"Iron Man One, this is Houston, do you copy, over."
For years I've been incorrectly recalling some information about MAROONED (1969). I seemed to recall that the film came out at the same time as the Apollo 13 mission, which would have been in the spring of 1970. I had it in my mind that due to the similarities of both the film and the real-life space mission, Columbia Pictures (which released the film) pulled back on their advertising campaign, fearful of being perceived as exploiting a possible tragedy in the making. I thought that this effected the box-office take of the film and that it did not do as well as expected. Turns out that once again, a memory that I could have sworn was true has been proven incorrect by Wikipedia (assuming of course, that the information there is correct!)
MAROONED was released on November 10, 1969 and the Apollo 13 mission took place in April, 1970, so there's no chance of any interference between life and art. I do know that I did see the film on first release at the Americana Theatre in Austin and that I had a paperback copy (and still do) of the Martin Caidin novel on which the film was based. I also remember (geek that I was and still am), cutting the advertisement for the film out of the newspaper and carrying it around in my school notebook. Hey, I was in eighth grade, give me a break. In short, young Frank was keenly excited about this film which promised to be an exciting, realistic, outer-space adventure.
MAROONED (which I watched again last night for the first time in years) is the story of Iron Man One, an Apollo-like space craft with a three-man crew (Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman and James Franciscus). The men are assigned to spend seven months aboard an orbiting space station but when one of the crew (Hackman), begins to show signs of fatigue and starts making mistakes, the mission is cut short after five months and the men are ordered to return to earth.
Something goes wrong with the space craft on their return and the three men are trapped in orbit with a rapidly dwindling oxygen supply to sustain them. On the ground at mission control, a bold rescue mission is proposed by flight director Ted Dougherty (David Janssen). At first, the proposal is denied by NASA chief Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) but he is ultimately persuaded to take the gamble which involves launching an experimental space craft (designed to hold two people and modified to carry four) into orbit in less than forty-two hours. Oh, and by the way, there's a monster hurricane headed for the cape.
As luck would have it, the launch takes place while the eye of the storm passes over the launch pad. Once in orbit, it's a race against time to save the two remaining astronauts (one of them has since died). The men are rapidly loosing consciousness as their air supply runs out but additional help is on the way in the form of a Russian space capsule and a brave cosmonaut who lends a hand. The men are rescued and the movie is over.
MAROONED has a terrific cast of solid actors both on the ground and in space. The wives of the astronauts (who are given token screen time) are capably played by Lee Grant, Nancy Kovack and Mariette Hartley. The special effects (while nowhere near as good as those showcased in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) were good enough to win the Academy Award for Visual Effects. MAROONED is not a bad film. It's earnest and straight-forward but it's slowly and deliberately paced and, while this is a grossly unfair comparison, is not nearly as suspenseful as the real-life APOLLO 13 film directed by Ron Howard.
Still I loved MAROONED when I was a kid and I enjoyed watching it as an adult. But boy, I could have sworn the circumstances surrounding its' release were different. Recommended.