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Right Stuff

Right Stuff

4.3 13
Director: Philip Kaufman

Cast: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris


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Hopes ran high that The Right Stuff, the 1981 film version of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book, would be the Numero Uno hit of the year. Covering some 15 years, the film recounts the formation of America's space program, concentrating on the original Mercury astronauts. Scott Glenn plays Alan Shepherd, the


Hopes ran high that The Right Stuff, the 1981 film version of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book, would be the Numero Uno hit of the year. Covering some 15 years, the film recounts the formation of America's space program, concentrating on the original Mercury astronauts. Scott Glenn plays Alan Shepherd, the first American in space; Fred Ward is Gus Grissom, the benighted astronaut for whom nothing works out as planned; and Ed Harris is John Glenn, the straight-arrow "boy scout" of the bunch who was the first American to orbit the earth. The remaining four Mercury boys are Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin), Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank), Leroy Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid), and Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen). Wolfe's original book related in straightforward fashion the dangers and frustrations facing the astronauts (including Glenn's oft-repeated complaint that it's hard to be confident when you know that the missile you're sitting on has been built by the lowest bidder), the various personal crises involving their families (Glenn's wife Annie, a stutterer, dreads being interviewed on television, while Grissom's wife Betty, angered that her husband is not regarded as a hero because his mission was a failure, bitterly declares "I want my parade!"), and the schism between the squeaky-clean public image of the Mercury pilots and their sometimes raunchy earthbound shenanigans. While the book struck a responsive chord with the public, the film struck out on several levels. For one thing, writer/director Philip Kaufman insisted upon going for easy laughs by relying on broad caricatures, depicting Lyndon Johnson (Donald Moffat) as a tantrum-throwing buffoon and the German rocket scientists as unreconstructed Nazis. For another, the film was perceived (not without reason) as an extended campaign advertisement for John Glenn, who was about to embark upon his 1984 presidential campaign. Finally, by contriving to depict test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepherd) as the true, unsung hero of The Right Stuff (it was his risk-taking in the early 1950s that helped pave the way for the Mercury program), the film tends to minimize the very real contributions of the astronauts who benefited from Yeager's expertise. Though The Right Stuff earned several Oscar nominations, the public was cool to the film. It would take another 12 years for Ron Howard's Apollo 13 to prove that astronauts can be good box-office--provided the filmmakers don't attempt to impose their own agenda on the proceedings.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Space-age flyboys with nerves of steel and swagger to spare are the subjects of Philip Kaufman's larger-than-life adaptation of Tom Wolfe's nonfiction classic. Opening at Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert in the late 1940s, The Right Stuff follows a fraternity of the world's greatest test pilots as they break through the sound barrier on their way to becoming America's first astronauts. All of them possess the requisite test-pilot mystique, that elusive combination of confidence, fearlessness, and talent that constitutes "the right stuff." Their story is brought to life on the screen by a great cast that includes Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, and Fred Ward as Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper, and Gus Grissom. The Right Stuff brilliantly portrays those heady early days of the space race, humorously shattering the astronaut's Life magazine profile as clean-cut, all-American types to reveal the irreverent individuals underneath (with the exception of John Glenn, who turns out to be a Boy Scout through and through). Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), the greatest test pilot of them all, stands at the heart of the story -- a brooding, enigmatic, unsung hero who never joined the space program nor enjoyed the recognition and ticker-tape parades afforded the astronauts. The result is a thrilling saga of a group of American icons who boldly went where no man had gone before.
All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern
As adapted from Tom Wolfe's seminal novel about the early years of the space program, this stunning, soaring epic (magnificent in the purest sense of the word) manages to capture the exact overtones and themes of its source material while maintaining extreme faithfulness to the individual experiences of the first astronauts. Director and scriptwriter Philip Kaufman (who inherited and quickly jettisoned an early adaptation by William Goldman) models his story within the framework of the American western, via countless homages to the cinema of John Ford. In fact, (as film critic Danny Peary notes) Kaufman utilizes the basic dramatic structure and premise of Ford's classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962); just as, in that picture, John Wayne rubbed out the villain (and thus, helped tame the west) enabling Jimmy Stewart to take credit for the feat, here Kaufman reveals how aviator Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) pioneered the early space program while allowing the media to bestow laurels on the undeserving astronauts. Undeserving, that is, until the men proved themselves once and for all by demonstrating that they had "the right stuff" to qualify as heroes. Throughout, Kaufman interweaves strands of liberal satirical humor, penetrating social commentary and even mysticism (in Australian scenes involving aboriginal rites) within a brilliantly crafted narrative; he also utilizes a healthy amount of footage by the San Francisco-based experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson, who helped create many of the visual effects for outer space. That collaboration paid off: throughout, we are continually dazzled by the showstopping grandeur of extraterrestrial exploration. An epic to end all epics, this picture boasts first rate work by an all-star cast - Shepard, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, Scott Wilson and Barbara Hershey (to name only a few) deliver some of the finest performances of their careers.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Warner Home Video
Region Code:
[Full Frame]
[Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Additional scenes; Biographical Profile: John Glenn: American Hero; The Journey And The Mission: scene-specific commentaries by director/screenwriter Philip Kaufman, cast and crew members; 3 Featurettes featuring cast, crew and the real-life heroes portrayed in the movie: Realizing The Right Stuff, T-20 Years And Counting and The Real Men with The Right Stuff

