Today’s movie is Marooned (1969). This movie is a space disaster film that was made near the peak of the US space program. It was also made at a time we were mired in Vietnam and engaged in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. This movie foreshadowed a problem like that of Apollo 13 which took place the next year.
This movie won the Oscar for special effects in 1970, although they are pretty bad by modern standards. This movie has a very low rating of 5.8 on iMDB.com and 100% on the Tomato Meter at Rotten Tomatoes. However, that last number is based on only 5 reviews. A more accurate number would be that only 44% of audiences like it.
Roget Ebert reviewed the movie at the time of release and picked it apart pretty well. He did say, however, that:
“These things aside, however, “Marooned” works very nicely as an entertainment, and when I was a science fiction fan back in high school I would have liked it a lot. The strange thing about movies like “Marooned” is that they get us involved in the story no matter how much we may pick holes in the technique. Sure, sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum — but how are those three guys gonna get down?”
So, this movie is good entertainment even if there is not much good acting.
John Forsythe played the President, code name Olympus. Forsythe was first covered in Episode 96 – Scrooged (1988)
David Janssen played Ted Dougherty, a trouble-shooting astronaut. Janssen was first covered in Episode 11 – The Green Berets (1968)
James Franciscus played Clayton Stone, one of the trapped astronauts. Franciscus was covered in Episode 119 – Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).
Gregory Peck plays the head of NASA Charles Keith. Gregory Peck is such a towering actor it is hard to believe he only had 59 acting credits. With so few films, it is truly amazing that he could leave such a mark on American cinema. Peck was born in La Jolla, California in 1916. Peck was always such a great actor, I always assumed he was British and was shocked when the aging actor described himself as a surfer guy.
Peck graduated from San Diego High School in 1934 before attending the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1939. Peck next studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and was on Broadway by 1942. A college back injury kept him out of World War II. A couple of years later he was in Hollywood and made his first film Days of Glory (1944) but it basically unwatchable. For his next film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), he was nominated for an Oscar. For the Alfred Hitchcock directed Spellbound (1945), Peck was again nominated for an Oscar. Peck was great in westerns such as Duel in the Sun (1946), Yellow Sky (1948), The Gunfighter (1950), The Big Country (1959), and Mackenna’s Gold (1969). He turned down High Noon (1950) because he thought the anti-HUAC movie was too close to The Gunfighter (1950). But he made his most significant impact in intense dramas like Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), which dealt with anti-Semitism and the utterly incredible Twelve O’Clock High (1949) a war film that dealt with stress and PTSD.
Peck was credible in costume dramas like Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951) and David and Bathsheba (1951). He worked with great leading ladies like Ava Gardner in The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) and with Audrey Hepburn in her first film, Roman Holiday (1953).
He finally got to play an evil guy in Moby Dick (1956). This was followed by an excellent performance in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) and a film with Lauren Bacall, Designing Woman (1957) around the time her husband, and his friend, Humphrey Bogart was dying.
A life-long liberal and anti-war activist, he made three anti-war films, although many people failed to recognize them as such. These films are On the Beach (1959), about a submarine in an irradiated world, Pork Chop Hill (1959), which questioned why soldiers need to die, and The Guns of Navarone (1961). Peck said he was always exceedingly disappointed that people failed to recognize this last film as anti-war.
He played a peaceful man who family was terrorized by a convict played by Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear (1962) and appeared in the Cape Fear (1991) remake. But arguably, I would say besides Twelve O’Clock High (1949), Peck’s greatest role was as lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). This was also Robert Duvall’s first role as he played Boo Radley.
His later roles were done for money, and they weren’t always the greatest films, but Peck brought something to them. These films include Marooned (1969), where he as the NASA director, he was torn between doing the right thing and doing the politically savvy thing, The Omen (1976), where he and his wife were raising the Devil’s child, MacArthur (1977), where he did a great job portraying the famous general or the traitor that failed to follow President Truman’s orders as my father would say, one of my favorites, The Boys from Brazil (1978) where Peck played Dr. Josef Mengele trying to clone Hitler while being pursued by a Nazi hunter played by Sir Lawrence Olivia, Damn Nazis, and finally, Other People’s Money (1991), a tail of greed, where if I remember right, Disney actor Dean Jones was the bad guy.
During this active film career, Peck also found time to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote a letter decrying the communist-hunting in Hollywood, and smacked down a California panel that investigated him for his legal donations. Peck died in 2003 at the age of 87.
