Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Corman-verse Blogathon – Wrap-up


The Corman-verse Blogathon

Whew! We’ve finally reached the end of the Corman-verse Blogathon, and what a blogathon it’s been. While no single event can capture the immensity of Corman’s impact on film and filmmakers, I think our contributors did a splendid job of spotlighting the wide range of eclectic films associated with this maverick writer/director/producer/actor.  

Big Bad Mama

Once again, I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to co-host Gill Jacob for helping make this blogathon possible. Also, many thanks to our wonderful contributors, and to you the reader! It was a blast, as always, and I look forward to my next joint venture with Gill in October (I hope y’all will join us again)!


Along with the final entries, be sure to visit the recaps from days One, Two, and Three:

Day 1 

Day 2  

Day 3 


Here’s the final batch of submissions…


Gunslinger Poster

I’m pleased to present the debut post for Amber’s new blog, Camp and Circumstance, with her review of Gunslinger (1956).

A Bucket of Blood Poster

J-Dub from Dubsism finds hidden sports analogies in A Bucket of Blood (1959).

Suburbia Poster

Eric Binford from Diary of a Movie Maniac returns for a look at the not-so-sunny-side of Suburbia (1983).

The Raven Poster

What’s that rapping at your chamber door? Kayla from Whimsically Classic informs us, with a look at The Raven (1963).

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The End of the Corman-verse Blogathon – Or Is It? – Day 3 Recap


The Corman-verse Blogathon

Well, dear readers and writers, we’ve reached Day 3 of the Corman-verse Blogathon, and what a blogathon it’s been. Today, we have a bumper crop of posts, spanning the many decades and multiple facets of Corman’s career. I’m still catching up on reading all of the amazing posts, but rest assured, if I haven’t commented yet, I’ll get to yours soon.

Creature from the Haunted Sea

I’d like to thank my wonderful co-host Gill Jacob for another terrific collaboration. As always, it seems to take ages to plan these events, and they’re over in the blink of an eye. And that’s not all, folks, because we have another blogathon in store for October. Watch for details soon!

Deathrace 2000

If you planned to participate, but didn’t quite meet the deadline, don’t fret. Post a comment below, email me at, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page , or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge). There will be a short post-blogathon wrap-up tomorrow, and I’ll list any late entries there.

Be sure to visit the recaps from days One and Two:

Day 1 

Day 2  


And now, On with Day 3’s submissions…

Munchies Poster

If you hunger for mischievous monster mayhem, may I suggest reading Motion Picture Gems’ review of Munchies (1987).

Love Letters Poster

Eric Binford from Diary of a Movie Maniac looks at the underseen Jamie Lee Curtis movie, Love Letters (1983).

The Wasp Woman_Poster

Rebecca from Taking Up Room dares us to cross paths with The Wasp Woman (1959).

Sharktopus Poster

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your TV, Toni Ruberto from Watching Forever tangles with Sharktopus (2010).

The Pit and the Pendulum Poster

Sally Silverscreen from 18 Cinema Lane explores Corman’s take on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961).

Frankenstein Unbound Poster

Andrew Stephen from Maniacs and Monsters unleashes his review of Frankenstein Unbound (1990).

The Gunfighter Poster

The Classic Movie Muse saddles up for a review of The Gunfighter (1950).

Battle Beyond the Stars Poster

And finally, Yours Truly from Cinematic Catharsis takes a look at the little space opera that could, Battle Beyond the Stars (1980).


Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the Stars Poster

(1980) Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami; Written by John Sayles; Story by Anne Dyer; Starring: Richard Thomas, Darlanne Fluegel, John Saxon, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, Sybil Danning, Sam Jaffe and Morgan Woodward; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: ***½ 

This post is part of the Corman-verse Blogathon, hosted by Yours Truly and Gill Jacob from Realweegiemidget Reviews. Be sure to check out all the terrific posts from an esteemed bunch of participants!

