The Right Stuff

  • Directors: Philip Kaufman
  • Producers: Irwin Winkler
  • Writers: Philip Kaufman, Tom Wolfe
  • Genres: Adventure, Drama, History
  • Actors: Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Lance Henriksen, Veronica Cartwright, Jane Dornacker

Muroc Army Air Field in 1947 sets the scene for the start of the movie. This dusty, arid air force base is where high-speed aircraft are being tested in secret including the rocket-powered X-1, poised to fly at supersonic speeds. When a number of test pilots have died in the attempt to break the so-called “sound barrier,” the base liaison officer, war hero Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) is offered the chance to fly the X-1. While on a horseback romp with his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey) through the underbrush surrounding the base, Yeager collides with a tree branch and suffers a couple of broken ribs. Refusing to admit defeat, he triumphs (with the aid of a sawed-off broom handle) in flying the X-1 faster than the speed of sound, beating the “demon in the sky.”

The film travels forward to 1953, where Edwards Air Force Base (renamed for one of the test pilots killed at the base) remains the place to be for the “prime” pilots with Yeager engaged in a contest with test pilot Scott Crossfield (Scott Wilson).[1] Crossfield and Yeager were fierce but friendly rivals for speed and altitude records. Edwards is both a very different place and yet remains the same with the celebrated Happy Bottom Riding Club run by Pancho Barnes (Kim Stanley) still the gathering place for those with the “right stuff.” New pilots such as Gordon “Gordo” Cooper (Dennis Quaid) and Virgil “Gus” Grissom (Fred Ward) are part of a constant stream of “pudknockers” as Barnes characterizes them. Cooper’s wife, Trudy (Pamela Reed) questions the need for pushing dangerous boundaries to the limit, but is resigned to the fact that her husband like all the others, is driven by ambition as well as chasing fame. Other wives that share similar feelings have to learn to suppress their fears. By that time, the press are a familiar part of the background, recognized as the key to ensuring that essential funding never dries up.

The films concludes with Cooper’s successful launch in May 1963 – the last in which an American flew alone into space.

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