Indiana Jones hangs up his hat in "Dial of Destiny": A look back at where he got it

Saying farewell to Indy, from Harrison Ford to River Phoenix, through an indelible piece of costuming

By Kelly McClure

Nights & Weekends Editor

Published July 9, 2023 10:59AM (EDT)

River Phoenix and Harrison Ford | Indiana Jones (Photo illustration by Salon/Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd./Getty Images)
River Phoenix and Harrison Ford | Indiana Jones (Photo illustration by Salon/Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd./Getty Images)

"Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," the fifth and (so they say) final installment of the franchise to star Harrison Ford as the titular whip-cracking archaeologist, centers on the joining of two pieces of Archimedes' Dial — "an Antikythera mechanism built by the ancient Syracusan mathematician Archimedes" — which allows for transport through fissures in time in a very "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sort of way. 

Using time travel as a plot point in addition to incorporating CGI to de-age Ford in certain scenes, you can all but feel director James Mangold and his team of screenwriters (brothers John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, along with David Koepp) stretching hard to wrap a bow around 42 years of cinematic history, but it provides a nice opportunity to say goodbye to Indy via tracing his adventures to their origins.

Ford's most iconic character — second only to Han Solo — takes us with him on one final adventure, joined along the way by core characters from the previous films like Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Marion (Karen Allen), and while it's slow in parts and rushed in others, seeing Indy hang up his hat in signature style feels satisfying, but not as satisfying as an earlier film in the franchise, 1989's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," where we see how he got that hat in the first place. 

In "Last Crusade," the third installment from original director Steven Spielberg, we're taken back in time, without the use of Archimedes' Dial, to witness a pivotal moment in Indy's origin story.

Earning a record-breaking $37,031,573 over the four-day Memorial Day weekend on which it was released in 1989, Spielberg and his own platinum team of writers — Jeffrey Boam, Menno Meyjes and George Lucas — accomplished with their "Hello" what "Dial of Destiny" set out to do with their "Goodbye," and with a fraction of the budget. 

All in all, "Dial of Destiny" dumped $250–300 million into Indy's curtain call, with the lion's share likely going towards CGI and celebrity cameos (Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena Shaw, Mads Mikkelsen as Jürgen Voller, Antonio Banderas as Renaldo) but "Last Crusade" spent their $48 million judiciously, bringing back Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr., Indiana's father, and tapping a 17-year-old River Phoenix to portray young Indy.

In an archival "Beyond the Screen" clip, Phoenix talks about the film saying that Ford himself helped him to step into the role.

"Harrison came out and he helped me a lot with motivation. You know, where does all this come from? What propels him? And what makes him really cool when he has to jump off of a horse and onto a train?" he said.

The answer to the question of what makes Indy so cool — not part of Phoenix's interview, because it goes without saying — is Indy's hat and whip, two accessories that effectively make the character so iconic.

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"Last Crusade" opens with Phoenix as young Indy, part of a Boy Scout troop who chances upon a team of robbers excavating the crucifix of Coronado, an ancient relic that he believes should be in a museum and not in their hands. Attempting to steal the cross away from them, a chase ensues atop a moving circus train that's traveling through town and Indy falls inside one of the cars, discovering the now iconic whip which he uses for the very first time to scare off an attacking lion. 

Making his way back home, he's met by the very robbers he tried to outsmart and although he loses the cross to them, he's awarded for his gumption by the head thief (Paul Maxwell), who takes off his fedora and puts it on Indy's head. Now his "costume" is complete. 

In a cut to the future, we see Ford as adult Indy, recovering the cross in a death-defying excursion on the Portuguese coast in a repeating theme in the franchise that, most recently, "Dial of Destiny" showcases one last time.

Indiana Jones always fulfills his mission. All it takes is time. 

Harrison Ford as the eponymous archaeologist in a scene from the film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," 1989. (Murray Close/Getty Images)

In a 2023 Town & Country Magazine feature, journalist Simon Ingram further explores the origin story of Indy's hat.

"This is how you find a hat for an actor, always," Deborah Nadoolman Landis, whom Spielberg signed on as costume designer, says of the costuming choice in the article. "You would stand in the fitting room, as Harrison and I did, and boxes and boxes of fedoras will be dumped on the floor. Or Panama hats. Or straw boaters. Because everyone has a different shaped head. And it is almost impossible to find a hat that suits you."

"Harrison has a long narrow face. We came across one that kind of looked OK. So I said, we're going to lower the crown, and we're going to shorten up the brim so you don't have to wear it on the back of your head," says Landis (Town & Country, 2023)

The hat they landed on from came from a take on a Herbert Johnson "Australian" model.

"I said, I'm going to take this one, I'm going to lower this side, I'm going to cut it to the length that we need it, shorten it . . . I said, please make it to these measurements. Go!" (Town & Country, 2023)

In the final scene of "Dial of Destiny," a choice is made to not close out with a final look at Indy himself, but at his hat. Whether this truly ends up being the character's final adventure (again, doubtful), "the man with the hat" will live forever via an exploration through time that we can play over and over again. But in terms of re-watches, I'd suggest starting with the best out of the bunch, "Last Crusade."  [Insert whip-crack noise].

By Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is Salon's Nights and Weekends Editor covering daily news, politics and culture. Her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere.

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Deep Dive Harrison Ford Indiana Jones Movies River Phoenix Steven Spielberg