Sador's Ship Arrives on Akir

“It not only got very good reviews but it was commercially successful in the United States and overseas, and I think to a large extent it was the characters, it was the differentiation, the individuality.” – Roger Corman (from DVD commentary with John Sayles)

“It was a playground, and Roger let us experiment.” – Alex Hajdu, Assistant Art Director (from “Shoestring Space Opera”)

A long time ago in a galaxy, far – hold the phone. Let’s back up a moment… A long time ago, in a land not too far away, Roger Corman assembled a group of unknown but talented young professionals to create a space opera on his own terms. Screenwriter /Corman-protégé John Sayles drew from the same well as Star Wars, particularly Seven Samurai (1954), as its inspiration, but The Wizard of Oz (1939) provided another template. Budgeted at $2 million (a paltry sum by Hollywood standards), Battle Beyond the Stars was Corman’s most expensive production to date. Penny-pinching Corman made sure he got a return on his investment, however, repurposing many elements in the film in other New World productions (obviously he was into recycling, long before it was in vogue). The informative Blu-ray commentary by producer Corman and writer Sayles is like a mini film school, providing us a lesson in low budget movie making.

Friendly Ships Assemble

Corman hired Jimmy T. Murakami* (who was looking to break into directing live-action features) to helm the picture. For the most part, Corman stayed out of the way, although he reportedly directed one scene, featuring many of the principal characters together. Although it took several months to get all the pieces in place, Battle Beyond the Stars was shot during a brisk five-week shooting schedule, using a converted lumberyard in Santa Monica, California for the studio. New sets were constructed as quickly as they were torn down, which required filming some scenes when the paint was still wet.  

* Fun Fact #1: The Japanese/American animator is probably best known for directing the famous 1969 Tootsie Roll Pop commercial (originally known as “Mr. Cow”), featuring an owl that attempts to answer the age-old question, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?” Over half a century later, it still appears on TV from time to time, albeit in truncated form.


The list of behind-the-scenes crew members reads like a who’s who of Hollywood filmmakers. 20-something James Cameron, who was promoted to art director on the production, provided the intricately detailed models (according to Corman, Cameron could describe the purpose of every bump and nook on his spacecraft). His team included effects maestros Dennis and Robert Skotak, as well as Alec Gillis. Corman’s assistant production manager, Gale Anne Hurd went on to a hugely successful producing career. Young James Horner provided the score, and an uncredited Bill Paxton worked on set construction. It’s interesting to note that all of these individuals worked with Cameron in subsequent films.

Shad's Ship

Sayles wanted the ships to look distinct, so you could distinguish which character piloted them. Thanks to Cameron and his team, each space vehicle delivers on that requirement. According to Dennis Skotak (responsible for miniature design and construction, along with his brother Robert), each ship reflected the personality of the characters. He wanted a different look, compared to Star Wars, where he felt that “everything came from the same factory.” As anyone accustomed to New World’s stable of genre films can attest, many of the space battle scenes look awfully familiar, re-purposing models and effects footage.


The story opens on a familiar note, with the despotic Sador* (played with relish by John Saxon) delivering an ultimatum to the meek inhabitants of the planet Akir (an obvious nod to filmmaker Akira Kurosawa): join him or die. Sador (with a name like that, you just know he’s up to no good), ravages one civilization after another, reducing them to cinders with his interstellar convertor (basically a Death Star clone). He doesn’t want to raid their crops or take their food; true to his control-freak nature, he only wants to dominate them. Sure, it’s the sort of role that Saxon could probably do in his sleep, but he appears to be having a blast playing a tyrant, so who’s complaining? Why Sador chooses to go away (leaving a couple of incompetent stooges to guard the planet), so the Akir denizens have time to enlist a private army against him, we’ll never know. Shad (Richard Thomas) sets off in his curvy space ship (uh huh, it has boobs), along with sassy computer “Nell” (Lynn Carlin), in a desperate search for individuals* who will fight. 

* Fun Fact #2: Sayles wanted the seven mercenaries Shad enlists to be from different species. Part of the script-writing process involved thinking about the various cultures and philosophies of the various alien races.

Cowboy Meets Shad

Among the first off-worlders Shad encounters is Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel). Bored with her life on a space station, with only her cyborg father Dr. Hephaestus (Sam Jaffe) and androids for companions, she’s eager to join him in his quest. Next in his encounters, is the affable Cowboy (George Peppard). His laid-back persona belies his willingness to fight in a pinch. (A Confederate flag on his spaceship is a bit over the top, though, even for this movie – the less said, the better). Of course, he’s empowered by a helping or two of liquid courage, with a handy belt-mounted gizmo that dispenses booze and ice (because whiskey flasks are so 20th century). Nanelia convinces the lizard-like Cayman (Morgan Woodward) to join the fight. He has an axe to grind against Sador, who wiped out his species, making the enemy of his enemy his friend.