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Sam Shepard Chuck Yeager
Scott Glenn Alan Shepard
Ed Harris John Glenn
Dennis Quaid Gordon Cooper
Fred Ward Gus Grissom
Edward Anhalt Grand Designer
Mary Apick Woman Reporter
Kathy Baker Louise Shepard
Scott Beach Chief Scientist
James Brady Aide to Lyndon B. Johnson
Veronica Cartwright Betty Grissom
David Clennon Liaison Man
Katherine Conklin Woman TV Rerporter
Ed Corbett Texan
Maureen Coyne Waitress
Mickey Crocker Marge Slayton
Tom Dahlgren Bell Aircraft Executive
Royal Dano Minister
John Dehner Henry Luce
Mary Jo Deschanel Annie Glenn
Jane Dornacker Nurse Murch
Richard Duppell The Permanent Press Corp
Bob Elross Review Board President
Charles Frank Scott Carpenter
Jeff Goldblum recruiter
David Gulpilil Aborigine
William Hall The Permanent Press Corp
Jim Haynie Air Force Major
John X. Heart The Permanent Press Corp
Levon Helm Jack Ridley/Narrator
Lance Henriksen Wally Schirra
Darryl Henriques Life Reporter
Barbara Hershey Glennis Yeager
Ed Holmes The Permanent Press Corp
Toni Howard Actor
O-Lan Jones Pretty Girl
Susan Kase Rene Carpenter
Kaaren Lee Young Widow
Donald Moffat Lyndon B. Johnson
Anthony Munoz Gonzales
Scott Paulin Deke Slayton
Michael Pritchard Texan
Pamela Reed Trudy Cooper
William Russ Stick Goodlin
John Ryan Head of Program
Eric Sevareid Himself
Harry Shearer recruiter
Mittie Smith Jo Schirra
Lynn Stalmaster Actor
Kim Stanley Pancho Barnes
Scott Wilson Scott Crossfield
Chuck Yeager Fred

Technical Credits
Philip Kaufman Director,Screenwriter
W. Stewart Campbell Art Director
Richard J. Lawrence Art Director
Peter Romero Art Director,Production Designer
Caleb Deschanel Cinematographer
Geoffrey Kirkland Production Designer
Ned Kopp Production Designer
Gene Rudolf Production Designer
David Whorf Production Designer
Bill Conti Score Composer
William Goldman Screenwriter
Craig Edgar Set Decoration/Design
Joel David Lawrence Set Decoration/Design
Nick Navarro Set Decoration/Design
George R. Nelson Set Decoration/Design
Michael Polaire Set Decoration/Design
Tom Wolfe Source Author
Charles A. Myers Asst. Director
Glenn Farr Editor
Lisa Fruchtman Editor
Tom Rolf Editor
Stephen A. Rotter Editor
Douglas Stewart Editor
James D. Brubaker Executive Producer
Robert Chartoff Producer
Irwin Winkler Producer
David MacMillan Sound/Sound Designer
Jordan Belson Special Effects
Gary Gutierrez Special Effects
Buddy Joe Hooker Stunts

