Thursday, October 13, 2022

This is the "One!"

I have always wanted to pay tribute to today's movie here at Poseidon's Underworld and having recently been reminded of it in the comments section of another post, here we are! Capricorn One (1977) is one of a wave of conspiracy flicks that hit screens in the wake of the Watergate scandal.  Warren Beatty had hit pay dirt with The Parallax View (1974) and others followed suit, making viewers squirm in their seats at the idea that certain parties would stop at nothing to see their secret agendas unfold as planned. Capricorn concerns a mission to Mars that doesn't go at all as planned, resulting in dire consequences for several people. Sure, there are parts that aren't 100% plausible, but it's so deftly directed, unsettling and compelling that the result is a memorable thriller that packs a wallop.

After a stunning piece of credits music by Jerry Goldsmith, the movie begins with benign narration, detailing the imminent departure of the title space vehicle, as it prepares for takeoff.

After sixteen years, from conception and planning to actuality, things are finally all set and the trio of astronauts is about to board the craft.

The crew consists of wisecracking Sam Waterston, reliable commander James Brolin and one O. J. Simpson (well before he became the infamous figure we now know.)

We love all-star casts at P.U. and this movie enlists familiar faces in virtually every role. Busy character actor Lou Frizzell presents the men with a Bible to take with them and Milton Seltzer appears here as one of many technicians on site.

From a safe distance, a crowd has gathered to mark the occasion.

Among the crowd are various dignitaries including a congressman played by David Huddleston in a deliciously sly and smarmy performance. (You may note Nancy Malone as his wife, who recently popped up in our Susan Oliver tribute.)

Inside the control room is NASA honcho Hal Holbrook. At his request, the astronauts are about to receive some startling news.

Although they're all hooked up and ready to go, veteran character actor Paul Picerni opens the hatch and insists that they exit the spaceship and accompany him immediately.

The trio is spirited away by van to a waiting helicoptor.

Meanwhile, everything in the control room appears normal.

A riveted crowd watches as the craft lifts off on the earth's very first manned space flight to Mars.

Details of the launch are duly reported by (yet another well-known face) Alan Fudge.

While viewers are celebrating the successful liftoff, the men intended to be inside the ship are 300 miles away, landing on a deserted runway in a Lear jet!

The utterly confused astronauts are greeted by some suits who direct them to step inside.

In this case, inside equates to a defunct hangar in the middle of nowhere.

Having prepared to be launched into the stratosphere, the men are understandably at a loss as to what in the world is going on.

Soon enough, they are greeted by a swiftly arriving Holbrook.

Needless to say, the men are shocked and aggravated.

Pragmatic Brolin is especially agitated by the situation.

In a very lengthy, charismatic monologue, Holbrook explains to the men that after all the expensive preparation and research, a malfunction was discovered which would have killed them and would likely have led to the demise of the whole program.

Entering an entirely different control room, he has another surprise waiting for the gents behind a nearby door...

An entire set resembling the surface of Mars has been assembled!

A replica of their module has been shipped in as well.

In order to keep his program alive (along with the hopes and dreams of the space industry), Holbrook expects Brolin and his cohorts to ACT as if they've gone to Mars without ever having left the ground...!

An appalled Brolin wants nothing to do with it and threatens to say no.

With that, Holbrook reminds the men of their families and ominously implores them not to decline his request.

After all of this, we finally meet the top-billed star of the film, Elliott Gould, who plays a TV reporter stationed outside Brolin's house with friend/competitor Karen Black.

They're on site to interview Brolin's wife and get her reaction to the fact that her husband is now heading a pioneering mission to another planet.

His wife, Brenda Vaccaro, is beaming with pride and, like everyone else, hasn't a clue that the rocket careening into space is, in fact, dead empty!

The mission actually takes a very long time to complete, but happily the movie perks along, just occasionally alerting us to the date for reference. Robert Walden plays a NASA technician who is bothered by the fact that the transmissions they are getting from outer space don't seem to be actually coming from that far away. But he is poo-poohed by his superior.

Nevertheless, he is tormented by the fact that the numbers aren't adding up. He continues to delve into the situation on his own, wholly apart from his designated duties at the command center.

At last, the day of the Mars landing is upon them and Gould is there to witness it.

Also nervously watching are the astronauts' wives. Waterston's wife is played by Lee Bryant while Simpson's is portrayed by Denise Nicholas.

Still Walden is bothered by his findings... that the signal they're getting is not from Mars, but from somewhere only 300 miles away! Once again, he is brushed off by his supervisor.

Everyone watches the momentous Mars landing on a blurry, grainy feed which is supposedly traveling many miles from earth, but which is actually happening in a studio not very far away!

