THE RELUCTANT ASTRONAUT (1967)
Article #1268 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2004
Posting Date: 1-31-2005
Directed by Edward Montagne
Featuring Don Knotts, Leslie Nielsen, Joan Freeman
A carnival worker with a fear of heights is given a job at NASA as a janitor. However, his father is convinced that his son is an astronaut.
Back when I was a child, I really enjoyed the comedies of Don Knotts, but I haven’t seen anything of his in years. Several of his movies fall into the realm of fantastic cinema, so I knew I’d be watching some of them again, and I have to admit feeling a bit of trepidation at watching him again for fear that I might find his shtick unwatchable. Fortunately, that isn’t the case; he’s actually weathered the years fairly well. His worst problem is his mugging, but he keeps it to a minimum, and to some extent (given his pop-eyed face and persona), the mugging is a bit unavoidable. At his best, he exhibits a sure sense of comic movement, he has a way of expressing himself that lets you know just how he’s feeling, and there are times that he even reminds me a bit of Buster Keaton. He also knew how to nail the pathos in certain scenes. The most effective scene here is one where his father reveals the secret truth about his war years, and both Arthur O’Connell and Knotts are excellent in it; in fact, it fleshes out O’Connell’s character so well that it makes you fully understand why he was so annoying during the first half of the movie. The movie itself is fairly weak; the direction is uninspired, it’s fairly slow, and it really doesn’t have that many laughs to it. However, it emphasizes character over slapstick shenanigans (which plays to Knotts’ strengths), and it is fun to catch perennial Maytag repairman Jesse White as well as Leslie Nielsen in his pre-comic days.