Some people believe the moon landings were faked. Those people are known as idiots. Today’s movie is Capricorn One (1977). This is a fantastic conspiracy theory movie about an aborted flight to Mars and the coverup. This movie fits in well with the general mistrust of the government following the Watergate mess, the pardoning of President Nixon, an un-elected president, and the 1976 election.
This film has the rather low rating of 6.8 on iMDB.com. It gets no love from Rotten Tomatoes with a 61 percent on the Tomatometer. Vincent Canby of the New York Times killed this movie with the following: The stuff that comes in between is humorless comic-strip stuff about a conspiracy so widespread that you finally realize that the only people in the country who don’t know about it are the three astronauts, a minor space employee, one unreliable television reporter, an eccentric crop-duster, owner of the lovable biplane, and the members of their immediate families. Hey, but what the hell. I like it and I think you might too. I will get on to the actors, which are a very talented bunch. Hell, two of them married Barbara Streisand.
Hal Holbrook played program director Dr. James Kelloway. Holbrook was covered in Episode 114 – Wild in the Streets (1968). Telly Savalas has a small role as Albain. Savalas was covered in Episode 31 – Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).
Elliott Gould played Robert Caulfield, an investigative reporter. Gould was born in 1938 in New York City. Gould made his Broadway debut in 1957. His film career began with Quick, Let’s Get Married (1964). His first major film was Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). This was followed by MASH (1970) where Gould was masterful as Trapper John. Gould has had almost 200 television and movie credits but has sometimes had trouble finding work. He played Phil Marlowe in The Long Kiss Goodbye (1973), was in Nashville (1975), Capricorn One (1977), and A Bridge Too Far (1977) adding a levity to this last film. Gould did well with the Muppets appearing in The Muppet Movie (1979) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). He also had a recurring role in the Oceans movies beginning with Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007). Gould played gangster Harry Greenberg in Bugsy (1991) and was fantastic in the hard to watch American History X (1998). Gould is still actively working in television and films.
James Brolin played astronaut Charles Brubaker. Brolin was born in LA in 1940. Brolin enrolled in University High School where he became friends with Ryan O’Neal. O’Neal encouraged Brolin to try acting. Brolin then studied acting at UCLA. He signed with 20th Century Fox in 1960. He worked as a contract player in Sandra Dee movies – should be read as background beefcakes. At 20, Brolin began getting bit parts in other movies such as Take Her, She’s Mine (1963), Dear Brigitte (1965), Von Ryan’s Express (1965), John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (1965) a wacky movie where a downed U-2 pilot coaches an Arab team against the Notre Dame University team with Brolin as the Irish quarterback, and Fantastic Voyage (1966). A large role in the poorly received The Cape Town Affair (1967), resulting in him being let go by 20th Century Fox. In 1969, Brolin began the television role that he is most associated with, “Marcus Welby, M.D.” 1969-1976. Brolin was cast as young Dr. Steven Kiley learning under the tutelage of Dr. Marcus Welby played by television veteran Robert Young. Their nurse was Elena Verdugo who was in House of Frankenstein (1944) which was covered in Episode 76. The 1970s and 1980s were very good for Brolin with him leading in such films as Skyjacked (1972), Westworld (1973), Gable and Lombard (1976), Capricorn One (1978), The Amityville Horror (1979) when the voice says get out, get out!, Night of the Juggler (1980), High Risk (1981), Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) where he played Pee-Wee in a movie inside the movie. Brolin continues to work. He is also the father of actor Josh Brolin with his first wife.
Brenda Vaccaro played Kay Brubaker, the wife of astronaut Charles Brubaker. Vaccaro was born in 1939 in New York City. With her husky, accented voice, it is hard to believe she was raised in Texas. Vaccaro began acting in high school and began with television roles in 1961. He career has tended more to television than film. She studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse under Sanford Meisner. He movie roles include Midnight Cowboy (1969), The House by the Lake (1976) a rape/revenge plot, Airport ’77 (1977), Capricorn One (1977), where she was a major story driver, Zorro: The Gay Blade (1981) where she was hilarious, the disappointing Supergirl (1984), and Ten Little Indians (1989) which is an Agatha Christie who done it. Vaccaro is still active.
