Thriller

Unsung Classics 6: Capricorn One (1978)

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During the 1970’s there were a lot of thrillers made dealing with the publics mistrust of government, and also many films in which conspiracies played a key part in the plot. Capricorn One came along towards the end the decade, and in my opinion it is one of the best films in this genre.

Directed by Peter Hyams, this is a cracking film about cover ups, lies, murder and people risking their own lives to find and expose the truth. I think the entire cast are excellent. The film also features my favourite score by Jerry Goldsmith.

For those people out there with doubts about the 60’s and 70’s moon landings, this film certainly shows how such a hoax could have been achieved. Even if you don’t believe that, it has to be said this film will at least make you understand why some people think they were fake.

The world is waiting with baited breath for the launch of the first manned mission to Mars. The three Astronauts about to embark on this historic space flight are Charles Brubaker (James Brolin),John Walker (O.J. Simpson) and Peter Willis (Sam Waterston). As they are waiting for the launch countdown to begin, the capsule door is opened and a mysterious man leans in to tell them they have to get out. Once they have done so they learn that it’s just been discovered that there is a dangerous fault in the life support system. Flown to a remote base, the crew demand some answers. High ranking NASA official, Dr. James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook, who was so good at playing villains)comes and speaks to them.

The Astronauts are appalled when he tells them that the craft will still launch as the mission has to be seen to go ahead. Cancelling the mission would have given the government a perfect opportunity to end its funding of the space programme.

Kelloway threatens the lives of the Astronauts families to persuade the men to fake TV transmissions that will seem to be as if they were flying to Mars and landing on the planet. Using voice recordings of the crew (for regular scheduled flight check conversations with Mission Control) from the test simulations, Mission Control thinks the crew are aboard the spacecraft.

NASA Technician, Elliot Whitter(Robert Walden)suspects something is wrong when he notices strange technical readouts and he reports this to his superiors. Whitter also tells his friend Robert Caulfield(Elliott Gould)who is a news reporter. When Whitter disappears, Caulfield gets very worried and does some investigating of his own.

In a TV studio on the base, a fake Martian landscape is set up for the transmissions, the crew must step before the cameras trying to think of some way of communicating something is wrong. When the real craft is destroyed in space, the world obviously believes the astronauts are dead. This means the crew can’t be released because the hoax would then be exposed. Brubaker, Walker and Willis try and escape and run for their lives.

This is a real tense thriller. Goldsmith’s score fits so well with the film and really creates a sinister and tense atmosphere. He was a musical genius and came up with so many stunning scores, this is my personal favourite out of all his scores.

Telly Savalas is hysterical as a rude crop duster who helps Caulfield in his quest to uncover the truth. Brenda Vaccaro is very moving as Brubaker’s wife, Kay, the scene where she reads to her children while trying not to cry is very touching.

My favourite scenes are the following. The crew learning the truth from Kelloway. The entire sequence with the crop duster and Caulfield, from their hysterical first meeting to them following the mysterious black helicopters. The crew splitting up to try and give themselves more of a chance of getting rescued and surviving. Kay reading to her children and trying not to cry. Brubaker hiding in the deserted petrol station.

This is a film that hardly ever gets discussed nowadays and I think that is a real shame. This film is one of the most enjoyable from the 70’s, and its story is still very effective when viewed today.

This ranks up there with Three Days of the Condor and All The Presidents Men for me. If you’re a fan of this film please leave your comments below. Never seen it? I highly recommend it.