A 1983 adaptation of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book, about the attempt to break the sound barrier and the subsequent Space Race. Briefly considered to be a campaign promo for John Glenn's presidential aspirations in 1984, but it actually didn't help much. It received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and one for Phillip Kaufman for Best Director and won four.This was a breakout role for many now-established actors: Scott Glenn (unless you count Urban Cowboy), Dennis Quaid (unless you count Breaking Away), Fred Ward (unless you count Escape from Alcatraz), and Ed Harris (unless you count Knightriders). Additionally, Sam Shepard has never worked too hard to advance his acting career, but if he can be said to have a breakout role, this is it: he was nominated for an Oscar.Although the movie is centered around the men and their fast, expensive, and dangerous toys, the women in the movie receive a great deal of character development, from Pancho and Nurse Murch to all of the astronaut's wives.Interesting trivia: the actor named Glenn played Shepard, and the actor named Shepard played Yeager. Glenn was played by ... the actor named Harris.Not to be confused with the Anime online store The Right Stuf, which has one "F". Or the song by New Kids on the Block.
This film provides examples of:
Ability over Appearance: Several of the main actors top 6 feet (Dennis Quaid and Scott Glenn in particular). However, none of the actual astronauts were over 5'11", as that was the maximum height allowed by the cramped Mercury capsu—er, spacecraft. Gus Grissom, who was 5'5" in real life, was portrayed by the 5'10" Fred Ward.
Artistic License - History: LBJ's quote as the Space Race part began. "The Romans ruled the world because they could build roads" is arguable, leaning towards false. But "the British ruled the world because they had ships" and "we won the war because we had planes" is downright absurd. However, that line was lifted nearly verbatim from LBJ's own words.
The Bartender: The real-life Pancho Barnes is worth a movie all by herself, and all she got was a made-for-TV piece of junk starring, of all people, Valerie Bertinelli.
Creator Killer: Despite being a critical success, the movie was a financial failure. This, along with the similar failure of Twice Upon a Time, sent The Ladd Company into oblivion for about a decade. The company rebounds.
Life Magazine publisher Henry Luce: Now, I want them all to meet my people who will write their true stories, Naturally these stories will appear in Life magazine under their own bylines: For example, "by Betty Grissom", or "by Virgil I. Grissom", or...
Gus Grissom: Gus!
Luce: What was that?
Grissom: Gus. Nobody calls me by... that other name.
Luce: Gus? An astronaut named "Gus?" What's your middle name?
Luce: Ivan... ahem... well. Maybe Gus isn't so bad. Might be something there.... All right, all right. You can be Gus.
Dude, Where's My Reward?: Betty Grissom. She spends much of the movie dreaming about the big payoff she'll eventually get from the military for all those years of her sacrifices and Gus's heroics. When the grand payoff for Gus's space flight (that almost got him drowned) turns out to be a cheap motel room with some beer in the fridge, she has a conniption.
Embarrassing Middle Name: Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom. Not only was his first name personallyembarrassing, but his middle name would have been a propaganda embarrassment. This IS the Cold War Space Race, after all.
Everybody Knew Already: Twice a character runs down the hall to inform the meeting of a Soviet advance. Both times they knew already.
Fauxlosophic Narration: The beginning narration, which poetically describes the sound barrier as a "demon that lives in the air."
Insistent Terminology: That... is a spacecraft. We do not refer to it as a "capsule." It's a spacecraft. Similarly, the astronauts are not "occupants" of the spacecraft, but pilots.
Also, as a form of Interservice Rivalry as listed below: the Air Force has pilots, the Navy has aviators.
Interservice Rivalry: While scouting for astronaut candidates, the Recruiters mention that Navy Aviators consider themselves better than mere "pilots." Similarly, Cooper, Grissom and Slayton boast that none of the Navy "swabbos" can measure up to their Air Force piloting skills.
Lethally Expensive: While the two White House staffers are showing the film of the Soviet space program.
White House Staffer #1: This footage was assembled from souces operating under cover at great risk.
White House Staffer #2:Very great.
White House Staffer #1: We're fortunate this material didn't perish... with a couple of men.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: The head German engineer of NASA and the "Soviet Chief Designer" are meant to be portrayals of Wernher Von Braun and Sergei Korolev respectively.
No Name Given: The above-mentioned "Minister"; the "Recruiters" (Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer, kind of a two-person Crowning Moment of Funny); "Liaison Man" (David Clennon from Thirtysomething); the mysterious Head of the Space Program (and his even more mysterious Soviet counterpartnote Serious Truth in Television on that one; Sergei Korolev was a very deep secret in the Soviet Union); the "Permanent Press Corps"; etc. etc.
Pragmatic Adaptation: A less-than-500-page book turns into a 3+ hour movie, but it's still actually an Adaptation Distillation. Two of the six Mercury flights (Carpenter's and Schirra's) aren't shown at all, and we only see the end of Grissom's and the beginning of Cooper's. Plus, the book goes into great detail about the dangers of Navy flight ops, and that only gets 30 seconds in the film. Etc. etc...
Rated M for Manly: Badass pilots become Badass astronauts. And the ballsiest coolest pilot that couldn't make the space program - Yeager - still shows us how a man walks away from a burning wreck.
Towards the end of the movie, Alan Shepard tells his wife Louise, in a "one of these days..." manner, "I'm going to the moon...". Shepard would be the only one of the Mercury Seven who would go to the moon, on Apollo 14 note He was stated to be on the first Gemini mission, but got grounded due to an inner ear condition. After the docs cleared him, Shepard was initially assigned to Apollo 13, NASA execs moved him to Apollo 14 to give his crew more time to train.
During the astronaut tryouts in the movie, Gordon Cooper gloats about breaking the record for holding one's breath, only to realize that John Glenn and Scott Carpenter are still going after he's done. In real life, Cooper did hold his breath the longest, since he was the only non-smoker in the Mercury Seven.
At the movie's end, before Cooper lifts off on his mission, he's shown dozing off. Cooper was the first astronaut to sleep in outer space.
Red Scare: "Pretty soon they'll be dropping bombs on us like rocks from a highway overpass!"
Reentry Scare: Justified, in that this actually happened on John Glenn's flight.
"Guess they think I'm kind of a gung-ho type. Eddie Attaboy. Harry Hairshirt. What, you agree? You agree? My own wife. Do you think I'm a 'Dudley Do-right'? That's me, I guess. A lonely beacon of restraint."
Stuff Blowing Up: Towards the middle of the film there's a reel of rockets exploding. Justified as it showed the US hadn't exactly perfected the science of rocketry just yet.
Survival Mantra: John Glenn is shown humming "Battle Hymn of the Republic" during his (potentially fatal) re-entry, something the real Glenn did not do.
Also, Shepard's repeated "I'm OK" during his re-entry.