You may not know his face but you know his characters. In his extraordinary career, Vic Armstrong has been Superman (doubling for the late Christopher Reeve), Indiana Jones (doubling for Harrison Ford in the original trilogy), and James Bond (doubling for George Lazenby, Roger Moore, and Sean Connery [Never Say Never Again]) among a host of others. When a stunt is too outrageous, or dangerous, for the star the stunt person steps in to get the job done. The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman reveals the truth of the movies we love: those stunts are just as dangerous as they look on screen. The men and women who perform them really are a rare breed of people that happily stare death in the face to get the shot.
The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman reads like a memoir of jobs as opposed to anything personal. Lots of anecdotes, usually amusing, although there is a hit of an exaggeration to some of Armstrong’s more dubious exploits. There is no doubt the man is a towering figure in the world of movie stunts over the last 50 years. Beginning with his childhood in England, his father trained Olympic medal-winning horses, the book follows Vic through his life growing up and learning to ride and care for horses. He stumbled onto stunt work through his prowess in horse riding and many of his early jobs required horse riding. There is a lot of detail about the horrible way horses used to be treated in the early days of cinema. If you wanted a horse to stumble on the screen you tied a rope to its leg and yanked it out from under the horse. To his credit, Armstrong was among the first to show horses could be trained for a variety of stunts and such inhumane treatment was not required.
Armstrong moves through his entire career, hitting the highlights but not always the detail. Some stunts are examined in detail, while others are not mentioned at all. It’s an entertaining look into old-school filmmaking but those looking for a more nuts and bolts view for how the soup gets made may find The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman lacking. There is quite a lot of behind-the-scenes stories involving many of the actors and crew Armstrong has worked with over the years. He doesn’t pull punches when it comes to people he likes and doesn’t like which does give the book a gossipy thrill at times. Strangely, the book includes the frequent inclusion of celebrity comments which read like endorsements on a LinkedIn profile. “I’m Steven Spielberg and I recommend Vic Armstrong as a strong manager.” It’s almost as silly as that, although occasionally there is an interesting anecdote from the other contributors. To quote Armstrong’s favorite turn of phrase, “It’s quite bizarre.”
There is no doubt Armstrong has lived a thrilling life. In addition to his stunt work, in later life Armstrong has become an accomplished Assistant Director (AD) or Second Unit Director. This role on a film is the person that coordinates the big action scenes that normally don’t require the principal cast. Think any high fall, car chase, or other action in which you only see the actors in an insert shot. Notably, he served that role on Starship Troopers, the Mission: Impossible sequels, and the Pierce Brosnan Bond films. For fans of movie-making this is a fun book and the behind-the-scenes anecdotes are thrilling, even if a bit slight at times. His extensive credits can be found here: Vic Armstrong IMBD credits.