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Film / The Starfighters

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The Starfighters is a 1964 American Cold War action film written and directed by Will Zens, starring Robert Dornan, Richard Jordahl and Richard Masters.

Ostensibly a story about a young pilot who struggles for his stern father's approval while learning to fly the Air Force's most advanced fighter jet, in reality it's an hour-and-a-half Infomercial for the Lockheed F-104 "Starfighter."

Air Force pilot John Witkowski Jr. transfers to George Air Force Base to begin training in the shiny new F-104, quickly becoming an ace, but his Congressman father disapproves and attempts to pull strings to get his son transferred out of the Starfighter squadron. John refuses. Meanwhile John goes on blind dates with his married friends who've set him up with a nice farmgirl from Iowa, and he quickly gets shot down. In the climax of the film, a storm disrupts a training exercise, crashing one plane and forcing Witkowski to land at another air base, but it's okay; everyone is recovered safe and sound. At the end, the Starfighter squadron is deployed to Europe; John goes with them against the wishes of his father, leaving behind his fledgling Love Interest.

Of course, the real star of the film is the F-104 Starfighter. We get lots of Stock Footage of the Starfighter in action and lots of shots of it inactive as well. Meanwhile the film's lead actor, Robert Dornan, went on to become a U.S. Congressman.

The film never had a wide release, and was shown mostly in drive-ins, a.k.a. filler for teens to make out in cars. Think of it as being a bit like Top Gun if it had been set at an airbase rather than on a carrier and made by utterly incompetent people.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, please go to the episode recap page. Not to be confused with The Last Starfighter.

The Starfighters provides examples of:

  • Broken Aesop: If the intent was to play up the awesomeness of the US Air Force/F-104 Starfighter, the Air Force/Lockheed made a really poor choice of film crew. Their complete failure to include any interesting plot developments means that what little drama there was in the movie was provided entirely by the infamous operational/maintenance dangers of the Starfighter itself, and by extension, the US Air Force doesn't seem inviting either. The movie includes three Starfighter accidents, two caused by inclement weather—which was such a danger to the F-104 that NATO pilots in West Germany and Italy called it "the Flying Coffin." Of course, the film might have been trying to head off those complaints by depicting a US Senator concerned about the plane's accident record, and showing how cool the plane was anyway. The film tries to promote the idea that all of the accidents are operator error, and not hardware.
  • Character Shilling: The characters talk about how great Witkowski, Jr. is at flying, but it's an Informed Ability since all of the footage is stock and looks the same.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster makes it sound like there will be some cool outer space action, but while the Starfighters could reach the upper atmosphere, they do no such thing here, instead flying to normal 30,000 feet heights, technically "the edge of space".
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The refueling scenes.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: The base commander makes a joke about never being able to hit the dummy plane targets, the flight leader mentions that maybe if they paint a swastika on it he'll be able to shoot it down in seconds, before telling everyone that the Base commander had a high kill count during WWII for anyone that couldn't figure it out.
  • Everybody Smokes: Most of the characters are regularly seen with cigarettes.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Averted if you expect the movie to be a space opera. Very much played straight if you know your airplanes. Lots and lots of Starfighter footage indeed.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: A lot less exciting on an Air Force Base as opposed to a carrier.
  • Inherently Funny Words: The flight suit for the fighter jets is called "poopie suit." Truth in Television: It was called as such because the pilot sweated so much in the suit, it smelled like he pooped in it. The other nickname for the flight suit was "the body condom."
  • Just Like Making Love: No, this isn't about the endless refueling scenes. One of the higher-ups flat-out says flying a fighter jet is like making love.note 
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: Running Gag in the film — one pilot in the officer's club calls another pilot, who answers the call in the next phone booth over. First pilot talks the second into doing the first a favor to clear the way for a date; second agrees, and hangs up. The first pilot walks over to the second pilot and finishes explaining the details, then walks off. The second pilot goes "Hey!" a second later. (Bob's the second pilot the first time, and the first pilot the second run through the gag.)
  • Stock Footage: Hoo boy. The movie would be about 15 minutes long if not for the stock footage.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • "...bringing you hot munitions and cool jazz." The pilots practice bombing the crap out of targets in the desert while muzak plays:
      Crow: We're gonna bomb 'em back to the Jazz Age!
    • Later, when the smooth chorus returns, Servo notes "Ah, The Association is back!" The SOL crew then ponder if it's "is" or "are".
  • Technology Porn: The F-104.
  • Those Two Guys: Played with. The film starts with John Witowski and Bob York arriving at the airbase together from their previous assignment, suggesting that they will be this trope; then they are hooked with Gene Lyons, suggesting a Freudian Trio note . After John meets his Love Interest and they start double-dating with Gene and his wife, Bob forms a Those Two Guys dynamic with Fred O'Brien (see Short-Distance Phone Call, above).
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Witkowski is excited about his squadron being transferred to Europe - and his Jerkass father merely says nothing and hangs up on him. Gee, thanks, Dad. Then again, Witkowski Sr. was ridiculously insistent that his boy switch from fighters to bombers, not just leaving for Europe.