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.

The Natural

  • Directors: Barry Levinson
  • Producers: Mark Johnson
  • Writers: Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry
  • Genres: Drama, Sport
  • Actors: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey, Darren McGavin, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth

The beginning of the movie introduces Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) as a child, playing baseball with his father. Mr. Hobbs dies suddenly while Roy is still young, collapsing under a tree. That tree is split in half by lightning, and young Roy carves a baseball bat from it, on which he burns the image of a lightning bolt and the label ‘Wonderboy’.

At age 19, Hobbs is recruited by the Chicago Cubs in 1923. On the train to the tryouts, he wins a wager to strike out “The Whammer” (Joe Don Baker), the top hitter in the major leagues. Back on the train, the naive Hobbs is seduced by Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), an alluring but sinister woman, who gravitates to him after judging that he, rather than The Whammer, is now the best baseball player in the world. Bird lures young Hobbs to a hotel room and shoots him.

The story skips forward 16 years, to 1939. A fictitious team called the New York Knights has signed the now 35-year-old Hobbs to a contract, to the ire of the team’s gruff manager and co-owner, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley). For a time Pop does not allow him to play, but after impressing in batting practice, Hobbs literally knocks the cover off the ball in his first major league game. Hobbs rises to stardom and reverses the Knights’ fortunes.

Roy comes to bat in the bottom of the ninth with, a chance to win the game. Lightning flashes as Hobbs hits a long drive that twists foul, and sees that Wonderboy, his “magical” bat, has shattered. The young bat boy brings Hobbs a bat that they made together. Hobbs hits a towering shot, a pennant-winning home run, which soars into the stadium’s lights and starts a chain reaction of sparks that rain down onto the field. The Knights won the pennant. The final scene shows Hobbs playing catch with his son in a sun-dappled wheat field, with Iris proudly standing by.

Hannah and Her Sisters

  • Directors: Woody Allen
  • Producers: Robert Greenhut
  • Writers: Woody Allen
  • Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
  • Actors: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Maureen O Sullivan, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest, Lloyd Nolan, Max von Sydow, Daniel Stern

The story is told in three main arcs, with almost all of it occurring during a 12-month period beginning and ending at Thanksgiving parties hosted by Hannah (Farrow) and her husband, Elliot (Caine). Hannah serves as the stalwart hub of the narrative; her own story as a successful actress (a recent success as Nora in A Doll’s House) is somewhat secondary, but most of the events of the film connect to her.

An adulterous romance between Elliot and one of Hannah’s sisters, Lee (Hershey), provides the main romantic entanglement of the film. Elliot’s discontent with his wife’s self-sufficiency and resentment of her emotional strength causes him to look elsewhere. Lee has lived for five years with a reclusive artist, Frederick (von Sydow). She finds her relationship with Frederick no longer intellectually or sexually stimulating, in spite of Frederick’s professed interest in continuing to teach her. She leaves Frederick, much to his sorrow (for he has grown dependent upon her), and has a secret affair with Elliot lasting for several months.

Mickey, another of Allen’s neurotic characters, provides the comic relief. Parts of his story are scenes from his previous marriage to Hannah and his horrible date with the cocaine-addicted Holly (Hannah’s other sister, played by Wiest), shown in flashbacks. Mickey’s main story is one of a hypochondriac confronting the possibility of an actual serious disease. After a clean bill of health, it turns into a career-pausing existential crisis, and leads to unsatisfying experiments with religious conversion to Catholicism and Krishna Consciousness, before a long walk and the fortuitous opportunity to see again the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (part of the ‘joyous’ declaration of war sequence is featured) help to remind him why life is worth living. The revelation helps prepare him for a second date with Holly, which this time blossoms quickly (and mostly off-screen) into a relationship and marriage.

By the time of the film’s second Thanksgiving Lee has ended her affair with Elliot. In a final coda-like act, another year has elapsed and the film ends happily for the three sisters, now all married, and infertile Mickey has somehow impregnated his new wife Holly.