round laughs and a scuffle follows. During the scrap, Short Round sees the Maharajah’s eyes glow red, and understands something weird is going on. Presumably these scenes were taken out, sacrificing clarity for pace, as the dinner sequence was long in itself.

A far different kettle of cuts was the chunk of Temple of Doom hacked out by overzealous censors in their never-ending quest to protect those who share their sensitive dispositions, but not their incorruptibility. The film was given a PG rating for its American release and immediately came under fire from journalists and parents’ associations across the country.

‘The movie,’ said The New York Times, ‘in addition to being endearingly disgusting, is violent in ways that may scare the wits out of some young patrons.’

Parents who had taken their young children to early preview screenings said their offspring were particularly disturbed by the scene in which Mola Ram tears the still-beating heart from the chest of a living sacrifice victim and the victim’s subsequent immersion in boiling lava. The PG rating was called into question in some quarters, and the distributing company, Paramount, added a warning line to the newspaper ads, which read: ‘This film may be too intense for younger children’.

OK, this probably is a bit intense for eight year olds ...
In the UK the British Board of Film Censors took a harder line. Numerous changes were requested from Paramount before the BBFC would grant the picture the desired PG rating. Secretary of the Board, James Ferman, felt that the US version of the movie couldn’t even get a fifteen rating under the British system. To obtain a fifteen, the scene in which ‘the slow burning of a man in absolute agony’ is shown would have to go. Faced with the threat of an eighteen certificate, Paramount decided to make cuts to the British release print. Yet, even in this toned down version, the film drew some flak for its violence. The late Alexander Walker, admittedly not noted for his tolerance towards youth-oriented movies, dismissed the picture as ‘Indiana Jones meets the Marquis de Sade.’

Harrison Ford took such criticisms in his stride. ‘This is a completely moral tale,’ said the actor, ‘and in order to have a moral resolve, evil must be seen to inflict pain. The end of the movie is proof of the viability of goodness.’

... and, of course, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom does
provide the statutory Happy Ending.
Still, in spite of all the fuss, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was yet another in a long line of box office records for George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. No matter what the critics and the censors thought, the cinema-going public gave the movie the best vote of confidence they knew how. Between them, they spent enough ticket money to propel Temple of Doom to the top end of the movie charts for 1984, putting it in the number three slot, just a whisker behind Ghostbusters and Beverley Hills Cop in the battle for the number one slot and raising it to number 88 in the all-time box-office champs list with a take of almost $180 million in the US and $333 million worldwide. In addition, the American Academy nominated the film in the category of Best Score and awarded the movie an Oscar for Best Special Effects. And no one can argue with that kind of success.

And while the critics and the audiences were chewing over Temple of Doom, Ford was moving onto another of his ‘small time’ films, Witness. ‘It’s a calculated departure,’ stated Ford. ‘This movie is the story of an Amish woman and a Philadelphia cop and the intelligence of the script gives me some wonderful cloth to cut.’

And despite their earlier denials, Spielberg announced in the early part of 1984 that he would be directing the third Indiana Jones film, and Ford, too, had been signed for the project. ‘Playing Indy,’ said Ford, ‘is just a fun thing to do!’


Where I go next with this blog is something I have to think about. My original plan was to put the whole of The Harrison Ford Story online. In my day job, I manage websites and in that arena, the conventional wisdom is that no one wants to read extended chunks of text on a screen. We all find it difficult and we all read far slower from a screen than we do from the printed page. And The Harrison Ford Story can be bought in its printed form very inexpensively online from or from any number of online retailers.

So I'm probably doing everyone, myself included, a disservice by continuing down this route. I have no evidence that anyone is reading this, so I think I'll hold off for a while - unless you tell me differently.

Alan McKenzie, Aug 2013


  1. thanks for taking the time to post this~

    Very informative and interesting. I'd love to keep reading the rest of it. And yes, some of us do like to read online:)

  2. Just discovered this blog and have enjoyed every post very much. Not that I'm adverse to supporting hard work, but buying the book is a bit beyond my capabilities just now... I live in China and there's no way to ship it here economically. If you ever decide to post the rest, I will happily read it. :)