Richard Crenna played trapped astronaut Jim Pruett. Crenna was born in 1926 in Los Angles. Crenna began his career on radio before graduating high school. He attended USC with a major in theater arts. He moved with the “Our Miss Brooks” from radio to television 1952-1955. He made movies and was on television being a part of “The Real McCoys” 1957-1963. The first movie I remember him from is the utterly ridicules John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (1965). He was great as the ship captain in the anti-war film The Sand Pebble (1966), credible in Marooned (1969), but he really popped off the screen with “God didn’t create Rambo, I did” in First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988), and spoofing same in Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993). Crenna died at the age of 76 in 2003.
Gene Hackman played a trapped astronaut Buzz Lloyd. This is going to be hard to do because of the Caine-Hackman theory. Shall I explain? As far as I know, this theory was first introduced in PCU (1994). It simply states that Michael Caine and Gene Hackman have been in so many movies that you can turn the television on any time, day or night, and find a movie with one of the two in it. If A Bridge Too Far (1977) is on, you win because they are both in it. There is also Roger Ebert’s Walsh-Hackman theory, which states any move with either M. Emmitt Walsh or Gene Hackman in it can’t be all bad.
Hackman was born in 1930 in California. The family moved a bit but finally settled in Illinois. The parents divorced, and Hackman joined the Marine Corp at 16. After his tour, Hackman worked as a roustabout. Finally, he used his G.I. Bill of Rights to study journalism at the University of Illinois. At that age of 30, he decided he wanted to be an actor and enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse. Hackman worked in New York theater and summer stock until he made it to Broadway in 1964.
Hackman’s movie career began with a small uncredited role in Mad Dog Coll (1961), but his portrayal of Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) made him a star. He did well in Marooned (1969) but had another breakout role as the determined detective in The French Connection (1971). Hackman also appeared in the less well-done sequel French Connection II (1975). The Poseidon Adventure (1972) was a big-budget disaster film, but he followed with a small but well-received film, Scarecrow (1973). He showed his comedy side playing the hermit in the horror spoof Young Frankenstein (1974). In what is probably my favorite scene, in my favorite movie, Hackman played Polish Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski in A Bridge Too Far (1977). This was followed by his role as Lex Luthor in Superman (1978). He reprised this role in Superman II (1980), and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). Somehow, Hackman even made it in as the voice of God in Two of a Kind (1983) with John Travolta and Oliva-Newton John. In the second wave of bring-um home movies, Hackman played a man leading a group to recover his POW son from Vietnam in Uncommon Valor (1983). Five years later, he played a downed pilot in Vietnam, using golf courses to send coded rescue messages in Bat*21 (1988).
Hackman was terrific in Hoosiers (1986) as a coach given a second chance; he was intense as the heavy in No Way Out (1987), and very good in the highly fictionalized Mississippi Burning (1988) as an FBI agent. In Unforgiven (1992), he greatly played a sheriff that didn’t deserve to die, played Brig. Gen. George Crook AKA Nantan Lupan (Gray Wolf) in Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), and was a sleazy mafia lawyer in The Firm (1993). Hackman was hilarious in Get Shorty (1995) as a Hollywood producer trying to play tough with the mob, he played pure evil in The Quick and the Dead (1995), voiced, I assume, an evil ant, General Mandible in Antz (1998), was totally believable as the coach in The Replacements (2000), was creepy and nasty in Under Suspicion (2000), drove the action in The Mexican (2001), and sadly his last movie was Welcome to Mooseport (2004). Hackman is still alive.
Lee Grant played Celia Pruett, astronaut wife. Grant was born in 1926, in New York City. Grant first went on stage at 4 years old when she performed at the Metropolitan Opera. After high school, she attended the Neighborhood Playhouse on scholarship and studied under Sanford Meisner. Through her teenage years, she was active on Broadway. Her stage performance in “Detective Story” earned her a role in the film version Detective Story (1951), and it is a great part. Grant received an Oscar nomination for this role. Not long after this role, Grant ended up on the blacklist. Bastards! She did a lot of television, but her movies roles were not of a high quality. Her career was reinvigorated with her work on televisions “Peyton Place” 1965-1966. She played a strong character in In the Heat of the Night (1967), was in the Valley of the Dolls (1967), Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968), Marooned (1969), and the comedy Plaza Suite (1971). Grant won an Oscar for her work in Shampoo (1975). She was also nominated for The Landlord (1970) and Voyage of the Damned (1976). Grant failed to escape the disaster films appearing in Airport ’77 (1977) and The Swarm (1978). She was also in the Omen series, Damien: Omen II (1978). Grant continued making movies and two later films of note at Teachers (1984) and Defending Your Life (1991) where she was great. Grant’s last movie was in 2005. She has been very active working to stop domestic violence.
