The Reluctant Astronaut

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The Reluctant Astronaut
VHS cover
Directed by Edward J. Montagne, Jr.
Produced by Edward J. Montagne, Jr.
Written by James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum
Starring Don Knotts
Leslie Nielsen
Joan Freeman
Music by Vic Mizzy
Cinematography Rex Wimpy
Edited by Sam E. Waxman
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) June 16, 1967
Running time 103 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,500,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

The Reluctant Astronaut (1967) is a Universal Pictures feature film directed by Edward Montagne and starring Don Knotts in a story about a kiddie-ride operator who is hired as a janitor at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston and is eventually sent into space. The film was produced and directed by Edward J. Montagne, Jr..

Comedian Knotts won several Emmy Awards as small-town comic sheriff's deputy Barney Fife in the 1960-1968 television sitcom The Andy Griffith Show but left the show as a regular at the end of its fifth season (1964–1965) to pursue a career in feature films with Universal Pictures. The Reluctant Astronaut followed Knotts' first Universal film venture, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966). Actor Paul Hartman appears in the film and would later star in The Andy Griffith Show. The film's screenplay writers Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum had served as teleplay writers for the television series.

Knotts received a Golden Laurel nomination and the film's soundtrack was released. The Reluctant Astronaut has been broadcast on American television, and is available in both VHS and DVD formats.


Roy Fleming (Don Knotts) is fairground operator of a kiddie-spaceship ride. Despite being thirty-five years old, he still lives with his parents and suffers from extreme acrophobia (fear of heights). His father Arbuckle (Arthur O'Connell) wants better things for his son, so he sends an application to NASA. Roy later learns from his mother (Jeanette Nolan) that NASA has accepted him as a "WB-1074".

When Roy arrives at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, supervisor Donelli (Jesse White) places him in training as a janitor. Roy accepts the disappointment and unsuccessfully tries to explain things to his family back home, who believe that he is an astronaut. Meanwhile, he is befriended by veteran astronaut Major Fred Gifford (Leslie Nielsen). One day, Roy is alarmed to discover that his father and his friends, Plank (Frank McGrath) and Rush (Paul Hartman) are paying him a surprise visit at work. Anxious to please his domineering father, he dons a space suit and pretends to be an astronaut. Arbuckle, a World War I veteran, tells his friends, "he is proud Roy is now serving his nation." After wreaking general havoc on the simulators and other hardware, Roy is exposed as a janitor by Donelli and summarily fired in the presence of his father.

When the Russians plan to trump NASA by sending a dentist into space, NASA moves quickly. Roy is found in a bar, rehired, and selected as the man least likely to venture into space and sent aloft. His father watches on TV, convinced the janitor story was a ploy for security reasons. During some eating experiments, Roy gets peanut butter into the guidance system and is in danger of being marooned in space. He remembers the retro rockets from his role as "Mr. Spaceman" on the amusement park ride and launches them, bringing the capsule safely home. Roy is hailed as a hero, and marries his sweetheart Ellie Jackson (Joan Freeman).


Awards and nominations[edit]

Knotts was nominated for the 1967 Golden Laurel Male Comedy Performance Award.


The Reluctant Astronaut was a popular children's film during the Apollo program, and was frequently shown on weekend afternoons. According to Knotts' 1998 autobiography, the infamous Apollo 1 fire occurred and killed three astronauts shortly after the film's scenes at Kennedy Space Center were shot. Universal Pictures was skeptical about releasing a comedy on space travel so soon after the tragedy.


The Reluctant Astronaut(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by Vic Mizzy
Released 1967
Genre Soundtrack
Length 57:46
Label Percepto Records
Vic Mizzy chronology
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken Vic Mizzy - Suites & Themes

Track listing[edit]

  1. Main Title 2:42
  2. Jeepers :45
  3. Age of Descent / Buck Up :54
  4. The Send Off / Flight Shrubbed 2:05
  5. N.A.S.A. 1:08
  6. On the Double :53
  7. Doneli's Man Fleming :52
  8. Long Distance / Short Change / Say Cheese 1:49
  9. Wishful Thinking 1:18
  10. Homecoming :34
  11. Stars & Stripes Forever* 1:02
  12. A Real Swinger 2:14
  13. The Imposter :56
  14. Flight Fright / Rear, March 1:51
  15. A Couple of Losers 2:24
  16. Depth Charge 1:33
  17. Jettisoned 1:50
  18. Over the Top / Atta boy, Roy 3:38
  19. Fly Guy / Getting Settled 2:26
  20. Crackers Away 1:18
  21. All Fouled Up 3:31
  22. Aloha Oi 1:41
  23. End Title :51
  24. End Cast :31

Bonus tracks[edit]

  1. Kiddleland Rocket Ride 2:02
  2. Roy & Ellie at Kiddieland 2:12
  3. Kiddieland - back to Work 1:58
  4. The Space Song :36
  5. 1967 Special Featurette & Interview Promo
  6. Hosted by Dick Strout, Hollywood Commentator 12:00


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.

External links[edit]