Right Stuff (The)

     Catagory: Drama

     MPAA Rating: PG

     Owned By: Kevin

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Movie Details:   Hopes ran high that The Right Stuff, the 1981 film version of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book, would be the Numero Uno hit of the year. Covering some 15 years, the film recounts the formation of America's space program, concentrating on the original Mercury astronauts. Scott Glenn plays Alan Shepherd, the first American in space; Fred Ward is Gus Grissom, the benighted astronaut for whom nothing works out as planned; and Ed Harris is John Glenn, the straight-arrow "boy scout" of the bunch who was the first American to orbit the earth. The remaining four Mercury boys are Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin), Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank) and Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen). Wolfe's original book related in straightforward fashion the dangers and frustrations facing the astronauts (including Glenn's oft-repeated complaint that it's hard to be confident when you know that the missile you're sitting on has been built by the lowest bidder), the various personal crises involving their families (Glenn's wife Annie, a stutterer, dreads being interviewed on television, while Grissom's wife Betty, angered that her husband is not regarded as a hero because his mission was a failure, bitterly declares "I want my parade!"), and the schism between the squeaky-clean public image of the Mercury pilots and their sometimes raunchy earthbound shenanigans. While the book struck a responsive chord with the public, the film struck out on several levels. For one thing, writer/director Philip Kaufman insisted upon going for easy laughs by relying on broad caricatures, depicting Lyndon Johnson (Donald Moffat) as a tantrum-throwing buffoon and the German rocket scientists as unreconstructed Nazis. For another, the film was perceived (not without reason) as an extended campaign advertisement for John Glenn, who was about to embark upon his 1984 presidential campaign. Finally, by contriving to depict test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepherd) as the true, unsung hero of The Right Stuff (it was his risk-taking in the early 1950s that helped pave the way for the Mercury program), the film tends to minimize the very real contributions of the astronauts who benefited from Yeager's expertise. Though The Right Stuff earned several Oscar nominations, the public was cool to the film. It would take another 12 years for Ron Howard's Apollo 13 to prove that astronauts can be good box-office—provided the filmmakers don't attempt to impose their own agenda on the proceedings.