||HANGAR 18 (1980)
(a/k/a Invasion Force)
"In spite of official denials, rumors have continued to surface about what the government has been concealing from the American public at a secret Air Force hangar. But now, with the help of a few brave witnesses who have stepped forward to share their knowledge of these events, the story can finally be told."
Thus begins Hangar 18, the greatest suspense story since Blondie Has Servant Trouble.
Now, beyond my belief Elvis shot President Kennedy because he was certain JFK was Hitler in disguise, I was never one to find conspiracies in every corner. Other than the obvious intergalactic plot to oppress me, of course. But H18 presents a compelling argument that the U.S. government on extremely rare occasions conspires to withhold information from the general public.
Yeah, I didn’t believe it either…until director James L. Conway boldly risked all that is dear to him to reveal the treasonous suppression of info regarding the most important event in Earth’s history besides my birth.
Space shuttle astronauts Steve Bancroft (Gary Collins) and Lew Price (James Hampton) eyewitness a third crew member, outside the craft to make minor repairs on an attached satellite, blown to bits when a hovering UFO collides with said satellite, the alien craft then plummeting to the Arizona desert and scooped up by NORAD for transport to a top-secret hangar at Wolf Air Force Base in Texas.
It being an election year, Presidential flunkies Gordon Cain (Robert Vaughn) and his underling Frank Lafferty (Joseph Campanella) suggest stifling the truth about the shuttle situation, instead laying the blame for the third astro’s death squarely in the laps of Steve and Lew, leaving the disgraced duo ticked-off enough to set off on a covert two-man mission to clear their sullied names.
In the interim, NASA Deputy Director Harry Forbes (Darren McGavin) has been placed in charge of investigating the tucked-away saucer. Forbes’ highly scientific method of learning the intricacies of the most advanced vehicle ever to traverse the Milky Way is a technique we at Cal Poly call “Recklessly pressing random buttons to see what happens.”
Even after Touchy Harry’s tinkering results in a laser beam halving a large computer mainframe, the techies continue to moisten their shorts over every new marvel discovered onboard the ship. Astronaut Steve, having snuck into the facility, is equally awestruck by the machine’s potential.
Gordon Cain has a slightly different take: rather than advance Earthling knowledge to an immeasurable degree, it’s best to launch a missile strike on Hangar 18 and erase all evidence of the UFO’s existence…ruthlessly exterminating the country’s brightest minds in the process.
Spoiler alert: If you leave a raw steak in your car trunk through a sunny August weekend, it will spoil. Always wanted to do that. And what do you bet the gag gets copycatted? At any rate, it’s M-O-M policy not to give away endings; and, besides, the attraction of Hangar 18 extends well beyond its plotline.
The additional joy is two-fold. First, H18’s casting is an unmatched bonanza for playing Spot The Unemployed Television Series Star. Many of you have watched an older movie and wound up excitedly pointing at the screen, shouting "Look, it's _____!" upon noticing a modern legend in a supporting role, be it Harrison Ford in The Conversation (1974) or a jackpot like The Sentinel (1976), with then-unknowns Tom Berenger, Beverly D'Angelo, Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum(!) To yours truly, every H18 scene is like that, a Look-it's-thon, if you will.
"Whoa, its the Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mannix' ex-boss...and they're out to put a hit on the bugler from F Troop and the mattress salesman! And there’s Patty Duke’s father!"
The man who really steals the H18 show, however, is Darren McGavin. The former "Nightstalker" spends a great deal of the film speaking in such hushed tones, the viewer expects him to start singing "Trouble In River City" at any moment. Another theatrical technique employed by McGavin is known in thespian circles as "repetition for dramatic effect." When the noted actor delivers lines such as "Let's do it, Let's do it." and "What is it? What is it?" one cannot help but feel one is witnessing a master craftsman at work.
The second sizable plus of H18 is an offshoot of the first: These are TV stars, people, and we all know that means they can be trusted implicitly—which in turn means HANGAR 18 MUST BE A TRUE STORY!!!
What fires my fritters is, here we are, nearly thirty years after the release of this scathing indictment, yet John and Joan Q. Citizen still haven’t formed torch-carrying mobs marching on the White House to demand the government fling open the doors of Wolf AFB and expose the shocking truth to all. But, no; in an effort to whitewash the incident, every city has “mysteriously” added laws allowing them to imprison those who dare to uniquely express themselves to the masses. I should know—my lawyer just informed me three states have issued arrest warrants in my name, the charge in each listed as “public exposure.”
Damn the law, I say! I will continue my public exposures in church groups, schoolyards, at ball games and….uh, why are you making that odd face?