The most enigmatic mercenary is Robert Vaughn as Gelt (the Yiddish word for “money”), a reprisal of sorts, of his role from the Seven Samurai remake The Magnificent Seven (1960). He laments that he has amassed a vast fortune, but has nowhere to spend it, so the prospect of a decent meal and place to sleep without watching his back seems inviting to him. In a movie full of black-and-white characters, he provides a healthy dose of ambiguity. As a gun for hire who works for the highest bidder, it’s implied that he’s worked for both sides of the fence.

Nanelia and St. Exmin

St. Exmin (played by Sybil Danning, who’s known her way around several Corman films) belongs to a warlike race known as the Valkyrie. For her people, the thrill is in the fight. Her creed is to “live fast, fight well, and have a beautiful ending.” (a riff on John Derek’s famous quote from 1949’s Knock on Any Door, “Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse.”).* St. Exmin’s eye-catching, gravity-defying costume** undoubtedly fueled many adolescent-male fantasies back in the day. Danning proves to be more than just eye candy, providing a spunky presence. While initially being an annoyance to Shad, she proves her worth in battle.*** 

* Fun Fact #3: According to Sayles, he based her character on the Native American Dog Soldiers, who found honor in death. 

** Fun Fact #4: It should come as no surprise to anyone that the costumers had a difficult time keeping Danning’s (ahem) assets contained. According to co-star Thomas, her costume was prone to quite a few wardrobe malfunctions. 

*** Fun Fact #5: Look for an oops(!) just before the hour-and-25-minute mark, inside St. Exmin’s ship. In the left corner of the frame, behind her seat, you can spot a member of the film crew crouching down.


Among the most unique species Shad encounters is Nestor, a collective intelligence comprised of multiple humanoid forms. Each body is a cell in a much larger organism, experiencing everything that each unit senses. Nestor’s deadpan sense of humor is a nice little touch. When one samples a hot dog that Cowboy is preparing, he (or more accurately, his spokesman) comments, “There’s no dog in this.” 

* Fun Fact #6: If one of the Nestor (Nestors?) looks familiar, he’s played by prolific character actor Earl Boen, best known as the sleepy criminal psychologist in the first three Terminator movies.

Help Arrives on Akir

James Horner’s marvelous, sweeping music score (one of his earliest) fits the subject matter perfectly. Think of this as his prototypical blockbuster score, which takes the film to a different level. Many elements and cues are recognizable in subsequent movies. The score elevates the visuals, to the point where any deficits are scarcely noticed. Ever-cost-conscious Corman, recognizing the value of what he heard, re-purposed the soundtrack for other New World trailers, and for at least one film, 1985’s Barbarian Queen, virtually recycled the entire score (Alas, Horner’s composition could only do so much for substandard material).

Onboard Caymen's Ship

Corman and crew could only do so much with the budgetary restrictions, resulting in some obvious cost-cutting measures. The effects team avoided depictions of the ships landing and taking off, which would have required pricey effects. The camera people refrained from panning, which would reveal the size limitations of the sets (with one notable exception – the expansive control deck of Sador’s ship required an entire sound stage). Much like the original Star Trek series, the little community on Akir represents the entire planet’s civilization, thus requiring a healthy suspension of disbelief. In a scene depicting a ground battle with Sador’s army, the antagonists are conveniently channeled through one subterranean corridor so they can be ambushed.

The Night Before the Battle

Corman makes no apologies about jumping on the Star Wars train with his little space epic that could, Battle Beyond the Stars. The difference, however, is in the details, especially Sayles’ witty script, which never takes itself too seriously. Horner’s score and Cameron’s effects work also go a long way to make the most of things. It’s a popcorn movie, not in the derogatory sense, but in the best possible way. This isn’t meant to be a cerebral exercise like Solaris or 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s fun over substance, told in broad strokes, and sometimes that’s all you need.   


Sources: Shout Factory Blu-ray commentary by Roger Corman and John Sayles; “His Name was Shad,” 2011 interview with Richard Thomas; “Shoestring Space Opera,” 2011 featurette; How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by Roger Corman, with Jim Jerome; “How They Painted Samurai Jack Plus: the secret history of the Tootsie Pop commercial (and global animation news),” Animation Obsessive, Nov. 7, 2021 



Friday, May 27, 2022

The Corman-verse Blogathon Is Here – Day 2 Recap


The Corman-verse Blogathon

We’re back for Day 2 of the Corman-Verse Blogathon! Enjoy this small-but-mighty round of posts, from a couple of talented bloggers.

