I Aim at the Stars (1960)

106-107 mins | Biography, Drama | October 1960

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HISTORY

The film’s working titles were The Wernher von Braun Story , A Rocket and Four Stars and Give Me the Stars . The film's title card reads " I Aim at the Stars The Wernher von Braun story." The opening credits contain the following acknowledgment: "to the Department of Defense and particularly the Department of the Army of the United States our sincere appreciation for their cooperation and assistance during the making of this film." Wernher von Braun (1912--1977) was one of the first and foremost rocket developers and champions of space exploration from the 1930s through the early 1970s.
       Von Braun spent the early part of his career as leader of the German rocket team that developed for the Nazis the V-2 ballistic missile at a secret laboratory in Peenemünde, Germany, during World War II. As it became obvious that Germany was going to lose the war, von Braun engineered the surrender of 500 of his fellow scientists, along with plans and test vehicles, to the Americans. Von Braun and his scientists were installed at Fort Bliss, TX, where they worked on rockets for the U.S. Army and later at the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, AL. In 1960, he was appointed the director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where he became the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, a superbooster that propelled Americans to the moon.
       According to a Dec 1959 DV news item, producer Charles H. Schneer had been in London when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, in 1957. Schneer, who had been ... More Less

The film’s working titles were The Wernher von Braun Story , A Rocket and Four Stars and Give Me the Stars . The film's title card reads " I Aim at the Stars The Wernher von Braun story." The opening credits contain the following acknowledgment: "to the Department of Defense and particularly the Department of the Army of the United States our sincere appreciation for their cooperation and assistance during the making of this film." Wernher von Braun (1912--1977) was one of the first and foremost rocket developers and champions of space exploration from the 1930s through the early 1970s.
       Von Braun spent the early part of his career as leader of the German rocket team that developed for the Nazis the V-2 ballistic missile at a secret laboratory in Peenemünde, Germany, during World War II. As it became obvious that Germany was going to lose the war, von Braun engineered the surrender of 500 of his fellow scientists, along with plans and test vehicles, to the Americans. Von Braun and his scientists were installed at Fort Bliss, TX, where they worked on rockets for the U.S. Army and later at the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, AL. In 1960, he was appointed the director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where he became the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, a superbooster that propelled Americans to the moon.
       According to a Dec 1959 DV news item, producer Charles H. Schneer had been in London when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, in 1957. Schneer, who had been depressed when the European press deemed the U.S. a “second class power,” viewed the 31 Jan 1958 launch of the U.S. satellite, Explorer I, developed by von Braun’s team, as reasserting American scientific preeminence and decided to make a film based on von Braun’s life. According to a Columbia Pictures informational brochure contained in the film’s file at the AMPAS Library, Schneer was intrigued by how "a key scientist for the German Army during World War II [could] become one of America’s most honored citizens and a vitally valuable figure in the free world.”
       Controversy about the film during preproduction centered on whether von Braun’s past would be whitewashed. According to a Jul 1959 Beverly Hills Citizen article, actor Curt Jurgens, who played von Braun in the film, met with the scientist before accepting the part and convinced him that the picture should be frank about his role in the development of weapons used by the Nazi war effort. According to a Dec 1959 Var news item, von Braun approved the screenplay, although he was “personally allowed to answer some of the charges leveled against him." The article noted that von Braun’s answers were then incorporated into the script. "Maj. William Taggert" and several other characters in the film were fictional.
       The film was produced at the Bavaria Studios in Geiselgasteig, Germany. Early pre-production news items stated that Schneer was producing the film in association with Friedrich Mainz of Rhombus Films, Germany. It is not known if Rhombus was involved in the actual production. According to news items, Schneer had a number of conferences with Maj. Gen. John Medaris, commander of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Huntsville, and with Randy Morris, Chief of Technical Liaison, U.S. Army Ordinance Mission at White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, the range where von Braun’s missiles were tested. Historical advisor Walt Wiesman, on leave from the Missile Agency, had worked with von Braun at Peenemünde, and production supervisor George von Block had been a former Luftwaffe pilot, according to a LAT news item.
       The film was greeted with demonstrations against von Braun at showings in Europe and New York, according to various news stories. Prior to the world premiere in Munich, von Braun and Jurgens held a press conference during which members of the Communist and British press hounded von Braun with charges that the film whitewashed his war work. The press conference prompted von Braun to issue the following statement: "I have very deep and sincere regrets for the victims of the V-2 rockets, but there were victims on both sides. A war is a war, and when my country is at war, my duty is to help win that war." Later, a crowd of protesters mobbed the theater where the premiere was held. Demonstrators in London dropped anti-Nazi pamphlets onto theatergoers from a balcony. In New York, the film was picketed by an anti-Fascist youth organization. The film was previewed in Washington at the Senate Office auditorium, and its Oct 1960 opening in Washington was attended by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The film was chosen to open the Edinburgh Film Festival, where it received a special diploma of merit.
