Capricorn One (1978)
One of the the taglines for this movie was “The most important event in our nations history…..What if it never happened”.
Consider this. The moon landing in 1969 didn’t actually happen. It was all an elaborately staged hoax, and it fooled the entire world, into thinking we’d set foot on another world. This particular conspiracy theory has been floating around for decades, and Capricorn One, directed by Peter Hyams, taps into this, and comes up with a very believable, if completely fictionalised account of what this incredible story might have looked like.
Charles Brubaker, played by James Brolin, heads a team of three astronauts, on the first manned mission to Mars. The other two, Walker and Willis are played ably by O.J Simpson and Sam Waterston. Seconds before the launch the entire team is pulled from the capsule, due to some kind of malfunction. The head of the mission, Dr James Kelloway, played by the always excellent Hal Holbrook, explains that the life support system is faulty and the mission is to be aborted. To save face, Kelloway decides to launch the rocket empty and carry on as if the three astronauts were still aboard. The plan is to fake the Mars landing, keeping the astronauts at a remote, secret location until the mission is over.
Throw into the mix a reporter, Robert Caulfield, played by the brilliant Elliott Gould, and you have the recipe for a superior thriller reminiscent of all the great conspiracy movies of that decade, including All The Presidents Men (1976) and The Parallax View (1974).
The cast of this movie is a real whos who of 70s movies. We have Brenda Vaccaro, as the wife of one of the astronauts, Charles Brubaker. We have David Doyle, always a delight as Bosley in the tv series Charlies Angels, who plays Caulfields grizzled boss and editor, Walter Loughlin. Theres also the ever lovely Karen Black as Judy Drinkwater, a rival reporter and Telly Savalas, playing a loud, obnoxious and grumpy pilot, named Albain.
Capricorn One is one of the last great thrillers of the 1970s, the decade that gave us such classics as Three Days Of The Condor (1975), The Conversation (1974) and the brilliant Marathon Man (1976) starring Dustin Hoffman. We also have a great score from Jerry Goldsmith which keeps the film racing along at a cracking pace.
This is a movie of two halves. The first hour sets everything up nicely for the breakneck speed of the second half. This is definetely a movie thats been sadly overlooked in recent years. I think we all need to watch it again just to remind ourselves just how good it actually is. It’s packed with action and the final act racks up the tension brilliantly.
As a minor point of interest, when the movie was re released around 1980, it did the rounds on a double bill with, of all films, Gregory’s Girl, the gentle Bill Forsyth coming of age comedy. I didn’t realise this until a friend of mine mentioned that she’d seen it at Burton Odeon on this very double bill. I was convinced that she’d remembered it wrong. I mean who would put this intense, conspiracy thriller on the same bill as a gentle, charming Scottish comedy about a bumbling, gangly lad, going through first love. Go Figure.
To sum up, Capricorn One is a blistering thriller, with great performances, a razor sharp script, a cracking soundtrack and a frighteningly believable plot, which still, over 40 years on gives people pause for thought…..