The Raven

If you’re planning to participate but not quite ready, never fear, we’ll include your link for Day 3. Post a comment below, email me at, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

Not of this Earth

Here are Day 2’s submissions, and don’t forget to check out all the great posts from Day 1.  See you tomorrow for Day 3!


Tower of London Poster

Debbie Vega from Moon in Gemini presents for our perusal the infamous Tower ofLondon (1962)

X-the Man with the X-ray Eyes Poster

Jeepers, where’d Ray Milland get those peepers? Michael Denney from Maniacs and Monsters looks at X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Corman-verse Blogathon Is Here – Day 1 Recap


The Corman-verse Blogathon

Welcome to the Corman-verse, a three-day blogging event, honoring legendary filmmaker Roger Corman! At age 96, Mr. Corman is still going strong, with more than 500 credits to his name, and a list of protégés longer than your arm. Yours Truly and my exceptional co-host, Gill Jacob of Realweegiemidget Reviews, are thrilled to present Day 1 of the Corman-Verse Blogathon, for your reading pleasure. We hope you’ll get a chance to revisit some old favorites, and discover a few new ones.

Attack of the Crab Monsters

If you’re planning to participate but not quite ready, never fear, we’ll post your link on Day Two or Three. Post a comment below, email me at, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge). 

The Haunted Palace

Without further preamble, here are Day 1’s submissions below, and don’t forget to return Friday and Saturday evening, for recaps of days two and three!

In the Aftermath Poster

Don’t snooze on Scampy’s (from Spirochate Trail) review of In the Aftermath, Angels Never Sleep (aka: On a Planet with No Fish) (1988)


The Intruder Poster

Andrew Wickliffe from The Stop Button looks at Roger Corman’s adaptation of Charles Beaumont’s The Intruder (1962)


Ski Troop Attack Poster

Booksteve hits the slopes to bring us his take on Ski Troop Attack (1959)

The Fast and the Furious Poster

Brian Schuck from Films Beyond the Time Barrier puts the pedal to the metal for his review of The Fast and the Furious (1954)

The Little Shop of Horrors 

Terence Canote from A Shroud of Thoughts invites us to shop until we drop with The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)


Alligator Poster

And last but certainly not least, snap to it, and sink your teeth into Gill Jacob’s review of Alligator (1980). 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Right Stuff


The Right Stuff Poster

(1983) Written and directed by Philip Kaufman; Based on the book The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe; Starring: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Veronica Cartwright, Lance Henriksen, Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: *****

“I wanted to make a film about – where the main character was something called ‘The Right Stuff.’ It was a quality that was mysterious, that manifested itself in every scene of the film. It was sort of a spirit…” – Philip Kaufman (from 2020 interview at Cinémathèque – Paris)

First of all, a big thanks to Rebecca from Taking Up Room for hosting the Aviation in Film Blogathon, a celebration of flight and flicks. This week, I take a look at one of my unabashed favorites, The Right Stuff. While I don’t have an official top ten list of all-time favorite movies, if I did, this would certainly occupy a spot.

The Mercury 7 Astronauts

Writer/director Philip Kaufman handled the unenviable task of adapting Tom Wolfe’s captivating book (serialized in Rolling Stone magazine), which chronicled the story of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, along with the test pilots who crawled so they could run. Kaufman keeps many threads running throughout his film, and does an admirable job of avoiding them getting tangled. Much more than a stuffy chain of events, The Right Stuff focuses on some of the many unique, colorful individuals who made space flight possible. Levon Helm’s folksy narration bookends the film, evoking images of the Old West, as it relates to the unexplored frontier of space.


Set amidst the backdrop of the Cold War, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were engaged in a battle for supremacy of the skies: the Space Race. Despite America’s supposed technical superiority over Russia (One NASA engineer remarks, “Our Germans are better than their Germans.”), they lag behind the achievements of the Soviets, with Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin. The desperate urgency to catch up is encapsulated by a hilarious and horrifying montage of failed rocket tests. Considering the risks and rewards involved, the freshly minted astronaut program required a new type of person.

