The Reluctant Astronaut (1967)

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The Reluctant Astronaut (1967)

Post  BoG on Wed Sep 19, 2012 9:06 pm

A comedy about the space program and going up into Earth orbit - it's not so much science fiction as just a humorous way of looking at our real Space Agency, NASA, but because Don Knotts is the central figure, many of his antics turn the premise into a slightly fantastical and warped take on all of it. Knotts plays his usual weak, timid and regressed male, still living with his parents as a 35-year-old; he operates the outer space kiddie ride in his hometown and has an unreasonable fear of heights (even four feet off the ground is too much for him). His clueless dad (Arthur O'Connell) gets him accepted at NASA, but only as a janitor. Leslie Nielsen, who played similar dopey characters much later in the eighties, here plays it straight as a real astronaut who befriends Knotts' character.

The sci-fi elements come into play during the final act, when Knotts ends up as NASA's civilian selection to beat the Russians into orbit. The concept is very absurd in that sending such an inept bumbler into orbit is - or should be - very dangerous both for Knotts and for the further continuation of the space program. Since this was aimed mostly at children, we can surmise that Knotts would not end up dead in orbit. I thought this was pretty entertaining when I watched it as a kid; there are great bits with Knotts pretending to be an astronaut when attempting to fool his dad and his friends, as well as the moments when his folks find out that he really is going into orbit. Knotts is still a funny dude even now, seeing this as an adult; I root for him even as I cringe at his foibles. BoG's Score: 6.5 out of 10
Astro Trivia: there was unfortunate timing involved back then; this comedy was released soon after the real-life Apollo 1 tragedy, in which a fire killed 3 astronauts.
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