Fat cat Huddleston receives a congratulatory call from the Vice President on a job well done.

Citizens stop in the street to watch the historic event.

Thus, under threat of punishment (or death!), the astronauts reluctantly go through their paces for the camera.

Walden, who is a longtime friend of Gould's, expresses his continuing concerns about the television feed over a friendly game of pool.

Gould is called away for a perplexing phone call and when he returns to the pool table, Walden is nowhere to be found...!

Meanwhile, our astronauts are preparing for their "return" to planet Earth and an upcoming communication that they will be able to have with their wives as they "get closer."

Brolin wants to blow the lid off the whole thing and refuse to go through with any more of the charade, and though his cohorts agree with his point, they still have their families to think about. All the while, their conversation is being listened to by agent James B Sikking (who some of you will recall from the later Hill St. Blues.)

Gould attempts to call his pal Walden, but the number is disconnected.

After months with no contact, the wives are eager to see and speak to their far-flung spouses.

Simpson and Nicholas exchange some heartfelt words with one another.

Waterston can't resist joking with his wife Bryant.

Then it's Brolin's turn to speak with Vaccaro, and several people are wondering if he will spill the beans or continue to play along.

Ultimately, he opts to play it safe and keep the secret of their mission. Or does he...?

Gould heads over to Walden's apartment to see what on earth is happening and is startled to find a woman living there.

Barbara Bosson (also later of Hill St Blues) claims to have lived there for years! The entire interior is different from what Walden had.

Now Gould is mystified and exasperated, bewildered at what is going on.

But will he even live to investigate further?! He suddenly discovers that his brakes are nonexistent and his car begins careening through the city at speeds over 90 mph!

Comes the day, more than nine months since the departure, that the astronauts are ready for reentry. The wives watch in anticipation, followed by distress as the ship's heat shield malfunctions!

The nation watches in horror as the crew is all "killed," with no vital signs registering at the command center.

Our trio knows nothing about what has happened yet. They were simply to be deposited at the capsule in the ocean before any rescue ship could arrive.

Unfortunately, there is no capsule. Holbrook announces to the world that the ship was destroyed upon reentry and the men are all dead. That does leave one (or maybe three) problem. The guys are still around!

Sensing doom, the men escape from the room they're being held in and hop into the Lear jet. A gaggle of suits is in hot pursuit.

The agents attempt to block the jet from taking off, but it does reach the air.

The desperate men can only guess at what has gone wrong, but that's the least of their present concerns... It turns out that the plane has virtually no fuel in it!

The landing gear having been damaged during their calamitous takeoff, Brolin has to bring the craft to the ground on its belly! 

With no clue where they are and with the enemy sure to be on their tails, the guys divvy up a skimpy survival kit.

Then they decide to split up in the hopes that at least one of them will reach civilization and be able to recount what has happened.

Off they head in the three directions which are different from the one from which they've escaped.

Gould, after narrowly surviving his ordeal with the car, can not let go of his suspicions about the Mars mission. He sees something in Vaccaro's face during the brief contact she had with Brolin.

She's trying to hold it together the best she can, barely suppressing tears as she reads Dr. Seuss to her young daughter and son.

Gould manages to arrange a meeting with her to try to delve into her chat with Brolin.

She's understandably reluctant to hash this out with a perfect stranger, especially since he won't tell her why he wants to know.

Eventually he gains her trust enough to be told that Brolin mentioned the wrong place of a recent family vacation while they were chatting. She'd chalked it up to fatigue or stress, but maybe there was more to it.

Gould's investigation takes him to a western ghost town where he is promptly shot at by an unknown assailant!

Now comes one of the most memorable aspects of Capricorn One. Two ominous helicopters arrive at the downed jet and these two vessels take on a bizarrely terrifying aspect, helped by the sterling music of Jerry Goldsmith.

Director Peter Hyams deliberately imbued them with almost insect-like attributes and has them turning and interacting with one another like two conferring predators.

This pair is positively relentless in pursuit of their prey and add plenty of suspense to the film.

The desert is beginning to take its toll on the hapless astronauts as they struggle for freedom.

Meanwhile Holbrook, a (former!) friend of Brolin's from way back, goes to see Vaccaro, impressing on her the need to attend a memorial service he's planning for the fallen astronauts.

Simpson, desperate for water, finds himself in a dried-out riverbed.

Failing to locate any, the beleaguered victim of the sun and heat spies two birds in the sky above.

Waterston, on the other hand, seems to have chosen the most rigorous route conceivable and is climbing a gargantuan cliff wall!