Sam Waterston played astronaut and joker Peter Willis. Waterston was born in Massachusetts in 1940. Waterston attended Groton Prep School and graduated from Yale in 1962. He then studied at the American Actors Workshop in Paris. Some of his movies include The Great Gatsby (1974) with Robert Redford, Rancho Deluxe (1975) a modern rustling story with Jeff Bridges, Capricorn One (1977), Woody Allen directed Interiors (1978), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), September (1987) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Heaven’s Gate (1980) a western drama, Hopscotch (1980) a fun spy thriller with Walter Matthau, The Killing Fields (1984) where he was nominated for best actor, Nixon (1995), and Miss Sloane (2016) showing he can play a stinker. Waterston is probably best known as prosecutor/DA Jack McCoy from televisions “Law & Order” 1994-2010. Appearing in 367 episodes; only S. Epatha Merkerson had more. Waterston is still very active.
Orenthal James Simpson known commonly as O.J. played astronaut John Walker. Simpson was born in California in 1947. Simpson was a halfback at UCLA and won the Heisman Trophy in 1968. Simpson played professional football for the Buffalo Bills (1969-1977) and San Francisco 49ers (1978-1979). After football, he became a pitchman working for the likes of Hertz rental cars running through airports. He started acting and producing and did quite well. In one of his early television appearances on “Dragnet 1967” 1968 Simpson plays a black youth suspicious of the police who is harshly set straight by Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday. Look for it. Simpson’s films include disaster flick The Towering Inferno (1974), disaster flick The Cassandra Crossing (1976), Capricorn One (1977), Back to the Beach (1987) which shows beach favorites Frankie and Anette as older adults and has O.J. as a man at the airport, spoofing his former pitchman work, and for anyone that says O.J. can’t act there is The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994). In 1994, Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. After a year and a half and as much as 20-million dollars in lawyer fees, Simpson was found not guilty. If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit. A civil jury later found him guilty and he was ordered to pay 30.5-million dollars. Simpson was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping in 2008. This was related to sports memorabilia that he may have hidden to avoid payment of part of the civil suit. He was sentenced to 33-years. He was paroled in 2017 and now walks the streets. So when people tell me O.J. wasn’t a good enough actor to fake being innocent, I say look at his body of work.
Karen Black played Judy Drinkwater. What a name. Black was born in Illinois in 1939. Black entered Northwestern University before heading to New York to study under Lee Strasberg. She began working in theater and made it to Broadway in 1965. Black’s first major film role was in You’re a Big Boy Now (1966). She stayed busy on with television shows until she was in Easy Rider (1969) with Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson. Her work in this film made her a star. She was paired with Jack Nicholson again in Five Easy Pieces (1970). She received an Oscar nomination for this role. Following this, she started getting crappy roles. In 1974, Black was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work in The Great Gatsby (1974). She was part of the disaster films with Airport 1975 (1974). She did well in Nashville (1975) and wrote two songs her character performed. She played a jewel thief in Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976). Black did several films in the horror genera including Burnt Offerings (1976), Out of the Dark (1988), Mirror, Mirror (1990), Children of the Night (1991), and House of 1000 Corpse (2003). In all, Black had over 200 film and television credits. However, many of her later films were not up to her talent level. Black died in 2013.
Barbara Bosson played Alva Leacock. She is a noticeable actress that we refer to a home as the whiner. She doesn’t as much act as she, whines her way through the part. Bosson was born Pennsylvania in 1939. As a teenager, the family moved to Florida. After she graduated from high school, she was accepted to the drama department at what is now Carnegie Mellon. Bosson decided that her family could not afford the tuition and decided to move to New York City. She worked at a variety of jobs including secretary, assistant, and a Playboy Bunny. At the age of 26, she decided it was time for a change and got an audition with the head of the Carnegie drama department. Based on this audition, she was given a scholarship. During her time a school, she met her future husband, Steven Bochco. During a summer break, she began working with an improv group in San Francisco. She stayed there three years. Her first uncredited role was in Bullitt (1968). Her two movies of note are Capricorn One (1977) and The Last Starfighter (1983) where she whined at Alex for the entire movie. Bosson worked in movies and television until her husband cast her in a role on “Hill Street Blues” 1981-1986 as the ex-wife of the police chief. She whined for child support through the entire series.
