Friday, November 15, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Right Stuff (1983) at the American Legion Hollywood Post 43 Theatre

Earlier this week we celebrated Veterans Day with a very special event at the American Legion Hollywood Post 43 Theatre. The occasion was a screening of the modern classic THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), held in conjunction with the American Cinematheque.

The gorgeous Post 43 theater, which has a superb sound system, was an inspired choice for the showing of a beautiful 35mm print. The movie couldn't have looked or sounded any better than it did on Monday evening, where it was appreciated by a near-sellout crowd.

Prior to the film, Alan K. Rode interviewed the film's director and screenwriter, Philip Kaufman, who among other things shared memories of flying with Chuck Yeager.

Actress Veronica Cartwright, who played Betty Grissom in the film, was introduced from the audience. Cartwright was also one of the stars of Kaufman's remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978).

The movie's theme was, of course, perfect for a Veterans Day celebration. Post 43 is celebrating its centennial this year. Before continuing with a discussion of the film, here are photos of Monday night's beautiful American Legion venue on Highland Avenue, located just south of the Hollywood Bowl:

THE RIGHT STUFF is a longtime favorite of mine which I'd not seen in a theater since its original release. I was thrilled to watch the movie with a packed, enthusiastic audience who applauded the first appearances of several cast members, including Cartwright and modern-day cult favorite Jeff Goldblum.

There are very few films which run over 3 hours -- 193 minutes to be exact -- and can be said to fly by (no pun intended, but it fits!). The film is mesmerizing from its earliest scenes, with Sam Shepard channeling Gary Cooper as he plays the remarkable Yeager, the test pilot who breaks the sound barrier.

The film never lets up, as the stories of the Mercury 7 astronauts merge with Shepard's when future astronauts Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid) and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin) arrive at the dusty California air base where Yeager's been flying for years; the cocky young pilots are a contrast to the "old school" test pilots Yeager and Scott Crossfield (Scott Wilson).

Eventually we meet the other Mercury 7 astronauts chosen at the end of an arduous (and at times funny) process, including straight arrows John Glenn (Ed Harris) and Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank), Air Force pilot Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), ornery Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), and reticent Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen).

Kaufman's screenplay and the film's actors somehow pull off a tone which manages to be both irreverent and patriotic. The astronauts realize they're in the middle of a big PR game and milk it for all it's worth, participating in the creation of their own public images while privately cracking jokes about it. At the same time, when the helmeted astronauts walk toward the camera accompanied by Bill Conti's soaring, Oscar-winning theme, it's tremendously stirring, and later scenes of their various triumphs in space are quite beautiful and moving.

There are so many memorable moments, beautifully filmed by Caleb Deschanel, from Yeager and his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey) horseback riding to Glenn telling his wife (Mary Jo Deschanel) she doesn't have to let Vice President Johnson (Donald Moffat) into their house to the astronauts demanding that the designers put a window on the capsule, which they rename a "spacecraft." Cartwright shines in a scene when she realizes she won't get the chance to meet Jackie Kennedy. Moments big and small string together and combine into an unforgettable movie.

The one sequence I've never quite understood is the fan dance with Sally Rand (Peggy Davis) near the conclusion of the movie; it's used as a way for the astronauts to take a sort of curtain call, juxtaposed with Yeager's latest death-defying flight, but I've always found it an odd choice.

The supporting cast includes Pamela Reed, John Dehner, Kim Stanley, Royal Dano, David Clennon, and Harry Shearer. Chuck Yeager appears in scenes at Pancho's Bar on the desert air base.

As the movie concluded, there was extensive applause for many names in the end credits, all very much deserved. THE RIGHT STUFF is highly recommended.

THE RIGHT STUFF is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and VHS.

It was also released on a 30th Anniversary Blu-ray, which is the version I own.


Blogger DKoren said...

This is one I'd love to see on the big screen some day. Your viewing sounds pretty fantastic. I'm glad I'm not the only one bemused by the fan dance scene. At the same time... it's clearly very memorable (not sure if that is a good or bad thing?).

5:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yes, it's memorable but...very odd! LOL.

It was *such* a thrill to see this on a big screen for the first time since it came out. Just stunning picture and sound. I feel very fortunate to have been there and hope you'll have a similar opportunity in the future!

Best wishes,

3:04 PM  

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