Nancy Kovack played Teresa Stone, astronaut wife. Kovack was born in Flint, Michigan in 1935. I guess that is before the government poisoned the water. She began at the University of Michigan at the age of 15 and graduated at 19. During this time, she worked as a radio DJ and won eight beauty contests by the age of 20. Don’t peak too early. She began working at one of the “girls” on the “Jackie Gleason Show” and then moved to several other early television shows. Later, she did a lot of television work and a few movies. The most notable of her films are Strangers When We Met (1960), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Silencers (1966), Frankie and John (1966) with Elvis, and Marooned (1969). Her last roles were in 1976, but she is still alive.
Mariette Hartley played Betty Lloyd, astronaut wife. Hartley was born in Connecticut in 1940. Hartley studied with John Houseman at the Repertory Stratford and Lucille Lortel’s White Barn Theatre. Her first movie was Ride the High Country (1962). She worked a good bit on television. She is best known for Polaroid commercial during the 1970s and 80s where she and James Garner played husband and wife. Her best-known films are Marnie (1964) and Encino Man (1992). She is still active.
This movie begins with scenes from outer space and a high-pitched beeping that tends to indicate trouble. The credits roll over the noise. The scene opens with ducks swimming in a pond. An Apollo Saturn V rocket is shown on the launch pad as sunup. Dang, why do they have to do these things first thing in the morning? Mission control is going through the procedure. The long shots of the rocket still have the secondary gantry installed. Finally, the massive rocket lights and slowly moves skyward. They have hundreds of cameras watching.
Inside the rocket are three astronauts; Jim Pruett (Richard Crenna), Clayton Stone (James Franciscus), and Buzz Lloyd (Gene Hackman). For some reason, they are wearing giant red helmets. The mission is codenamed Ironman One, and the command module makes it into orbit. They begin transmitting a television signal from the ship. Back on Earth, at the control panel Ted Dougherty (David Janssen) is acting as the astronaut liaison. The mission of Ironman One will be to dock with a Saturn V space station that was already in orbit. When the Apollo program was scrapped, they tried to use the left-over rockets as space stations. This resulted in a little falling debris in 1975. At the time we still weren’t sure of the long-term effect of zero-gravity. The voice actor in this movie called it a Saturn v instead of Saturn Five (V).
The crew docks with the space station and begin their planned 7-month stay. One of their first experiments is an EVA with a rocket pack. Buzz takes the untethered spacewalk. Stone comes out with the camera.
Watching the video on the ground after 5-months, Director Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) sees that men are losing motor control, losing weight, and not sleeping. A lot of equipment on the space station is breaking down. Keith makes the decision to bring them down early.
The astronauts load into the command module and undock from the space station. The countdown to retro-fire, the process that brings them home, goes by but the retros fail to fire. The ground control people all jump into action. NASA decides to try again on the next orbit. They don’t have a backup and don’t have enough fuel to make it back to the space station. Nothing happens when they try to light the retrofire.
Keith is by the book and sets-up an engine simulation and gets oxygen data. They look up, and in the observation room, the three wives, Celia Pruett (Lee Grant), Teresa Stone (Nancy Kovack), and Betty Lloyd (Mariette Hartley) are still waiting. Dougherty gives them the news that the men are stuck in orbit. The ladies take it well and decide to be “good little housewives and let the men figure it out.”
Keith holds a press conference and is grilled by the reporters. They are screaming for blood and asking questions about ways the astronauts can die.
Buzz is freaking out, and Stone notices that a big storm is forming by Cuba. Back at NASA, the teams are working on the problem with no success. Keith starts planning for the death of the astronauts. Dougherty wants to use an Air Force rocket with an experimental craft to try and rescue the astronauts. They have about 42-hours of air, and there is a launch window in the timeframe. Keith won’t authorize the rescue. He says it will take weeks, 50 million dollars, and several on ground deaths to get the ship ready.
Keith is speeding down the road and gets pulled over by the police. He gets a call from the president, code name Olympus (John Forsythe) over the police radio. Olympus tells him he has to try a rescue even though he knows it will fail. Keith gets the message, and he will give the go.
