‘Indy’ mania grips Cannes for Harrison Ford’s last crack of the whip

A year after celebrating Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” comeback, the Cannes Film Festival paid tribute to another beloved icon of the 1980s with the world premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”, returning Harrison Ford to the French Riviera to the delight of fedora-sporting Indy fans lining the Croisette.

Donning Dr Jones’ iconic fedora, leather jacket, safari shirt and khaki trousers, 39-year-old Marco Vendramini of Italy looked every bit the part as he stood outside Cannes’ Palais des Festivals early on Thursday, patiently waiting for his childhood hero to show up on the red carpet later in the day.

A lawyer by trade and Indy fan at heart, Vendramini arrived in Cannes at 3am after a six-hour drive from his hometown of Padua. He napped for a few hours in a nearby carpark before hitting the Croisette in his Indy outfit, joining other early birds in a fast-growing queue of fans of the world’s best-known archaeologist.

It’s not the first time this Indy buff went out of his way to catch a glimpse of his favourite film star. In October 2021 he flew to Sicily after finding out that the crew were shooting scenes for the film in the picturesque town of Cefalu. The gamble paid off, as evidenced by a photograph of him posing with Ford and other Indy lookalikes.

“If I can get an autograph on this picture, it will make my day,” he said, holding up a large print of the photo from Cefalù. “If he takes me inside for the screening, it will be even better.”

In Maverick’s wake

The marquee red-carpet premiere at this year’s festival, James Mangold’s “Dial of Destiny” got the “Top Gun: Maverick” treatment with a special, out-of-competition gala screening at the Grand Théâtre Lumière.

Disney, which now owns the rights to the “Indiana Jones” franchise, is hoping the world’s glitziest film festival will serve as a springboard for its latest instalment – much as it set the stage for the “Top Gun” sequel’s blockbuster success.

At the very front of the queue outside the Palais, in the exact spot where she stood last year, Cannes fixture Martine said the “Top Gun” premiere – which saw the French air force honour Tom Cruise with a spectacular fly-past – ranked among the highlights of her decades-long love affair with the festival.

The peppy 79-year-old blonde, nicknamed “Sharon Stone” by her friends, also recalled the last time Ford showed up in Cannes, almost a decade ago for a screening of the “The Expendables”, riding a Soviet-era tank along with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other arthritic action heroes who had surely known better days.

“It was an extraordinary spectacle, the Hollywood show at its best,” she gasped with a sparkle in the eye. “Stallone insisted on greeting every one of us before stepping inside – I hope Ford does the same today.”

Honorary Palme

Just like Cruise last year, Ford was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation at Thursday’s gala premiere, and honoured with a special Palme d’Or for a long and distinguished career that saw him play some of the most iconic roles of the past 50 years, from Han Solo in the “Star Wars franchise” to Rick Deckard from “Blade Runner”.

“I’m very touched. I’m very moved by this,” he told the audience, visibly emotional as he looked around the vast theatre. “They say when you’re about to die, you, you see your life flash before your eyes. I just saw my life before my eyes.”

At 80, he has described the fifth instalment in the “Indiana Jones” franchise as his final one

“Dial of Destiny” sees Dr Jones come out of retirement to help his goddaughter track down an ancient treasure, even as diehard Nazis – inevitably – get in the way. The film uses de-aging technologies to shave several decades off Ford in flashback scenes set during World War II.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays the goddaughter, joining a star-studded cast that includes Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, Boyd Holbrook, John Rhys-Davies, Shaunette Renee Wilson and Toby Jones, to name but a few.

The franchise’s fifth instalment is the first one to be directed by someone other than Steven Spielberg, though the veteran director is still involved as an executive producer, along with George Lucas. John Williams, who has scored each “Indiana Jones” film since the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, also returned to compose the film’s score.

Released back in 1981, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was a triumph at the box office and scooped four Oscars. Its two sequels – “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984) and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) – built a legend that has inspired theme parks, video games and a spin-off TV series about Indy’s youth.

Though widely panned by critics and fans alike, a fourth instalment released nearly two decades later – “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” – proved to be another commercial hit, bringing the combined box office takings to nearly two billion dollars.

‘Indy will end with Ford’

Coming on the heels of the “Star Wars” saga, Indy’s runaway success cemented Ford’s standing as the most profitable film star of the late-20th century, capping an extraordinary turnaround for a man whose long-stuttering career as an actor forced him to take up a day job as a carpenter – until a chance encounter with Lucas resulted in him landing Han Solo’s part.

Ford could easily have missed out on Indy’s part too, with Lucas initially opting to give Tom Selleck the role – until TV series “Magnum P.I.” got in the way. That’s how the adventuring archaeologist ended up with Ford’s iconic chin scar and roguish grin, rather than an iconic moustache.

To imagine another actor taking on the role, in the manner of the James Bond franchise, would be absurd, said Vendramini, back on the Croisette. “Indiana Jones is intimately – and exclusively – tied to Ford,” he explained. “The character will therefore end with Ford.”

That day surely isn’t far off. But for now, Cannes and the wider world of cinema are eagerly clinging on to the industry’s most iconic – and bankable – characters.

As one film critic observed after the “Top Gun” premiere last year, for a film industry battered by the Covid pandemic and gnawed by self-doubt, Maverick’s triumphant return was “as comforting as an old leather jacket”. So is Indy’s final crack of the whip.