Blistered and bloodied, he finally ascends to the top.

Intrepid reporter Gould goes back to visit Vaccaro. He's still trying to figure out the situation yet hasn't quite been able to piece Brolin's message to her together.

She's still confused by his constant digging, but is understanding of his situation enough to allow him to watch some of her home movies from the vacation in question.

In the meantime, Holbrook continues to demonstrate just how far he will go to cover his ass with the faux mission.

Gould's boss (David Doyle of Charlie's Angels fame) wants to send him out of town on another story, but Gould protests that he cannot abandon the one he's currently working on.

Doyle launches into a monologue about how impossible Gould has always been that is so effective that even Gould compliments him on it! He is granted 24 hours to finish up the far-out story he's been engaged in.

Unfortunately, he's almost immediately arrested by federal agents! The principal one is played by familiar character actor Jon Cedar.

Gould is able to call upon his pal Black for some assistance. She even lends him her car so that he can continue to work on the mystery.

In the desert, things are still mighty bleak.

Brolin is forced to endure conditions worse than anything that months in space or that the surface of Mars would equal.

Gould is getting closer to figuring out what's been going on and heads out to the desert himself. (I'd love to know what crops are growing out this way, though...!)

This brings about the final cameo appearance in the movie, the hilariously belligerent Telly Savalas.

Gould hires Savalas to take him around the area and that is where I will leave the recap. What happens after this is a rousing and suspenseful encounter followed by a memorable denouement.

Contrary to what some may assume, Capricorn One wasn't a copycat of any prior conspiracy hit. Writer-director Hyams had written it several years earlier and no one was interested. After Watergate, the concept didn't seem so far-out and so it was then finally produced (and was a hit, earning back more than double its budget.) Hyams had begun with TV-movies before directing Busting (1974) which starred Gould. He proceeded to movies like Outland (1981), The Star Chamber (1983) - which also involved conspiracy, The Presidio (1988) and Timecop (1994), among others. Now 79, his last feature was released in 2013.

Gould is coming up on sixty years of performing on screen. His first movie was in 1964 and he had back-to-back hits with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) and MASH (1970.) He was Oscar-nominated for Bob, but lost to Gig Young in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Many films of varying quality and success would follow. Initially a Broadway actor, where he met and married Barbra Streisand (1963-1971), he continued busily making movies as a leading man, then segueing into a useful supporting player in movies such as American History X (1998), Ocean's Eleven (2001) and its sequels. Now 84, he still works on TV and in the occasional film.

Brolin began in television in the early-1960s and eventually began winning bit parts in movies. In 1969, he scored a hit with Marcus Welby, M.D. and this led to a period of leading roles in films such as Westworld (1973), Gable and Lombard (1976), The Car (1977) and The Amityville Horror (1979.) In 1983, he had another hit series, Hotel. Since then, he's balanced many movie roles with lots of television work. In one of those "Only in Hollywood" scenarios, he married Barbra Streisand himself in 1998! The unlikely duo is together still. This makes Capricorn's casting a notable bit of trivia, though I don't know if Babs puts the DVD in every once in a while to experience the interesting situation. Brolin continues to act today at 82.

Vaccaro is so good in this, really establishing chemistry with Brolin and the image of a family, though the two never meet on screen! She gives her role a savvy, earnest, yet vulnerable quality. Having made a splash in Midnight Cowboy (1969), she made a few more movies before turning to TV, then won an Oscar nomination for her saucy role in Jacqueline Susann's Once is Not Enough (1975), losing to Lee Grant in Shampoo. (Vaccaro would punch Grant in the face not long after in Airport '77! Ha ha!) Even she worked with Streisand in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) Always busy on screen here and there, she still works today at 82.  

Stage-trained Waterston, like most here, began his career in mid-1960s television before breaking into movies. A featured role came in The Great Gatsby (1974.) Rancho Deluxe (1975) and Sweet Revenge followed, among others. An Oscar nomination came his way for The Killing Fields (1984), but the statuette went to F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus. He played Abraham Lincoln a couple of times on television and starred in the show I'll Fly Away, but is surely best known now for his very long-running role of DA Jack McCoy on Law & Order and its companion series. He's still working in that capacity at 81.

Buffalo Bills running back Simpson was a hero to millions in the 1970s. He balanced his football career with film appearances in hits like The Towering Inferno (1974) and other favorites like The Cassandra Crossing (1976.) While not any kind of important actor, he brought with him an amiable charisma that went a long way. He starred in several TV-movies. He later explored his comedic side in The Naked Gun (1988) and its sequels. He was about to star in a new TV series Frogmen when his wife was viciously murdered and suspicion fell on him. Since then, his actions have led to the virtual end of his performing career and to the end of most hero worship he'd enjoyed in his hey day. He is currently 75. 

