The Right Stuff didn’t do all that well at the box office and there are many theories about why it didn’t. I’m not going to speculate about it here. The fact that it was one of the nominees for best picture in 1983 should say something about the quality of this film.
The story is based on Tom Wolfe’s best-selling book of the same name. It is the story of the Mercury astronauts from their recruitment for the space program up to Gordon Cooper’s last flight of the Mercury program. This is also a story of test pilots, some of whom never made it into the space program. Besides the fact that many of these pilots were killed testing airplanes, some were not considered to be astronaut material. The movie centers particularly on Chuck Yeager as the pilot’s pilot. He’s played by Sam Shepard in the movie. The real-life Chuck Yeager has a cameo role as Fred the bartender at Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club.
This film has a stellar cast of stars. Besides Sam Shepard, there is Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard, Ed Harris as John Glenn, Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, Fred Ward as Gus Grissom and Barbara Hershey as Glennis Yeager. Also in the movie are such personalities as Pamela Reed, Veronica Cartwright, Lance Henriksen, Royal Dano, and Jeff Goldblum. The list of fine actors is much too long to mention all of them here.
Sam Shepard was nominated for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Yeager. I’ve admired his acting ability in everything I’ve seen him in but, from what I’ve read, he’d rather work on his award winning plays than act in a movie.
The basic story is historically correct but there are many liberties taken as there are with most movies. One of the goals of NASA is to make the astronauts look and act like squeaky clean all American boys. There is a line that runs throughout the movie, spoken by different people, that says, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” The story makes it abundantly clear that NASA is aware of this and the agency protects itself vigorously from negative publicity while trying in every way to encourage public support for the space program.
I’d rate this movie as one of the better ones ever made. I don’t think I’d rate it as high as Apocalypse Now but I’d certainly put it right up there with Platoon or The China Syndrome which were both great films.
- 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/Narrator
- Mary Jo Deschanel – Annie Glenn