Monday, March 5, 2012

The Right Stuff

In his New York Times review of The Right Stuff (1983), Vincent Canby wrote about the film, "...rousing, funny screen adaptation of Tom Wolfe's book about Project Mercury and America's first astronauts, is probably the brightest and the best rookie/cadet movie ever made, though the rookies and cadets are seasoned pilots and officers."

The film is a masterpiece -- sensational and timeless. Given the state of the too political, political scene in the United States today, this film makes you yearn for the focused determination of America's first astronauts -- motivated by excellence, challenge, intelligence, and many by patriotism and love of country.

Most of the film centers on the training of the astronauts and the development of the space program with successful flights in the 1960s. These first Americans were selected for their experience, education, and physical stamina. The film does not shy away from reliving the rigorous testing these men had to undergo to make the team which included Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), Virgil "Gus' Grissom (Fred Ward), John Glenn (Ed Harris), Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank), Walter Schirra (Lance Henriksen), Gordo Cooper (Dennis Quaid), and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin).

Canby rightly notes that Chuck Yeager, as played by Sam Shepherd, is a central force of the film and story. Yeager was the first man in the world to break the sound barrier and truly had the right stuff. Early in the film we see Yeager on his record flight -- a flight sequence that will take your breath away. Thank you Philip Kaufman for casting the real Chuck Yeager as the bartender at Poncho's (Poncho is played by a wonderful Kim Stanley) -- which serves as reassurance to the audience -- yes, he survives!

With Donald Moffat as Lyndon B. Johnson and a wonderful cast of women as the "wives" including Veronica Cartwright and Pamela Reed -- there is a good amount of archival footage placing the film in its historical context.

Direction and screenplay by Philip Kaufman, original music by Bill Conti, and cinematography by Caleb Deschanel.

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