Happier times.

A stage performer noted for his work as Mark Twain, Holbrook had been acting as far back at the mid-1940s. He worked on the daytime serial The Brighter Day in the 1950s and later made film appearances such as in The Group (1966), Wild in the Streets (1968), The Great White Hope (1970) and They Only Kill Their Masters (1972.) With Magnum Force (1973) and All the President's Men (1976) he'd found a way to expertly blend his folksy charm with what could sometimes be a deadly menace lying underneath. This continued with The Star Chamber (1983.) Like Waterston, he portrayed Lincoln a number of times on television. His remarkably busy career continued for decades, including the sitcom Evening Shade and an Oscar nomination for Into the Wild (2007), which went to Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (which starred James' son Josh Brolin.) Retiring in 2017, Holbrook passed away in 2021 at the age of 95.

Black was everywhere in the late-1960s and '70s. Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Great Gatsby (1974), Airport 1975 (1974), Nashville, Day of the Locust (both 1975) and Family Plot (1976) are only some of the notable movies she costarred in. Her Oscar nom was for Easy Pieces, though it went to Helen Hayes for Airport. This cameo role was initially earmarked for Candice Bergen. Always busy, and nearly always very invested in what she was doing, she nonetheless experienced a career cool-down as the 1980s dawned and found herself in plenty of low-budget, straight-to-video projects balanced with bits of television. She appeared as one of Gould's ex-wives on a two part episode of his short-lived sitcom E/R.) She was felled by pancreatic cancer in 2013 at age 74.

Very busy and useful character actor Huddleston began winning small parts on TV in 1960, followed by small movie roles. He played a doctor in Rio Lobo (1970) followed by Bad Company (1972) and McQ (1974) with plenty of TV mixed in. He appeared in Blazing Saddles (1974) and Breakheart Pass (1975), all the while popping up on many popular series. Despite working non-stop, Huddleston could not secure a popular series of his own (The Kallikaks or Hizzonner, anyone?!) A rare showcase of a sort came as the title character in 1985's Santa Claus: The Movie. He passed away of kidney and lung disease in 2016 at age 85, having retired two years before.

Savalas really just has a cameo here, but it's amusing and perks up the finale. He'd toiled away on TV since 1960 with movie roles in The Young Savages (1961), Cape Fear, The Interns and an Oscar nom for Birdman of Alcatraz (all 1962.) Ed Begley won for Sweet Bird of Youth. He continued steady employment on TV and in films, but really his it big in 1973 with his police series Kojak. He and Gould would reunite in 1979's Escape to Athena. He continued to act, revisiting Kojak in a few TV movies before passing away of prostate cancer in 1994 at age 72.

Nicholas started on TV in the late-1960s and was soon cast as a regular on Room 222 to great effect. There were also movies like Blacula (1972),  Let's Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977.) After a variety of roles on many comedies and dramas, she wound up on In the Heat of the Night for several years. Now 78, she has only acted on screen sporadically since the 2000s.

There are quite a few people in this movie who belong to my imaginary Disaster Movie Club, but Bryant has a special place of honor, for she unforgettably portrayed a panicky passenger in the hysterical spoof Airplane! (1980) and its sequel. A busy commercial actress, she popped up in episodes of many 1970s show like Charlie's Angels, Kojak, Barnaby Jones and even Three's Company. She showed up multiple times on T. J Hooker as William Shatner's ex-wife. She has receded from the screen since the mid-2010s and is now 77.

This is the more common poster for the film, one of those "box" posters with photos of the primary stars. Time was, when I saw a poster like this, I knew I was going to enjoy the movie. Capricorn One may be seen here.

Some of the foreign release posters feature some artwork & concepts that are as out there as Mars...!

I'm not sure what in the hell is happening here, especially in the upper left corner!

Finally, from this one, a viewer might expect a simple romance about an astronaut and his lady. This is all the more amusing since, as I said earlier, Brolin and Vaccaro never share a frame together in the film! (She did appear once on Marcus Welby, though.)

Now THIS really did happen, though!  Till next time...


Dan said...

Haven’t seen this in decades, but remember really enjoying it. Does seem there was a time that a government conspiracy film was coming out just about every week - and Hal Holbrook was the baddie in most of them.

Alan Scott said...

I must watch this now. I actually thought this was a movie about a fake trip to the moon. You left us with a great hook, Poseidon. Great job!

Gingerguy said...