Chuck Yeager in the X-1

Two parallel stories run throughout the film – It’s as much about test pilot Chuck Yeager (expertly portrayed by actor/playwright Sam Shepard)*/** as it is about the Mercury 7 astronauts. Kaufman’s wife reportedly spotted Shepard in a bar, and insisting that he was perfect for the role. While Shepard was reluctant to play Yeager at first, Kaufman persisted in pursuing him until he eventually settled into the role. In retrospect, Shepard was the ideal choice. Yeager anchors the film, with his “can do” attitude and no-nonsense approach. Yeager’s laid-back, fearless persona belies the nature of his extremely hazardous profession, typified by a high pilot mortality rate (The ominous presence of a minister, played by Royal Dano, looms like a harbinger of death throughout the film). The film begins in 1947, when Yeager breaks the sound barrier in his rocket-powered Bell X-1, nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis,” after his wife (played by Barbara Hershey). While he paved the way for the astronauts, he wasn’t considered a suitable candidate, because he didn’t fit NASA’s profile, which required a college degree. Instead, he carries on as he always had, stretching the capabilities of experimental aircraft. In a climactic scene, pursuing the elusive world altitude record in a souped-up F-104 Starfighter, he briefly reaches the edge of space, before hurtling down in an uncontrolled spin. At once, the scene signifies his determination to push the boundaries, as well as a reminder that for him, space remains just out of reach.   

* Fun Fact #1: The real Chuck Yeager served as a technical consultant, and appeared in the film as a bartender at Pancho’s, a favorite hangout for test pilots at Edward’s Air Force Base. 

* Fun Fact #2: According to Kaufman, Yeager and Shepard didn’t initially hit it off (Yeager reportedly told the director, “This guy ain’t me.”), but eventually became friends during the production. On the other hand, Yeager took an instant shine to Barbara Hershey, who portrayed his wife, Glennis, referring to her by character’s name. 

** Fun Fact #3: Beeman’s Gum is featured prominently in the film, as Yeager reportedly chewed a stick during each flight. Besides being a favorite of pilots, the gum originally contained pepsin, which allegedly calmed the stomach.


John Glenn on TV

Before they ever flew into space, the Mercury 7 astronauts already enjoyed their celebrity status, to varying degrees. Scott Glenn portrays Alan Shepard who enjoys a good joke, but is nothing but serious when it comes to his profession. The late, great Fred Ward excels as gruff Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, proving number two is the worst spot. After the fanfare and celebration following Shepard’s flight, Grissom’s ends in near disaster when the hatch on his capsule blows prematurely. Instead of a ticker tape parade or a meeting with the President, he’s treated to an inquiry by doubting NASA officials. Ed Harris’ charismatic interpretation of John Glenn* comes across as an overgrown yet amiable boy scout (part of Kaufman’s direction to Harris – smile more), giving us a hint of the astronaut who would become a politician. Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid) comes across as a cocky goofball, with a tendency to sleep when things are at their most tense. 

* Fun Fact #4: According to co-producer Robert Chartoff, “Ed Harris walked into the office, and we looked at him and couldn’t believe that such a person existed. He was not only a wonderful actor but looked so much like John Glenn. And of course we looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my God, this is the guy we want.’ I said to Phil (Kaufman), ‘Please, don’t let this guy get hit by a car. At least, not until after the picture is made.’” (Excerpt from article)

Argument Between the Astronauts

In one key scene, the pressures of being in the public eye reach a boiling point as the astronauts argue with each other about their responsibility as role models, versus how they conduct their private lives. Shepard and Glenn almost come to blows over their difference of opinion, but just as things are about to get out of hand, they find a united cause. NASA wants to send a chimp up in space, and it becomes clear to the astronauts that they’re held in the same regard. It all comes to a head when they confront the arrogant NASA engineers, who view the astronauts as nothing more than an occupant in a remote-controlled vehicle of their design (“a redundant component”). As pilots, the astronauts scrutinize the prototype capsule with skepticism (windowless, with no hatch they can open from the inside, or control in the event of a system failure). It’s a clash between the hands-on, practical approach of the astronauts (“We want a window.”) and the arrogant, book-smart engineers (“This is the way it is.”).

