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The Right Stuff Movie Review

scott yeager shepard glenn

1983 – Philip Kaufman –

The Right Stuff covers the American space program from October 1947, when Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) broke the sound barrier in his X-1 to the flight of the last Mercury astronaut, Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid). The spills, the thrills, and the chills are all right there for everyone to see. While Hollywood has made many space movies, only two come to mind that are based on factual events—Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff.

All of the actors who portray astronauts are noteworthy—Charles Frank as Scott Carpenter, Lance Henriksen as Wally Schirra, Scott Paulin as Deke Slayton, Fred Ward as Gus Grissom, Quaid as Gordon Cooper, Ed Harris as John Glenn, and Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard. The casting seems to have been done with equal attention to the actors' physical resemblance to the people they are playing and to their performing skills. Both work to the advantage of the film. The nature of the saga also requires them to handle various scenes with both comic and dramatic elements, which they do quite well. Sometimes they must work as an ensemble and sometimes in isolation, as when John Glenn orbits the earth in Friendship 7. In addition, Sam Shepard gives a great performance as Yeager, and Donald Moffat looks and acts like Lyndon Johnson, though the film risks making Johnson into something of a caricature, when he is shown throwing fits and routinely misunderstanding scientists with German accents. The test pilots in the early scenes also believably capture the rowdiness and camaraderie of men in a dangerous situation, sounding at times as if they are stepping off a hay wagon on their way to a barn dance. Into this drawl comes Jack Ridley, one of Yeager's buddies, played nicely by Levon Helm, the drummer for The Band (he also played Loretta Lynn's father in Coal Miner's Daugher). It's interesting to note that an earlier screenplay by William Goldman omitted Yeager.

The memorable cinematography by Caleb Deschanel can be seen, for example, in the dramatic opening sequence that shows an early attempt to break the sound barrier, a scene that begins with black-and-while film stock and ends in color. The long shot of the astronauts in their gear coming down the corridor toward the camera is inspiring in its simplicity. Bill Conti's award-winning music combines with that of Gustav Holst to produce a memorable score. The Right Stuff draws upon the dynamics of danger, heroism, and companionship to produce a fascinating story.

Cast: Sam Shepard (Chuck Yeager), Scott Glenn (Alan Shepard), Ed Harris (John Glenn), Dennis Quaid (Gordon Cooper), Fred Ward (Gus Grissom), Barbara Hershey (Glennis Yeager), Kim Stanley (Pancho Barnes), Veronica Cartwright (Betty Grissom), Pamela Reed (Trudy Cooper), Scott Paulin (Deke Slayton), Charles Frank (Scott Carpenter), Lance Henriksen (Walter Schirra), Donald Moffat (Lyndon Johnson), Levon Helm (Jack Ridley), Mary Jo Deschanel (Annie Glenn), Scott Wilson (Scott Crossfield), Kathy Baker (Louise Shepard), Mickey Crocker (Marge Slayton), Susan Kase (Rene Carpenter), Mittie Smith (Jo Schirra), Royal Dano (Minister), Jeff Goldblum (Recruiter), Harry Shearer (Recruiter), Jane Dornacker (Nurse Murch), Eric Sevareid (Himself), John Dehner (Henry Luce), Chuck Yeager (Fred) Screenwriter: Philip Kaufman Cinematographer: Caleb Deschanel Composer: Bill Conti Producer: Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler for Warner Bros. MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 193 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1983: Editing, Sound, Original Score; Nominations: Art Direction/Set Direction, Cinematography, Picture, Supporting Actor (Sam Shepard) Box Office: $21.5M.

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