Pruett decides that he and Buzz are going to go EVA and fix the ship. Just at that time, they get notification that the rescue is coming. The EVA will take away 3-4 hours of oxygen. They are told to power down the ship, lower the oxygen, and take sleeping pills. Pruett follows the instructions. They think they have 36-hours of air in the spaceship.
This movie accuracy predicted the procedures used during the Apollo 13 mission. Dougherty role is surprising like that on Ken Mattingly.
Keith goes through the procedures and selects which checks can be skipped while Dougherty practices in the simulator. In the simulator, Dougherty is missing the target by 20-miles. New data comes in on the hurricane, and it seems to be heading towards Cape Canaveral. The President calls again, and Keith says they can launch in 45-mph winds. He also says that the Soviets can’t help as their ship is in the wrong orbit. They get news that the Commies have launched another ship. Now at this point, you should be thinking about the Chinese in The Martian (2015). Pruitt mentions that he will never get the chance to go to Mars because of his age.
The experimental ship is flown to the cape. It looks like the old X-1s that
were used to break the sound barrier or the precursors to the space shuttle. You know, the kind Steve Austin crashed in The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) or the television series of the same name 1974-1978.
The three wives are brought to the Cape so they can talk to their husbands. Celia and her husband have trouble connecting emotionally and just talk about general stuff. Teresa talks in general terms and stuff she is going to do. Betty starts reading a letter she has written to the President. She has to deal with Buzz who is screaming that it is all falling apart and he is being blamed. After the call, they have to sedate Buzz.
Amazingly they get the rescue ship ready on time, and Dougherty prepares to be loaded. The first feeder bands of the storm are coming in, and the weather is getting very bad. Keith lets Dougherty know he was right to insist on a rescue. Damn Keith goes into the clean area without a white hat.
Keith goes back to the control room and watches the wind speed on a meter. The wives are waiting in the viewing room. Keith decides to let the wind go to 50-knots although they were using MPH before. Keith makes the hard decision to abort the launch at t-58 seconds when the winds hit 50-knots. Finally, they tell the crew of Ironman One that launch was scrubbed. Dougherty is screaming from the ship to launch.
Keith has a press conference and tells the press that the mission failed and there is no backup plan. While he is justifying the loss of life, the Air Force people come in and show that eye of the hurricane is going to pass over the Cape. They think they can launch through the eye.
Keith is told that three men can’t live until the rescue time but two possibly could. When the winds calm, they begin the launch again. As the winds begin to climb, the rescue launches to great cheers.
The astronauts are being all passive aggressive and not answering the radio. Finally, Keith gets through to them and lets them know the rescue vehicle is 55-minutes away. Keith helps them arrive at the conclusion that two men could make it. Keith tells them to talk it over and see if they can work it out.
Buzz says one will have to go and they try to figure out a selection method. Buzz says he will go because he is the weakest and using the most oxygen. Pruitt says no, he is going out to fix the engine. They put on their helmets as the rescue approaches. Pruitt goes EVA and looks at the engine. Inside, Stone yells at Buzz because he knows Pruitt is committing suicide. Buzz tries to call him back. A flap on Pruitt’s suit fails, and he slowly dies. The other two go back into the ship. Celia is told that her husband is dead. She takes it stoically.
Buzz is starting to hallucinate, but Stone is calm. Dougherty is close and has Stone turn on the exterior lights of the ship. The rescue is 6-minutes away. Stone gives Buzz a little of his spare suit oxygen and he takes off his helmet.
Keith gets word that another ship is approaching Ironman One. It is Soyuz designed Soviet ship, and Stone thinks he is seeing death. He tells them that a Russian ship is rendezvousing with them. The Cosmonaut comes out and signals for them to open their hatch. Keith tells them to go with the Russian. They are in such bad shape that they blow the hatch. The pressure release moves the ship away from the Russian. Stone pushes Buzz towards the Russian ship, but he misses by inches. Stone falls back into his ship. Dougherty arrives in the rescue ship. The Russian shines a light on the floating Buzz so Dougherty can get him. Dougherty uses an untethered backpack to get Buzz. Dougherty gives Buzz a bottle of oxygen. The Russian ship moves closer to Ironman One and provides air to Stone. Dougherty makes it to Ironman One and gives oxygen to Stone. The three spacemen have a brief moment of male bonding. The control room goes crazy, and the two remaining wives are ecstatic. The retros fire on the rescue ship as Dougherty, Stone, and Buzz head home. The Russian ship flies away.
World-Famous Short Summary – Never count on a Commie to be on time or kill Buzz first.
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Beware the moors.