Shot between March and October 1982,
with additional filming continuing into January 1983,
most of the film was shot in and around San Francisco,
where a waterfront warehouse was transformed into a
studio. Location shooting took place primarily at the
abandoned Hamilton Air Force Base north of San Francisco
which was converted into a sound stage for the numerous
interior sets. No location could substitute for the
distinctive Edwards Air Force Base landscape which
necessitated the entire production crew move to the
Mojave Desert for the opening sequences that framed the
story of the test pilots at Edwards.
Kaufman was hired on the basis of his 1974 film,
White Dawn", which takes place in the Arctic. The
producers figured that any man who could tough it out
like that could handle Tom Wolfe's massive, sprawling
ChuckYeager was hired as a technical
consultant on the film. He took the actors flying,
studied the storyboards and special effects, and pointed
out the errors. To prepare for their roles, Kaufman gave
the actors playing the seven astronauts an extensive
videotape collection to study.
The toughest role to fill was that of Chuck Yeager, the
test pilot whose story anchors the film. Sam had
the Gary Cooper looks that the director wanted, but the
producers had doubts about his acting. Kaufman rewrote
the script to minimize Sam's
dialogue and to maximize his physical presence. The
actor received an Oscar nomination.
Director Philip Kaufman discusses
Sam Shepard in that leather jacket created in my mind
that sense of American Adventurer - a kind of Gary Cooper
which is how I saw Sam. I think "The Right Stuff" helped
kick that off again, that certain 'hipster' style
with the collars up. When the film opened in France
(it played for about five years in Paris), I
remember they just loved Sam in those jackets.
The first time Chuck Yeager met Sam was up at our
special effects house where we were doing storyboards on
the film. Of course, Sam showed up late and the General
didn't like that. Sam was this big, tall rangy guy and
Chuck is this compact, tough guy and they sort of looked
at each other and I would say that first meeting was not
the most successful I'd ever seen. Chuck expected
promptness and Sam's hair was kind of messed up. Then we
started going through the storyboards, and as they
started talking, I could just feel the two of them
getting together. They even started talking about the
pick-up trucks they both were driving.
Sam, as you may know, doesn't fly. The only time I know
he's flown is when Yeager took him up at Edwards once,
and they just started hitting it off. Sam's plays are
often written about this theme of Sam missing his father
who had been in the Air Force. His parents were
separated, and a lot of Sam's writing is about that. In
the course of their relationship Chuck became like a
father to Sam or a father figure even though they hung
out and spent a lot of time at the Tosca bar playing
pool until the wee hours of the morning.
"Shepard, in perhaps the best performance of his career, plays Yeager as daring
and yet humble, as quiet but assured, and overall he gives one of the most
complex and compelling performances I have seen of a character who is a
Vincent Canby, NY Times:
"Both as the character he plays and as an ironic screen presence, Mr. Shepard
gives the film much well-needed heft. He is its center of gravity."
Brian Webster, Apollo Guide:
Combining impressive (for 1983) special effects, excellent cinematography by
Caleb Deschanel, and well-integrated archival footage, the film looks great. And
the performances, especially those of Harris and Shepard, lift the movie from
‘important’ to ‘important and highly entertaining.’"
Bill Cosford, Miami Herald:
"In Yeager he has a figure out of movie lore, the lone man on the bucking bronco,
and in Sam Shepard, the actor/playwright who fills the role, he has an
immensely appealing performance."
Gary Arnold, Washington Post:
"Sam Shepard's beautifully lean, rawboned presence has encouraged the director to
lean a bit heavily on pictorial associations with classic Western heroes,
especially Gary Cooper, during the Yeager sequences."
Film critic Judy Stone:
"Just as Chuck Yeager seized Tom Wolfe's imagination as the man with the
real right stuff, so Sam Shepard outshines them all, even though it's a
first-rate cast all the way down the line. As Yeager, the first pilot to break
the sound barrier, Shepard has a special laid-back charm, comprising a quietly
secure daredevil spirit and a strength of character that is irresistible.