Now I want to see this. I do remember a sexy picture of a hunted looking James Brolin somewhere on this site. He really was gorgeous and still is, and Sam Waterston pretty cute here too. I wonder if it was this film that really cemented the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was faked? I had a boyfriend who insisted on it. I love the cast here and even the sight of Karen Black thrills me. Amazing about Barbra being the thread here, Brenda Vaccaro was her bestie in "The Mirror Has Two Faces" she had a bit of resurfacing lately by being a character on "And Just Like That". There was an interview on CBS Sunday Morning and Mo Rocca included a clip of her being spoofed by Andrea Martin for her heavy breathing tampon commercials. I digress! I will definitely add this film to my list, thanks Poseidon

Forever1267 said...

I have seen this pretty recently too. IT's currently on FreeVee, Tubi and Pluto.

Fantastic Conspiracy Thriller as only the 70's knew how to do. I've heard rumors of a remake, but nothing has happened yet. Probably would make a good double feature with "The Shining" if you believe Kubrick was also referencing the fake moon landing.

Brolin in tighty whities in "The Amityville Horror" was another sign of which team I would be playing for. hubba hubba.

Wouldn't it be hilarious if all of the stars here were connected to Barbra? Talk about conspiraces. "The Streisand Factor" coming soon to a theater near you!!!

Shawny said...

I was young when this came out. Young enough that I had to ask my mom why blood was coming out of the guy's hands while he clung to the airplane. I probably was in and out of attention while watching it. Karen Black was in the film that is one of my husband's most feared films, Burnt Offerings. The chauffeur was what what terrorized his childhood. Haha. I don't think he would watch it even now. But I liked it. And the cheesy chauffeur is hilarious. Seemed like he was modeled a bit after Scott Thorson or some gay iconic look.

Poseidon3 said...

Dan, to my early-teen self movies like this were SO creepy and scary. And this film has a couple of really abrupt moments of shock, too, which come when you've sort of relaxed a bit. Great movie-making. And, yes, Hal was in several! Thanks.

Alan Scott, I hope when you see it you enjoy it!

Gingerguy, likewise I hope you enjoy the movie when you see it. Neat that Brenda was able to work on that show (which I had to look up...! Never in my life saw an episode of SITC! LOL)

Forever1267, I'm glad you liked the film. I probably wouldn't see a remake. Somehow they just can never get the tone the same as it was in the '70s. (And I'm getting dead sick of remakes in general!) That's hilarious about Barbra... It would be fun to try to find connections with some of the others. But O.J.? That might be a toughie.

Shawny, Anthony James was petrifying as that chauffeur and we've mentioned it before somewhere, but just as scary was a makeup-free Bette Davis howling like rarely before in that same movie. Ha ha! I may have to watch that again this Halloween. Most vivid for me in that, though, was a still handsome Oliver Reed.

Ptolemy1 said...

Interesting film. I just found a good print of it and watched it, I have no idea how it missed my radar this entire time. Brolin is indeed hot as hell in it. It was fun to see a brief appearance by James Karen of Poltergeist fame. It's a very well done film, (I love Holbrook's monologue in that plain, PLAIN debriefing room.) From a nerdy scientific point of view the film's plot is flimsy to say the least. Much like how the ridiculous conspiracy theory that we never landed on the moon doesn't hold up, I am assuming the rest of the world is monitoring the mission closely. It would have taken the crew at least, AT LEAST one year, (with an added 4 months) to complete a round trip, and that's our state of the art 2022 technology. That's a long time to sit around in their flight suits... Did they have one year's worth of "practice run" recordings? The audience is to believe many involved at NASA are not aware of the fraud? The ship is unmanned and just makes a giant uturn and comes back, without a crew? No wonder something went wrong, LOL. Holbrook says "259 days" at the fake oops press conference, nope, a lot longer than that. Once you get past that hokum the film does pick up and becomes an action film with great survival elements. The helicopters vs the biplane sequence is fabulous. As is Gould's car, lol. It's a very fun watch. IMHO Vaccaro and Holbrook give the best performances. And can we talk again about how HOT Brolin is in it? I'd go to Mars with him anytime. Thanks for this.

Poseidon3 said...

Ptolemy1, one thing I found odd was that they were sheltered away for 259 days or whatever it was and their hair never grew? They never wore anything but those space suits?!? I think a brief scene showing them bored at that base - reading or watching inane TV - might have helped make that aspect more believable. How could they sit in that hangar for a year and look like they did they day they were brought there? LOL But like you say, the action/survival/thriller elements help it a lot. I do think Brenda and Hal earn the acting laurels. And Gould gets an honorable mention because he didn't annoy me as he often could. Thanks!