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1983 Movie Reviews – The Right Stuff, Rumble Fish, and Under Fire

by Sean P. Aune | October 21, 2023October 21, 2023 10:30 am EDT

Welcome to an exciting year-long project here at The Nerdy. 1983 was an exciting year for films giving us a lot of films that would go on to be beloved favorites and cult classics. It was also the start to a major shift in cultural and societal norms, and some of those still reverberate to this day.


We’re going to pick and choose which movies we hit, but right now the list stands at nearly four dozen.

Yes, we’re insane, but 1983 was that great of a year for film.

The articles will come out – in most cases – on the same day the films hit theaters in 1983 so that it is their true 40th anniversary. All films are also watched again for the purposes of these reviews and are not being done from memory. In some cases, it truly will be the first time we’ve seen them.

This time around, it’s October 21st, 1983, and we’re off to see The Right Stuff, Rumble Fish, and Under Fire.

Quick side note: Since we launched this series this year, we’ve discovered that Vintage Video Podcast is doing the exact same project with two differences: First, it’s audio (naturally), and second, they are doing every major film. We’ve listened to numerous episodes and it’s fun checking off their thoughts against my own. Check them out over at Vintage Video Podcast.


The Right Stuff

I wish I could say how many times I watched The Right Stuff on cable in the 80s, but I didn’t count. It was a lot, though, and it’s still a great watch.

It’s doubtful you don’t already know what this movie is about, but just in case, it follows from conception to execution of the original seven astronauts in the U.S. space program. From their recruitment to the last of them making it into space, it follows all of them and tribulations of the early days of the program.

The Right Stuff is a brilliant movie, but it somehow feels like it wanted to be two movies. While the parts with Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) were needed to show how we got to where we did, it was clear that the filmmakers wanted to follow him more. There was more story and motivation there to follow, and the fact we didn’t get just a movie purely focused on Yeager is a shame to be sure. And the time that was spent on him definitely shortchanged a few members of the original Seven. I don’t know how many times throughout the movie I would spot Walter “Wally” Schirra (Lance Henriksen) in a shot and go, “oh yeah… he’s there, too.”

15 years later, HBO did the mini-series From the Earth to the Moon which ended up feeling a lot like a sequel to The Right Stuff. in all of the right ways. It picked up after the original seven and the final push to make it to the Moon and beyond. But if you have to watch just one of them, I would certainly go with The Right Stuff.


Rumble Fish

Apparently the early 1980s was Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘trouble youth’ period.

I remember when Rumble Fish was being released I wondered if it was a sequel to The Outsiders. Seeing as both of them came out in the same year, and both featured Matt Dillon, it wasn’t a hard assumption to make. But no, they had no other connections between them other than Coppola’s fondness for characters to say full names over and over again.

Rumble Fish follows Rusty James (Dillon), a wannabe gang leader who worships his missing older brother, Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). Needless to say, Motorcycle Boy shows back up in town, and with him comes trouble. They both try to deal with their alcoholic father (Dennis Hopper), their absent mother, and the various psychological issues Motorcycle Boy suffers from in addition to color blindness.

Overall, the cast is wonderful, and the performances all stellar, but if I heard “Rusty James” said one more time I may have screamed. Why no one could just call him ‘Rusty’ is beyond me. It was clear Coppola was going for a film noir, avant-garde style here with dutch angles, tons of mist/smoke, and a complete lack of color other than the fish that give the story its name.

And I think that may have been where Coppola ran into some issues. This feels like a student film done by someone that hasn’t found who they are as an artist yet. There is originality here, and a sense of daring as Coppola tries to break out of a mold, but at the same time it felt as though it tried perhaps a bit too hard in a ‘Notice me! Notice me!’ way.

It’s an interesting watch, but not one I can ever envision myself revisiting.


Under Fire

It’s amazing to me how many movies I come across in this project that I have never heard of. True, I was 12 years old at this point in 1983, and probably not in the market for a gritty thriller about war photographers and mercenaries, but, still, you would think I would have some memory of it.

Under Fire follows photographer Russell Price (Nick Nolte) as he travels the world as a war photographer. When we first meet him he is working in Chad and runs into Oates (Ed Harris), a recurring mercenary he runs into at various conflicts that will work for whoever pays him. As things are winding down in Chad, everyone moves to Nicaragua as they chase the latest revolution. We then follow the lives of what it’s like to live this sort of lifestyle, and how many ethical lines can be crossed and blurred the more you do it.

The film is engaging throughout, and you are never 100% sure where it will go, or who exactly you should be rooting for. Nearly everyone in the story is some form of morally gray, but yet you root for all of them.

It’s well shot, the acting is a cut above – Nolte isn’t just playing a variation of his usual character – and the story kept me engaged throughout. It was a pleasant surprise on this journey, and one I’m glad I made the stop for. If you have a chance to check it out, it’s worth your time investment to be sure.

1983 Movie Reviews will return on Oct. 28, 2023 with Educating Rita and The Wicked Lady!

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Sean P. Aune

Sean Aune has been a pop culture aficionado since before there was even a term for pop culture. From the time his father brought home Amazing