Whether sardonic about the astronauts who won't really be in control of those
space capsules, sympathetic toward one flier's bad luck or sharing a flirtatious
moment with his wife (Barbara Hershey), Shepard is terrific. If he keeps on
acting like this, Shepard, a Pulitizer Prize-winning playwright, may not get
back to his typewriter."
Joe Baltake, Philadelphia Daily News:
"The most accomplished impersonations are Scott Glenn's Alan Shepard, Fred Ward's
Gus Grissom and Sam Shepard's memorable Chuck Yeager. He provides the continuity
of presence that holds the film together."
"Most prominently portrayed are Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), Alan Shepard (Scott
Glenn) and John Glenn (Ed Harris), with Shepard turning in his best performance
Yvette Huddleston, The Daily Mail:
"Shepard is perfect in the
role; his taciturn, charismatic presence suggesting exactly the right mix of
pride, courage and self-deprecating charm."
Antagony & Ecstacy:
"The film mainly rests on four men: Scott Glenn, Fred Ward, Ed Harris, and
especially Sam Shepard, noted playwright & deconstructor of American
iconography, in what is still perhaps the most prominent of his film
performances, and certainly the one that makes the best use of his granite
features and his scruffy voice. He embodies the exact breed of rugged, weary
American mythological masculinity at the center of Kaufman's concept of the
material, looking every bit the Outcast Hero who knows more and can do more than
anyone else, but is too certain of his own skills to go looking for validation
in the way that the Mercury Seven did - and he does this without ever
sacrificing the specificity of who Yeager was as a man."
Charles Wiebe, Movie FanFare:
"'The Right Stuff' is fashioned around the story of legendary WW II ace,
Chuck Yeager, he who truly possessed 'The right stuff;' the intangible that all
great pilots possessed; who systematically tests himself as well as his
aircraft, continually 'pushing the outside of the envelope.' He is brilliantly
played in a taciturn, Gary Cooper-like manner by lanky actor/playwright Sam
Shepard; capturing Yaeger’s West Virginia accent perfectly."
Michael Bowen, Boston Globe:
"Playwright-actor Sam Shepard plays Yeager as the total personification
of grace under pressure. He stands alone at the top of the pyramid. Shepard's
rugged good looks and clipped expressions suggest the mythic qualities that we
haven't seen since John Wayne led 'The Searchers'."
Blake Goble, The Michigan Daily:
"The narrator forewarns the viewer: 'There was a demon that lived in the air.
They called it the sound barrier.' Enter Chuck Yeager, never cocky, anxious or
attention-seeking like some modern 'heroes.' Sam Shepard brilliantly
channels the mysticism, fear and respect that surrounded Yeager."
Dragan Antulov, All-reviews.com:
"Sam Shepard is great as Yeager, war hero whose greatest achievement -
breech of the sound barrier - remained obscured in history books, probably due
to his own modesty. On the surface, he lacks personality compared with his hyped
and more fortunate astronaut colleagues, but Shepard gives texture to this
character with subtle gestures and phrases."
"Test pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, is played
with the right John Wayne touches by playwright-actor Sam Shepard."
Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer:
"Kaufman provides a historical and spiritual context
in the person of Chuck Yeager, the legendary test pilot who first broke the
sound barrier. Sam Shepard plays him with an almost symbolic force as the man
who defines an almost indefinable quality."
Mike Lorefice, Metal Asylum:
"The acting, featuring few performers that were names at the time, is
excellent. Shepard is the biggest standout. Not surprisingly, he's the
silent type, but Yeager is a character of great subtlety complexity."
Rita Kempley, The Washington Post:
"There's Sam Shepard, swaggering with country confidence and sex appeal,
as Yeager, first man to break the sound barrier and then some."
Damien Cannon, Film.u-net.com:
"Inevitably some roles hog the show with Shepard excellent as the
talented loner Yeager and Harris charming as the popular Glenn."