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- The Right Stuff: Special Features
1. Introduction [5:16]
2. Warrior [9:21]
3. Astrohnaut [14:05]
4. Politician [8:53]
5. The Future In Space [17:08]
6. The Launch [14:11]
7. In Orbit [8:23]
8. The Landing [7:24]
9. End Credits [1:45]


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Right Stuff 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Funny, compasionate, entertaining and based on actual events, this movie is a great way to spend a couple of hours. What's more, it's one of those movies that you can watch over and over again, seeing new things everytime. Most definitely not a documentary, this is an entertaining glimpse of America's first astronauts. The comment by one reviewer that this movie should be boycotted is laughable. If you do miss it, you'll be missing one of the better movies out there. What's more, as a teacher I've used this movie to get kids interested in the early days of the space program. The fact that it is enjoyable by those "hard to please" teenagers has caused many of them to do further research on their own. Don't miss it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want historical accuracy go read a history book, but if you want a good movie about test pilots and the early space program then The Right Stuff is it. There is obviously no intent on the part of the producer to give a day by day account of the 15 year span covered in the movie but it does touch on historical occurances and glamourize them so that they are entertaining to the viewer. The bottom line is that the movie is great and well worth it as long as you don't take it as a historical documentary. Great acting and spectacular reproduced flying scenes of the Bell X-1, X-1A and the NF-104 Starfighter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love the movie. As inaccurate as it may be, the flying sequences are fun, the actors play well off each other and John Glenn is my hero in real life. It's a movie, for heaven's sake, and must be taken as such. I also liked Apollo 13 and Top Gun (SUPER flight scenes!), each for their own reason.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A reviewer here suggested to "boycott" this film.. Are you crazy? This is a fantastic film in which REAL heroes are placed in the context of history. These Mercury pioneers and test pilots paved the way to the moon and shows what is possible with the human spirit. I read the Wolfe book and was very impressed that it's a pretty faithful interpretation to that work. If you're into the space program, watch this film. Excellent.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this movie and have watched it several times. Like a lot of movies, it is based on facts but filled with fiction. This film is timeless and great entertainment for the entire family. The movie gives you a sense of the struggles that occurred at the beginning of the space program and the risks that men took to advance technology. This technology has help create the world we live in today. I would recommend this film to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this is an excellent film. Although i haven't read the book i do know a lot about the US space program and project Mercury(i have read the book Moonshot). The film is quite accurate- especially the first half with Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. Although it may not be 100% factual it is highly entertaining(i've seen it 5 times)and i recommend it to anyone interested in spaceflight!
BraceBeemer More than 1 year ago
Some reviewers let the inaccuracies get in the way of their enjoyment. Many (not all) of the events occurred pretty much as portrayed, as verified by other sources. The US space program is a great story on its own -- the pretty accurate HBO "From the Earth to the Moon" miniseries proves that. In The Right Stuff, time lines have certainly been manipulated, yes. Were incidents punched up and dramatized? Sure. Get over it.

This has never claimed to be a documentary. This is about motivation, sacrifice and acheivement. In the end governments may enable, but people achieve.You either have the right stuff for the job, or you don't. If you have to have it defined for you, you probably don't have it. This applies to ANY calling.

Add in a great script, incredible (for the 80s) visuals and Conti's soaring score, and you have what is easily one of the best movies ever made.

Relax, watch this movie and be inspired.

Let those who just don't have the right stuff miss the point and pick the nits.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want to watch this film, please beware if you repeat any of the occurrences in it as fact, you will run the risk of looking completely stupid in front of your peers. This film is infamous amongst the experts of space history as being a sickening massacre of the truth. I have to wonder what motive, or bitterness over ones personal failure would lead to such an intentful dishonor of admirable men? I may never know, but boycotting this film could certainly not be a bad idea.