Sweetwater’s Famous Son

The Lights in the Sky are StarsAnother of my childhood favorites was a Don Knotts vehicle named The Reluctant Astronaut. (I loved everything about out space in those days.) This is a 60’s comedy about the space race. According to this movie, winning the space race was as important as winning World War I!

The only other space race comedies that I can think of are Jerry Lewis’ Way Way Out, and The Mouse on the Moon. But both of those were specifically about going to the moon. The Jerry Lewis movie was all about sex on the moon. The Mouse movie, being British, was all about hilarious international politics.  Amazon has a German DVD of the Lewis movie, which is funny because I thought he was supposed to be big in France. A lot of people seem not to like the Lewis movie. As I recall, it’s got some funny moments. But it is a sex comedy, and maybe Jerry Lewis isn’t really the best person to pull off a sex comedy.  The Mouse movie was a sequel to a Peter Sellers vehicle, and was actually based on a book. Terry Thomas, the English guy with the gap between his teeth, is in it, if you care…

The Don Knotts movie didn’t go to the moon; it was only about going into space. It was about the fear that had to be overcome to go there, and the pathetic disgraceful shame that would overcome that fear. As usual Don does a great fear schtick.

Leslie Nielson plays a real astronaut. This was back before he was know for being funny. Apparently he was funny at the time, but they just refused to film it. He’d previously played an spaceship commander in Forbidden Planet, so I’m guessing this was sort of step down for him. I swear up and down that for years I thought that his character in this movie was John Glenn. I mean, a fictionalized John Glenn, but actually named “John Glenn”. But I was totally wrong. Imagine that. His character’s name is Fred Gifford, not even Gus Grissom nor Frank Gifford.

One of the things I noticed while re-watching these Don Knotts movies was the strange way he gets the girl. At the beginning of the film, she hardly pays him any attention, certainly no romantic attention.  She treats him like a human being, which is more than he thinks he deserves maybe. But she’s definitely not interested in that way. Then it looks like he’s a big deal, and the whole town is celebrating him, and all of a sudden they’re officially an item. By the end of the movie it’s clear that he really isn’t a big deal, that he was just being used as a pawn by other people, and she marries him. Somehow I don’t see that working out for very long. And it happened in both The Reluctant Astronaut and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Now I realize that according to Aristotle every real comedy has to have a wedding or some other procession. But couldn’t they have just had a parade celebrating their reluctant hero? Or is this movie really trying to tell us that nebbishes only deserve unhappy marriages after they’ve survived their big life crisis?

Know any other space race comedies?

About Lyle Verbilion

I'm just wanderin' around lookin' at things. Wow.
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