The movie begins with NASA mission control announcing the launch of a flight destined for Mars. The scene is very familiar with a Saturn Five Rocket on the launch pad in Florida, hundreds of news cameras, and a view stand full of VIPs including a senator, the vice president, and the wives of the three-man crew. Senator Peaker (David Huddleston) is pushing the Vice-President (James Karen) for funding for NASA programs and why the President (Norman Bartold) failed to attend the launch. The VP says domestic issues are more pressing now. This mirrors the early ending of the Apollo program once we had beaten those godless Commies to the moon.
The planned flight to Mars is code-named Capricorn One. The crew consists of all American hero Brubaker (James Brolin), constant joker Willis (Sam Waterston), and the more stoic Walker (O. J. Simpson). The crew is loaded into the capsule by the ground crew and then begin going through the launch procedures. The gantries are pulled away from the ship and it quite surprising to see a man in a suit opening the door. He tells the astronauts that there is no time to explain and they must follow him. They are ushered down to a waiting van, then to a helicopter, and finally to a Lear jet. The pilot of the jet gives them jumpsuits to change into and they are flown west. The rocket takes off as planned and the voices of the astronauts are heard still going through the checklist. The Lear jet with the astronauts’ lands at an abandon military base somewhere out west. The crew is still not being told what the problem is.
They are ushered into a conference room and are shocked when the NASA flight director Kelloway (Hal Holbrook) comes into the room. He goes into a rambling speech about the importance of the program and how long they have all worked together. He also mentions that he is a good family friend of the Brubakers. He finally gets to the point and says they learned that the life support system would not keep the astronauts alive. That’s what happens when government contractors select the low bidder. Kelloway says that if the flight was delayed, Congress would cancel the program. Kelloway says they are going to fake the mission and record the landing at a studio on the base. Brubaker refuses to go along and then Kelloway drops the bomb on them that big people are involved and if they refuse, the flight carrying their wives back to Houston will explode. The plan is to have them record the fake landings and then be placed back in the capsule after it splashes down. Kelloway plays the victim card.
Outside of the Brubaker home, reporter Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) is bitching to his would-be girlfriend, reporter Judy Drinkwater (Karen Black). Interesting name. Mrs. Kay Brubaker (Brenda Vaccaro) comes outside to talk to the reporters with her sexy voice.
Back at NASA control, technician Elliot Whitter (Robert Walden) who I prefer to call by his “Lou Grant” name Rossi, runs an unauthorized check finds out that the television signal is coming ahead of the signal from the ship, indicating that the television is coming from a closer source. He is ignored by his supervisor. On the day of the Mars landing, the wives are brought back to mission control. Elliot is still worried about the signal. Elliot reports the issue to Kelloway.
The astronauts begin filming their fake Mars landing. The production crew fakes the gravity with slo-mo. The entire country is watching the fake landing with pride. The shadow on the landing module on the backdrop looks like a giant alien ready to attack. Elliot goes tell reporters Caulfield about the problem. They meet in a bar and Elliot starts giving Caulfield the story about the signal coming from 300 miles away. Caulfield is called to the phone and when he returns Elliot had vanished.
Back on the movie set, Brubaker says he cannot fake the personal message to his wife. The producer hears them talking and reports it to Kelloway. The next day, Mrs. Walker (Denise Nicholas) talks first, followed by Mrs. Willis (Lee Bryant), and finally Kay. The production crew has a finger on the cutoff button. Kay reads a heart-breaking essay from their son and Bru is about to break. Finally, he says he is going to take his son to Yosemite, just like last summer. Kay makes a face and says ok.
Caulfield finds that all traces of Elliot have disappeared. They have moved someone into his apartment (Barbara Bosson), complete with junk mail and a phone number. As soon as he leaves the apartment, his breaks go out and his accelerator sticks. The emergency brake, ignition, and gear shift fail to work as well. Finally, he flies off a draw-bridge but survives unharmed.
At last, the day comes for the capsule to slash down. The three astronauts are flown from the abandoned base presumably in route to the island. In mission control, a heat shield warning goes off. The heartbeats on the monitors for the astronauts go flat. The empty ship returning from Mars burned up when it hit the Earth’s atmosphere. The Lear jet turns around in mid-flight. The jet lands back at the base around the time Kelloway is having a press conference saying they are dead. Brubaker figures out that something happened and they are now considered dead. He tells the others that they will be killed. They decide to escape. The door is locked but Brubaker uses his St. Christopher medal to escape. The patron saint of travelers.