The NASA Recruiters

Amidst the drama, there are so many terrific comic moments. Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum (who largely improvised their lines), appear as two bumbling government recruiters, who court test pilots for the hazardous job. After his launch is delayed for hours, and he’s bolted into his cockpit, Alan Shepard declares that he has to urinate. Unfortunately for Shepard, no one considered this contingency for a supposed 15-minute flight, which sparks a fierce debate between the engineers and astronauts about what peeing in his spacesuit might do to his spacecraft. In an earlier scene, also with Shepard, he’s confronted by a Latino orderly with the ramifications of using a racist impression during a particularly vulnerable moment.

Annie Glenn

Kaufman had such a monumental task balancing Yeager’s story, with the ensemble work of the seven astronauts that it’s inevitable some of the Mercury 7, notably Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank), Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen), and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin) are relegated more to the background (for more on these three, I suggest checking out Wolfe’s book). While Kaufman spends significantly less time on the wives of the astronauts, the actresses’ performances shine through, speaking to the wives’ strength and resolve in the face of uncertainty. Trudy Cooper (Pamela Reed) reaches her wit’s end, following her husband Gordon from base to base, and remaining forever in his shadow. John Glenn’s wife Annie (Mary Jo Deschanel) refuses to appear on national TV with Vice President Lyndon Johnson (Donald Moffat), due to a stutter (much to the indignation of Johnson). Veronica Cartwright (as Betty Grissom) shares one of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes with Fred Ward, sharing their anguish and bitterness about their unfair treatment by NASA officials.

Chuck Yeager and the NF-104

So what exactly is “The Right Stuff?” It’s that indefinable quality to push the envelope,* and embrace a challenge rather than step away from it. Just because so-called experts said breaking the sound barrier couldn’t be done, didn’t mean that it was an impossible task for Yeager. It’s unwavering resolve under pressure when most individuals would give up – a reliance on wits and fearlessness. A common trait found among Yeager and the astronauts is that they’re all adrenaline junkies, driven to be the best and the fastest (Gordon Cooper asks his wife, “Who’s the best pilot you ever saw,” and subsequently answers his own question. “You’re looking at him.”) In an early scene, the NASA recruiters invite Scott Carpenter to consider joining their dangerous program, which prompts the response, “Count me in.” When John Glenn is informed that his Mercury spacecraft will be launched by the more powerful, albeit unpredictable Atlas rocket, he doesn’t hesitate to step up to the challenge.

* Not so Fun Fact: Unfortunately, during filming, Joseph Svec, a stuntman, was killed filming a parachute drop, when his chute failed to open. 


The X-1

The excellent performances are matched by the brilliance of the visuals, thanks to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s superb camerawork and effects supervised by Gary Gutierrez. The action sequences are kinetic and visceral, punctuated with moments of visual poetry. The sound barrier is imagined as a demon that lives in the sky. A deftly applied mixture of editing, effects and photography place us squarely in the cramped cockpit of the X-1 with Chuck Yeager. Sparks in the Australian outback are juxtaposed with mysterious “fireflies” that surround John Glenn’s capsule, Friendship 7. The most iconic shot of the film is a slow-motion sequence, depicting the Mercury 7 astronauts walking side-by-side in full gear, which has been copied and parodied in countless movies (think Monsters, Inc.).

Gordon Cooper

The Right Stuff achieves the virtually impossible task of de-mythologizing the original astronauts, as it preserves the mythos surrounding them. Although Kaufman juggles so many characters,* the end results appear almost effortless. The film features uniformly exceptional ensemble work by a talented cast of (then) mostly unknowns. Bill Conti’s soaring score equally plays a vital role, lends the right amount of gravitas to the visuals. Despite a runtime of nearly three-and-a-quarter hours, it never seems too slow or too long, but just right (at least to this reviewer). It’s one of the fastest three hours you’ll ever spend. In an age when manned rocket launches have become almost passé, and no longer hold the public’s attention the way they once did, it’s important to remember the bold few who paved the way for everyone who followed. The Right Stuff is so much more than a history lesson, it’s a testament to the human spirit, as well as a grand piece of entertainment. 

* Fun Fact #5: According to Kaufman, there were 134 speaking parts. 


Sources: “Punch a Hole in the Sky: An Oral History of TheRight Stuff,” by Alex French and Howie Kahn,; Interview with Philip Kaufman at Cinémathèque – Paris, 2020