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The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff (1983)

October. 20,1983
| Adventure Drama History

A chronicle of the original Mercury astronauts in the formation of America's space program: Alan Shepherd, the first American in space; Gus Grissom, the benighted astronaut for whom nothing works out as planned; John Glenn, the straight-arrow 'boy scout' of the bunch who was the first American to orbit the earth; and the remaining pilots: Deke Slayton, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, and Gordon Cooper.


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It's been years, but the Right Stuff is one of my all time favorite movies. Sam Shepard was one of the best characters in the movie. He was determined, yet quiet. Every astronaut had his own personality and the movie exposed that in the best way. Ed Harris protected his wife from the Pressgalantly. The guys liked to have fun, but you felt their awareness that any second disaster could strike - and it did in 1967. Although this movie is longer than three hours, the time flies by. Phil Kaufman did a wonderful job of directing. Feels like an entertaining and informative documentary with all the delicious bits. You see the facade and what's behind the wall of NASA's program. Hope you enjoy it on DVD.


It's hard to understand the magnificent struggle of the Cold War for the average millennial today. This wasn't a struggle involving individual nations. This was a struggle that involved the massive mobilization of resources of global political power structures. The film industry was not untouched by this epic conflict. The Cold War has produced many films throughout the world that foster the competitive spirit of this struggle. But few films highlight the incredible technological legacy of this era better than "The Right Stuff".Many history buffs will tell you that the space race began when Russia launched a satellite into orbit. But this isn't the case. The space race began when a US pilot named Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier and pushed the boundaries of the limitations of the human experience. "The Right Stuff" is a 1983 historical epic which was an adaptation of the bestselling book with the same title written by Tom Wolfe. The movie starts at Muroc Army Air Field in California right after World War 2 in 1947. "The Right Stuff" begins as a film about the old west meeting the modern era. The cowboys of old have dismounted the horses and are now flying jets across the dessert and testing the boundaries of human technology. Unfortunately, pushing the boundaries of human technology, especially in the context of airplanes can have deadly consequences. Countless test pilots die falling out of the California sky for their country. Very few actually lived to reflect on their experiences. These rare few, eventually become astronauts. The world couldn't be more out of luck. This fact is thoughtfully demonstrated in one scene where a former test pilot seeking admission into the astronaut training program thinks out loud to himself, "what does that word mean, astronaut?...it means space-traveler…I kind of like the sound of that". Of course the competition was brutal. Some test pilots like, Chuck Yeager, the man who in 1947 became the first pilot to have broken the speed of sound in flight, never became an astronaut. He continued to serve in leadership positions in the United States Air Force in a flying career that spanned more than 60 years and took him to every corner of the planet. Sam Shepard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his skillful performance in this role. But John Glen, just like in real life, stole the show in this film.Glen is the ultimate American hero. For those who don't know of Glen's accomplishments beyond the scope of the film, let it be known that John Glenn would go on to be inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and serve as a United States Senator. He is portrayed by Ed Harris who would go on to star in the 1995 film Apollo 13. In 1962, one of Glenn's many accomplishments, and one of the greatest accomplishments for mankind was piloting a craft in the Friendship 7 mission where he became the first American ever to orbit space. In doing so, he became the fifth person to ever enter space. This accomplishment is powerfully portrayed on film by "The Right Stuff". Glenn unfortunately died in late 2016 after a long and distinguished life. The lives of other astronauts and test pilots are also addressed. For example, the veteran astronaut Gus Grissom's struggle with the intense pressure of his position and the public's eye is touched on. Grissom would eventually die from asphyxiation during a pre-launch test at Cape Kennedy. So many more unnamed test pilots died during the cold war. There is no fitting way to truly honor their sacrifice. But this film is for them. It took until 2013, but the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being, "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". John Glenn, former test pilot, astronaut, and United States senator, will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Both have already cemented their legacy as all-time greats. As John F. Kennedy stated at the height of the Cold War's space race, "Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the Industrial Revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power. And this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it. We mean to lead it".


It seems quite strange to discover this type of film over thirty years after hitting the screen, and yet, somewhat comforting to realize the sense of optimism they convey. This epic depicts homo Americanus from his victory over the sound barrier to the first steps of space conquest, till the end of the Mercury program. For the first time in my life, I have found Dennis Quaid convincing because his ham acting, playing to the gallery, fits the profile of the first astronauts : reckless, and a bit crazy. I particularly find amusing the scene when he is asked by the nurse to fill a tube on purpose of testing « sperm motility factor » ; from now on in my language « S.M.F. » will be the initials of something different from « sick mother... ». But the life of a star voyager does not only deal with the adrenaline surge, the film displays rather cleverly their share of sacrifices and all the money, love and time spent on becoming fearless. The « right stuff » was literally translated into French by « the hero stuff ». Even if the film fails in showing the universality of such a project, it truly demonstrates what makes a hero to humanity, despite the mockeries and hardships one's has to endure : perseverance and uprightness (see the John Glenn character). It is vital to rediscover The Right Stuff when, nowadays, a series of films are trying to revive the optimism of space travel, with different results in terms of quality and political subtexts.

Thomas Drufke

For many people The Right Stuff is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, and certainly of the 80's. And while it's most definitely a good film, I find it hard to call it one of the all-time greats. The cast from top to bottom is great, and everyone fits their role perfectly. The visual effects and cinematography for a 1983 film are astounding. In fact many aspects of the film are Oscar worthy, but the main thing I think the film is lacking is direction and editing.Yep I said it, the Oscar winning editing for The Right Stuff is dreadful. And I think the directing is at best average. The film has no focus. It goes from being Sam Shepard centric, to a media satire, to a government propaganda film, and finally to an American classic all within the 190 minute runtime. The reason I say that the editing is trash is due to the near 45 minutes to begin the film that don't really impact the story at all. If you want to set up Shepard's character as the greatest pilot on the earth all you need is a few scenes of his glory with a few of the astronauts praising him. Instead you get 45 straight minutes of Shepard and then almost a 2 hour gap without a scene with him. To me that's just awkward film making.With that being said once the team of astronauts is assembled and we get introduced to Ed Harris' character the film becomes really good. I really enjoyed watching each of the characters go through their struggles both inside the space suit and outside. It was cool seeing a young Dennis Quaid alongside a few other Hollywood future stars. There are many classic scenes along with several Oscar worthy acted scenes, but I do wish the film would have took each of the characters missions and combined them to a more team centric story. I know this film is based on a book but I don't think being entirely faithful to a book is the way to go.The film is not bad at all, it's truly a really solid film but I don't see the classic status that many people (smarter than me) give it. Perhaps I'm missing the point of it but otherwise it's a fun watch. You just have to be prepared to set aside 3 hours of your time, and perhaps at least an hour too much, if you wish to witness the beginning of the space race.+Ed Harris & entire classic cast +When the team is together +Effects & cinematography for it's time -An hour should be shaved off -Individual stories are interesting but perhaps unnecessary -So why was Shepard's character important? 7.0/10