The Reluctant Astronaut

The Reluctant Astronaut

One of America’s most beloved comedic actors, the bug-eyed and bumbling Don Knotts is best known as the inept deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show (a role which earned him 5 Emmy Awards). From there, he moved on to such film roles as The Incredible Mr. Limpet and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. And. in 1967, he got some out-of-this-world exposure in his third film, The Reluctant Astronaut.

Roy Fleming is a man content with his place in life, running a space themed children’s ride at the local amusement park in Sweetwater, Missouri. Less content is his father, who has somewhat higher aspirations for his son – stratospherically higher.

Dad takes it upon himself to send in an application for his son to the NASA space program, an interesting choice considering that Roy is deathly afraid of heights. When the understandably hesitant Roy finally arrives at the training center in Houston, however, he learns that he has only been accepted as a janitor.

Still, Roy doesn’t want to disappoint his proud family, so he continues the charade for their benefit. When the family decides to pay a surprise visit to him at NASA one day, he quickly dons a spare spacesuit and proceeds to give them a tour of the facilities. This doesn’t go over so well with his boss, who informs the family that Roy is actually a lowly Janitor.

Humiliated, Roy heads to the local bar to drown his sorrows. Meanwhile, NASA makes a decision to send up their most unlikely astronaut, to prove the safety of the program, and also put some pressure on the Russkies. Roy is chosen to participate, and under the watchful eye of Major Gifford (played by Leslie Nielsen back in the day when he actually did serious roles), Roy is sent into orbit.

With his family looking on (and assuming that the janitor story was a cover), Roy bumbles his way though the flight, including a sticky situation where he accidentally fouls up his flight controls with a hunk of peanut butter. In the end, Roy will have to pull from his experience as an amusement park ride operator if he hopes to safely return back to terra firma.

This classic film, one that has been shown too many times to count on television, almost didn’t get released, due to a real-life tragedy at the time that killed three Apollo Astronauts – and caused studio execs to wonder if a comedy about space flight would be in poor taste. Reluctantly (ahem), they took a chance anyway and The Reluctant Astronaut became a respectable hit, one that would continue to help Knotts’ star to rise to even greater heights.

If you are a fan of this classic Don Knotts film, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories of The Reluctant Astronaut with us in our comments section below.

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