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Great Scenes – CAPRICORN ONE

The climactic helicopter vs. cropduster chase from Capricorn One (1977, Peter Hyams) is pure 1970’s Hollywood thriller GOLD. James Brolin plays an astronaut on the run in the desert after escaping from a remote studio lot where he has been coerced (by funding-desperate NASA bigwig Hal Holbrook) into faking a manned Martian landing for television. Upon realization that they can never be seen alive again, the 3 reluctant actors (including Sam Waterston and OJ Simpson) dramatically flee (in a scene that rivals this one for pure huckstery suspense) into the desert and are slowly picked off one by one by the ultimate symbol of shadow government: a pair of Black Helicopters. Meanwhile, intrepid schlub reporter Elliot Gould has been sniffing around the case, and if not for a couple of clumsy attempts on his life, he might not have sunk his teeth in so deeply and gone and rented a cropduster to canvas the desert for evidence. If I had to pin down the one single shot that sells the film beyond its plethora of narrative conveniences, it is the look on Brolin’s face immediately after jumping out of the gas station window and encountering a damn biplane taxiing in front of him, Gould frantically waving “come on.” Brolin has a decision to make – follow Gould? The choice isn’t as easy as it seems — they’ve never met, after all! He pounds pavement with his last desperate ounce of strength towards one of the most nail-biting climaxes of the entire decade. Sure, the chase goes on for one loop and three dives beyond plausibility, but it’s got Telly Savalas in it! And Jerry Goldsmith’s score certainly doesn’t hurt matters. In an era of cynical post-Watergate and post-JFK paranoid thrillers, Capricorn One’s optimistic “bust the conspiracy” conclusion is utterly unbelievable but also utterly crowd-pleasing. It is popcorn ecstasy.

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January 23, 2012   1 Comment

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