In the not too distant future the first American astronaut prepares to set foot on the planet Mars. The world is watching this event live on television. Everything is a success, or so the world thinks, and he is treated as a hero upon his return. Later, it is discovered that the mission was a failure and as the astronaut was on Mars he died of an undetermined condition either due to toxic poisoning due to conditions on Mars or some unknown bacteria native to Mars. Mission controllers on Earth saw this happening and fed a false image into the ''live'' broadcast so as not to panic the public. The ''astronaut'' who returned to Earth was actually a double who had undergone surgery so as to look like the real astronaut. Only the wife of the astronaut began to suspect the man who returned, although looking identical to her husband, was somehow different. Unfortunately for those who created the hoax, the Russians announced that due to the American success they had launched their own mission which was now on its way to Mars.
Directed by: Robert Michael Lewis
. Starring: Jackie Cooper
, Monte Markham
, Richard Anderson
, Robert Lansing
, Susan Clark
, John Lupton
, Walter Brooke
, James Sikking
, Paul Kent
, Loretta Leversee
, Ray Dimas
, Patsy Garrett
, Tom Hallick
. Music by: Gil Melle
At 71 minutes, you can't tell much of a story. That was one of the problems with the weekly TV flicks ABC showed for 6 or 7 years back in the early 70s. Movie makers had to cut to the chase and play up the easily understood, the quickly digestible, the cliché. There just wasn't the ability to go long and deep, to add layers of understanding and detail to a story.
With that said, danged if I didn't like 1972's The Astronaut, a complicated-relationship story wrapped up in an attempt by government baddies to cover up the death of an astronaut on Mars by pulling the old plastic surgery gag.
Monte Markham is the poor, sympathetic schlub who looks like the dead guy. Markham, a veteran TV actor is actually believable as a ne'er-do-well who says yes to the plot in order to get rid of his past life. Susan Clark, an elegant actress who always struck me as being somewhat broken in her roles, starts off all hysterical and pregnant-brained, but when she begins to suspect the nice man who has come home from space is, well, nice--and that doesn't sound like her brittle, driven husband--she begins to show some real toughness, and eventually, tenderness. Jackie Cooper, as the head of "Voyager" program, is smooth, slimy, and, thank goodness, a moral man who finally says no to the Nixonian types who have been whispering in his ear.
The Astronaut has so many character actors I grew up with that I can't list them all. You'd recognize them if you were my age. What I didn't recognize at first was how satisfying the relationship between Markham and Clark becomes. For a cheapo TV-movie, this emotional depth was unexpected. I liked the movie because I liked the characters and the moral dilemmas that are presented.
Unlike--I swear--half the ABC Movies of the Week, this isn't a pilot for a cheesy cop show or a idiot-level comedy. The Astronaut stands alone, and it's a quality act.
Review by inspectors71 from the Internet Movie Database.