Friday, October 10, 2014

705. The Right Stuff (1983)

Running Time: 193 minutes
Directed By: Philip Kaufman
Written By: Philip Kaufman, from book by Tom Wolfe
Main Cast: Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Fred Ward
Click here to view the trailer


SOMEHOW I managed to tackle the first two days of my work week AND find the time to knock out a three plus hour movie in the process. Don't ask me how, but hopefully it's a sign that I'll be getting the lead out and picking up the pace on this project. Anyway, I was kind of dreading this epic, but it turned out to be not half bad...

The film begins at an air field in California where a pilot named Chuck Yeager (Shepard) spends his days chasing his wife on horseback (a game they play), chewing Beemans gum and being a damn good flyboy. Yeager, a Captain in the air force is offered the chance to break the sound barrier when ace pilot "Slick" refuses to do so without a grand payday. Up in the air, Yeager manages to break the sound barrier, defeating the "demon in the sky", as the legend goes and etching his name in history books forever. Flash forward to 1957, to the the height of the Russian space program and the launching of Sputnik. To compete with Russia and be the first country to "get a man up there", Eisenhower institutes the beginning of the American space program. After considering who these men will be to go into space, Eisenhower insists on pilots and since he's the POTUS, he gets his way. A couple of NASA goons (played by Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer of Simpsons fame) go to the air field in California (from earlier) to try and recruit some astronauts. Yeager is disqualified immediately because he doesn't have a college degree. After vigorous testing and a battery of physical examinations, seven men are chosen, including John Glenn (Harris), Gordon Cooper (Quaid), Gus Grissom (Ward) and Alan Shepard (Glenn). Together they're known as the Mercury Seven and some among them will be the first Americans in space.

Man, I'm really surprised at how much I liked this one, but honestly it was just so damn interesting. I kept finding myself with my phone in hand, asking myself "I wonder if that really happened?" or "Hmm let me look that up and get the full scoop". This movie was the equivalent of walking into your history class one day and finding out that today's the day you're going to learn about a cool piece of history, one that actually excites you. Not only did this movie make me want to learn more about the Mercury Seven (did you know that John Glenn is still alive, at 93 years old and later in life became a U.S. Senator?) but I also found myself doing Wikipedia searches for the Challenger explosion and wondering where I could get my hands on a copy of Apollo 13. It was the type of movie that really sparks your interest and because of that, it's hard not to give it good marks. I mean, at three plus hours long, this one COULD HAVE went downhill and fast, but it managed to stay afloat for it's entire duration and stay interesting throughout. Could it have benefited from having about forty or so minutes shaved off? Sure. The other thing about the movie that I found REALLY irritating is the fact that the first forty minutes deals with a character (by some accounts, the main character of the whole shebang), whom after that becomes irrelevant. Of course, I'm talking about Yeager. Did we just trudge through forty minutes of movie simply to say, "Okay, here's this guy who broke the sound barrier, a sort of precursor to the whole spacecraft thing."? It's like there's two movies going on here: the circumstances revolving around the breaking of the sound barrier and the whole Mercury Seven story. I would've much preferred an abridged version of the Yeager stuff (say, cut it down to twenty minutes) and then get me right into the space stuff.

What a cast, huh? And not like a blatantly obvious great cast, but rather like the pretty girl in school who wears glasses, but is smokin' hot when she takes them off. Who doesn't love Fred Ward? And I could as the same question about Jeff Goldblum and Lance Henriksen, two guys who have minor roles. Harry Shearer's in there too and while he did a fine job as NASA goon #1, I can't help but thing "The Simpsons" when I hear his voice. You also have a beautiful Barbara Hershey, a young and good looking Dennis Quiad (who somehow went on to a very forgettable career, despite showing up here full of piss & vinegar) and Scott Glenn, whom you may remember as Agent Crawford from The Silence of the Lambs. And, heck, that's not even mentioning Ed Harris or Sam Shepard who also turned in fine performances. It's kind of amazing to think that at one point in time, there was such admiration for these guys and how somewhere along the way we lost that. Do kids today still have that respect for certain occupations? I remember seeing videos/movies where kids would get autographs from pilots or astronauts, simply because that was their job and they were respected for it. Today, people could care less if you're a pilot or burger flipper.

Anyway, it's a fine film. Pace yourself going in and maybe don't expect TOO MUCH and I think you'll do fine with it. I had to break it up into three sittings, but mostly because of work and other priorities that came first. I could've easily gone cover to cover with this one and still been smiling at the end. It has SOME flaws and sure, I would've trimmed the fat in a few spots, but all in all, I think it's one that a lot of people will get a nice education out of and I think most, like me, will just find the whole thing fascinating. Of course, you have to remember I'm a lummox when it comes to history so, while I'd heard the name John Glenn before, I really didn't know any of this story. I'm even ashamed to admit that I didn't even know who Alan Shepard was (first American in space)!

RATING: 7/10  Good enough to edge it into '7' territory which makes it ripe for a TEN WORTH MENTIONING spot or possibly more if I sweeten on it between now and TOP 20 time.


October 10, 2014  10:38pm


  1. Pretty much the same reaction.. it bowled along quite nicely thank you.. and, as you say, resulted in many "I want to look that up" moments.
    OK, if I was to try and look for an issue, i could say it was a bit 'boys own' stuff with, at times, the need to open a window to remove a fugg of testosterone.. but most of the time I admired how it was, on the whole, fairly restrained.
    Being a bit older than you, more of this is .. familiar.. to me.. I mean, as a youngster most of this was still 'recent'. Certainly all the names are familiar and known. (although, at my quiz nights, I still struggle to remember which 'first' (in space, in orbit etc) achievement was Sheppard and which was Glen)

    1. Yeah, I was definitely on an aeronautics kick for a few days. I was reading articles about the space shuttle Challenger and the space shuttle Columbia, both which crashed, of course.

      Was the Challenger disaster as big a thing in Europe as it was here? I wasn't old enough to remember the specifics, but my wife claims that the world basically stopped for a bit and that everyone took notice. She says that they even brought a TV into her classroom that day, so they could watch the coverage.

  2. Oh yes.. big news...
    Andrew.. I'm so horribly old, I can even remember the first moon landing..
    We had only just acquired a TV.. and we got up incredibly early to watch it.. only to find that they had done it early.. and we'd missed it!

    1. Oh man! What a bummer! It's all so interesting to me though. Born too late I guess...


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