Countdown (1968)

Article #1464 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2005
Posting Date: 8-15-2005
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring James Caan, Joanna Cook Moore, Robert Duvall

For political reasons, the leading candidate for the job of the American astronaut to make the first moon landing is replaced by a man with no military connections, who must then take a crash course in learning the ropes for his trip to the moon.

Robert Altman is one of those directors I more admire and respect than actually like, and though I really like some of his more bizarre efforts (BREWSTER MCCLOUD and 3 WOMEN come to mind), some of his masterpieces leave me cold (I’ve seen MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER twice, and it still does nothing for me). This one was made a couple of years before he would hit it big with MASH, and I consider it a mixed bag. It’s very well acted and I find that Altman is particularly strong at handling scenes with several people, but it’s so low-key that I find my attention wandering quite a bit of the time. I also don’t care much for the musical soundtrack; it’s conventionally melodramatic, and often I felt that it was trying too hard to add suspense and excitement to scenes that would have been better handled in silence or with a more subtle soundtrack. The movie does have its moments though. I’d seen this one before, and the one moment that embedded itself into my memory is so beautifully and simply done that I’ll probably never forget it. I won’t give it away since it occurs near the end of the movie, but I will say that it has to do with the reflection of a red light. The executive producer for the movie was William Conrad, who I most remember for playing Frank Cannon on the TV series “Cannon”, though he’s also well known for being the voice of Matt Dillon on the radio version of “Gunsmoke”, and doing narration for various Jay Ward productions.

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