Since they are all pilots, they quickly skyjack the jet. The bad guys pursue in government sedans and block the runway. The astronauts get off the ground, closing the door just in time, and breaking the landing gear off on the top of the sedans. They fly west. The jet is out of fuel and they have to do a belly landing in the desert. They divide up the planes survival kit. They each have a flare and Brubaker takes the gun. They are told to shot a flare if they are caught. Bru goes west, Willis goes south and Walker goes north.
Caulfield who is still following the disappearance of his friend, notes Kay’s face when Bru talks about the vacation. Kay is in seclusion with her family but Caulfield manages to get inside his way in. Caulfield apologizes and then asks about the conversation with her husband and the face she made. Kay tells Caulfield and she says that they didn’t go to Yosemite, they went to Flat Rock. Flat Rock is a place where movies are made.
Now in one of the coolest part of the movie, two dark olive drab loaches with tinted windows are sent to search for the astronauts. The two helicopters turn to correspond with their communication and it gives the appearance of being live animals hunting their prey. They are in direct contact with Kelloway. Willis begins climbing a steep rock at the end of a canyon. Caulfield goes to Flat Rock and it is a place where movies are made. He is shot at and has to take cover. Brubaker buries himself to avoid capture by the helicopters but loses the gun.
Kelloway goes to see Kay. He tells her that the memorial service will be on Tuesday and the president will be in attendance.
Walker is looking for water when he sees two birds flying towards him. His eyes clear and the birds are the helicopters. The others see Walker’s flare go off.
Caulfield returns to Kay’s home and she tells him that Brubaker said that the special effects at Flat Rock would allow them to make anything seem real. She shows him her home movies. Willis makes it to the top of the rocks and the two helicopters are parked there waiting for him. Brubaker sees his flare go off and knows he is the last.
Caulfield tells his editor about the story and is met with the worse case of sarcasm ever. That night Caulfield’s house is raided and he is arrested for cocaine that was not in the bathroom before the raid. This results in him later losing his job. Judy Drinkwater tells Caulfield about abandoned military bases in a 300-mile range. She also gives him her car and cash to finance his search.
Brubaker continues to avoid the helicopters, this time hiding in a cave. It almost results in a rattlesnake bite. Man wins and snake tastes like chicken. Caulfield makes it to the abandoned base where he finds the remains of the soundstage, complete with red sand, and Brubaker’s St. Christopher medal. Brubaker, who is now fueled up on snake,
continues to move.
Caulfield goes to a crop dusting service where he meets crazy pilot Albain (Telly Savalas). It seems like the pilot must have changed his name from Archer Maggott following his World War II adventures in The Dirty Dozen (1967). Caulfield rents the bi-plane and they head out.
Brubaker wakes in the morning with a scorpion on his face. He has spent the night across the street from a closed gas station.
Back in Houston, Kay and her kids are picked up for the memorial. Albain sees the helicopters and they decide to follow them. Brubaker calls his home but no one is there and this is way before answering machines. The helicopters approach the gas station and land. The pilots get out and they have tinted windshields too. Brubaker whops one of them with a crowbar and jumps through the window to escape for the other. Albain has landed the bi-plane in the road and Caulfield motions for Brubaker to jump on. Brubaker holds on to a strut as the helicopters chase and fire at the bi-plane. Albain takes them into some canyons and the three aircraft do some fancy nap of the earth flying. Finally, one of the helicopters begins banging on the top wing of the bi-plane with its’ skid tubes. Albain tells Caulfield to get ready to pull a lever as he executes an inside loop. They spray crop dusting stuff on the helicopters. Now blinded, the two helicopters crash into the end of the canyon. Remember Will Smith, doing this in Independence Day (1996), only with a parachute? Total rip-off of this film and some others.
The President is giving his speech and Kelloway is saddled up next to Kay and the kids. With light piano music, the car Caulfield was driving pulls up and he and Brubaker run towards the shocked crowd in slo-mo. Kelloway looks a little sick.
World-Famous Short Summary – Helicopters can’t fly a loop
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Beware the moors