An engaging thriller of the first manned mission to Mars from director Peter Hyams gives Elliott Gould top billing over a first rate cast. Nothing is as it seems in this fine example of the conspiracy theory film and one I continually recommend to those unfamiliar with it. Hyams does double duty here as director/writer in this Lew Grade backed production that also features a stirring score from Jerry Goldsmith to heighten the drama and action sequences to come.


Just as James Brolin, Sam Waterston and O.J. Simpson are to begin their journey to Mars, they are pulled from the spacecraft and whisked off by jet to a top secret location in the outlying desert area. In front of government dignitaries like David Huddleston and members of the astronaut’s families, the rocket takes off on it’s journey to Mars. Meanwhile, space program director Hal Holbrook meets with Brolin and his crew to explain why the last minute decision to pull them from the craft and what devious scheme he needs them to participate in.

“You have to help. Your families!” the threat becomes clear.


The trio of astronauts are to act out their mission in a hangar made up to look like the surface of Mars. The reasoning is that due to the threat of cost cuts to the program, Holbrook and superior powers couldn’t chance the possibility of failure. Everything is to go smoothly. When the capsule crashes back into the earth’s oceans, the three men will be strategically placed to re-enter the capsule, soon to be picked up by the navy.

Top billed Elliott Gould is a reporter working alongside guest star Karen Black. He covers the NASA lift off, unsuccessfully tries to bed Black and hangs out with pal Robert Walden. A mystery develops for his reporter’s nose when Walden tells him of some strange suspicions concerning the Mars mission. Gould brushes things off until Walden disappears without a trace. It’s as if he never existed. Now imagine the worst possible scenario for Brolin and his traveling companions. The craft burns up upon re-entry. These three men having conquered Mars are now heroes. Heroes that can never be seen again on the face of their home planet if Holbrook’s scheme is to continue.


With their death warrants signed, the astronauts escape their Mars hangar in the middle of the desert and head off in three separate directions searching for civilization where they can be seen and seek out a TV station or newspaper. While they’re racing for their lives, Gould’s life is in peril after he seeks out Brolin’s wife, Brenda Vaccaro. While Gould is not quite ready to divulge his suspicions, Vaccaro delivers a fine performance of the proud yet grieving widow thrust into the national limelight. All the while Holbrook is at her side to offer his support.

Enough of the plot. See for yourself where it goes and just how Elliott is going to bust the story wide open.


Always enjoying the banter of performers on screen, there are a couple of outstanding scenes down the stretch. First up, reporter Elliott goes toe to toe with his editor played by David (Bosley) Doyle. Gould references movies and the fact that his editor should give him 48 hours to come up with the story or he’s fired. Doyle spins it and says he saw the same film and it was only 24!  The other clip could be considered the highlight of the film. If you love watching Telly Savalas being Telly Savalas on screen then his slightly larger than cameo appearance nearer the end of the film makes this a must see as his dust cropper pilot character toys with Gould’s big city reporter.  “I think you’re a pervert!”

Since I love this clip so much, here it is.

I admit to saving this title till the end of my Elliott Gould run of films. It’s easily the one film featuring Mr. Gould that I continue to like more and more every time I see it. I guess it feeds into that feeling of never trusting what we see and hoping to uncover a government conspiracy behind the whole sham. It also doesn’t hurt that the actors on screen are the likable sort. Brolin was in his prolific leading man days here and a nice fit as the heroic astronaut heading into space, Gould a fine addition while Vaccaro adds credibility to the film. One thing seventies cinema taught me it seemed was to never trust a Hal Holbrook character and sure O.J. has become a fallen name, yet when I saw this as a kid, we all knew who he was. Savalas is the icing on the cake as is Goldsmith’s rousing score.


Hyams would direct another space opera I love to revisit on occasion. 1981’s Outland. Another conspiracy film featuring Sean Connery on a distant mining planet as the local Marshall facing a High Noon showdown. It’s worth looking into for those unfamiliar with it.

A little trivia? How about both Elliott Gould and James Brolin have been married to Barbra Streisand.

Highly recommended for thrills, a what if scenario and a darn good time at the movies.