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 Outlaw Josey Wales

  • Directors: Clint Eastwood
  • Producers: Robert Daley
  • Writers: Forrest Carter, Philip Kaufman, Sonia Chernus
  • Genres: Action, Western
  • Actors: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke

This film is the first ever to confront the history of those Missourians who fell prey to the murder and raping of the Kansas-based Unionists who called themselves “Red-Leggers” (after their red-striped stockings and gaiters) and Jayhawkers during the Civil War.[1] It is a revisionist film in that it abandons the standard presentations of the Unionists that had characterized Hollywood productions up to that time, along with the dark depictions of the Missouri riders.[2] The Outlaw Josey Wales turns these stereotypes on their heads.

Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood), a peaceful Missouri farmer, is driven to revenge by the brutal rape and murder of his wife and family by a band of pro-Union (Civil War) Jayhawkers—James H. Lane’s “Redlegs” from Kansas.

Josey joins a group of pro-Confederate Missouri guerrillas (bushwhackers or “border ruffians”) led by “Bloody Bill” Anderson. At the end of the war, his fellow guerrillas attempt to surrender but are instead gunned down in a botched execution by the same Redlegs (now part of the regular Union army) who burned Josey’s farm and murdered his family, led by the vicious Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney).

Josey, who had refused to surrender, intervenes on behalf of his comrades and guns down several Redlegs with a Gatling gun. Senator Lane puts up a $5,000 bounty on Wales. Josey begins a life on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters, while still seeking vengeance and a chance for a new beginning in Texas. Along the way, he unwillingly accumulates a diverse group of whites and Indians, despite all indications that he would rather be left alone. His companions include an elderly Yankee woman from Kansas and her granddaughter (rescued from a band of Comancheros), a wily old Cherokee named Lone Watie (modeled on the historical Confederate Cherokee Chief Stand Watie who fought as a Confederate general), and a young Navajo woman.

In the final showdown, Josey and his companions are cornered in a ranch house, which, typical of the times, was fortified to withstand Indian raids. The Redlegs attack but are systematically gunned down or sent running by the defenders. Josey eventually runs out of ammunition and pursues the fleeing Captain Terrill on horseback. When he catches up to him, Josey confronts Terrill and dry fires his pistols through all twenty-four empty chambers before stabbing the captain with his own cavalry sword, a departure from the usual Eastwood style of gunning down the chief villain.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

  • Directors: Steven Spielberg
  • Producers: Frank Marshall, George Lucas, Howard Kazanjian
  • Writers: Story, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Screenplay, Lawrence Kasdan
  • Genres: Action, Adventure
  • Actors: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen

In 1936, in the Peruvian jungle, archaeologist/treasure hunter Indiana Jones braves several booby traps to retrieve the Golden Idol from an ancient temple. After escaping, he finds rival archaeologist RenГ© Belloq waiting outside with a group of Hovitos, the local indigenous people. Surrounded and outnumbered, Jones is forced to give up the artifact to Belloq. Jones escapes from Belloq and the Hovitos after a jungle pursuit, and flies away on a waiting seaplane.

At the American college where he teaches archaeology, Jones meets with two Army intelligence agents who reveal that the Nazis, in their quest for occult power, are searching for Abner Ravenwood, Jones’ former mentor. Ravenwood is the foremost expert on the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis, rediscovered by the Nazis and believed to be where the Pharaoh Shishaq brought the Ark of the Covenant, a chest the Israelites built to contain the fragments of the Ten Commandments. Jones deduces that the Nazis seek Ravenwood because he possesses the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, an artifact essential to pinpoint the Ark’s current location. According to legend, the headpiece would reveal the exact location of the Well of Souls, the chamber containing the Ark, by focusing daylight through a crystal in the center of the headpiece, which would project a beam of light onto a miniature of the city at a certain time of day. Jones’ colleague, Marcus Brody, further explains the legendary power of the Ark to render invincible any army it precedes, explaining the Nazis’ interest in it.

The next morning, a Nazi U-boat commanded by Belloq and Nazi officer Dietrich stops the ship. Marion and the Ark are removed, while Jones covertly boards the U-boat. He follows Belloq and the Ark to an isolated island, where they plan to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to Adolf Hitler. Threatening to destroy the Ark with a Panzerschreck, Jones demands that the Nazis free Marion. Belloq calls his bluff, claiming that Jones, as an archaeologist, wants to see it opened as badly as Belloq; Jones is forced to surrender. Marion and Jones are tied up while Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark. Spirits emerge from within; Jones, aware of the supernatural danger of looking at the opened Ark, warns Marion to close her eyes. The Nazis, Belloq, Toht, and Dietrich, who do not look away, are all killed by the Ark’s supernatural powers. The Ark closes itself once more, accompanied by a crack of thunder. Back in Washington, D.C., two Army intelligence men tell a suspicious Jones that “top men” are carefully studying the Ark. In reality, the Ark is sealed in a wooden crate and stored in a giant government warehouse filled with countless similar crates.