       Reviews in the U.S. were generally critical of the film. HR commented, "This film indicates von Braun was an unwilling Nazi. But it never suggests he regrets what he did for the Nazis. So the spectator must make his own choice." NYT stated that "the film is conspicuously fuzzy and takes its stand on the none too certain ground that Dr. von Braun's driving interest from boyhood was simply to develop rockets that could reach out into space. The possibility of reaching intently into the depths of his scientist's mind and comprehending his certainly complex motivations is not achieved in this poorly written film."
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Beverly Hills Citizen
8 Jul 1959.
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Box Office
12 Sep 1960.
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Cue
22 Oct 1960.
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Daily Variety
16 Jun 1958.
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Daily Variety
22 Aug 1958.
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Daily Variety
27 Feb 1959.
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Daily Variety
8 Apr 1959.
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Daily Variety
16 Sep 1959.
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Daily Variety
22 Aug 1960.
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Daily Variety
24 Aug 1960.
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Daily Variety
7 Sep 60
p. 3.
Daily Variety
16 Sep 1960.
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Daily Variety
24 Oct 1960.
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Film Daily
29 Jun 1960.
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Film Daily
7 Sep 60
p. 6.
Filmfacts
1960
pp. 259-260.
Harrison's Reports
10 Sep 60
p. 146.
Hollywood Citizen-News
20 Oct 1960.
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Hollywood Reporter
12 Jun 1958.
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Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 1959.
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Hollywood Reporter
25 Feb 1959.
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Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 1959.
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Hollywood Reporter
7 Oct 1959.
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Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 60
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Sep 1960.
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Los Angeles Examiner
16 Sep 1959.
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Los Angeles Examiner
29 Nov 1959.
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Los Angeles Examiner
21 Aug 1960.
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Los Angeles Times
24 Sep 1958.
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Los Angeles Times
29 Nov 1959.
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Los Angeles Times
21 Aug 1960.
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Los Angeles Times
11 Sep 1960.
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Los Angeles Times
3 Oct 1960.
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Los Angeles Times
20 Oct 1960.
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Los Angeles Times
25 Nov 1960.
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Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
10 Sep 60
p. 835.
New York Times
20 Oct 60
p. 42.
New York Times
23 Oct 1960.
---
Newsweek
3 Oct 1960.
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Newsweek
10 Oct 1960.
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The Exhibitor
14 Sep 60
p. 4750.
Time
17 Oct 1960.
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Times (London)
22 Sep 1959.
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Variety
9 Dec 1959.
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Variety
24 Aug 1960.
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Variety
7 Sep 1960.
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
The Charles H. Schneer Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
WRITERS
Story
Story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
MUSIC
SOUND
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Historical adv
Tech adv
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
A Rocket and Four Stars
Give Me the Stars
The Wernher von Braun Story
Release Date:
October 1960
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Munich: 19 August 1960
New York and Los Angeles openings: 19 October 1960
Production Date:
12 October--16 December 1959 at Bavaria Studios, Geiselgasteig, Germany
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 October 1960
Copyright Number:
LP18560
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
106-107
Length(in feet):
9,571
Length(in reels):
12
Countries:
Germany, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19572
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Berlin, in the early 1920s, Wernher von Braun, the young son of a baron, enthusiastically experiments with rocket models. By the early 1930s, von Braun is studying at the Space Rocket Society Ground. When German Army captain Walter Dornberger observes von Braun and his assistants working there, he offers to fund the society's further experiments under the auspices of the army. During World War II, von Braun and his group work on developing V-2 rockets for the army at Peenemünde Rocket Center. When von Braun realizes that the quality of steel used in the rockets is not good enough, he joins the Nazi Party to acquire money and better materials for their work. A party official, unable to countenance their early failures, threatens to close Peenemünde in thirty days unless they have a successful landing. During their intense work, von Braun's secretary, Elizabeth Beyer, an undercover spy for the U.S., secretly photographs their plans for the Allies. The next test is a success, and the Nazis plan to mass-produce V-2 rockets to launch over London, hoping the resultant devastation will lead to the war's end. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the Schutzstaffel, or S.S., who is suspicious of the army, asks von Braun to join his personal staff. When von Braun, who prefers to work under Dornberger, refuses, he is arrested and accused of working on a model for a spaceship to reach the moon in addition to working on weapons. After a tape recording of von Braun referring to Adolf Hitler in an insulting manner is heard, the scientist is told he will be executed, but through Dornberger's influence, Hitler becomes convinced ... +


In Berlin, in the early 1920s, Wernher von Braun, the young son of a baron, enthusiastically experiments with rocket models. By the early 1930s, von Braun is studying at the Space Rocket Society Ground. When German Army captain Walter Dornberger observes von Braun and his assistants working there, he offers to fund the society's further experiments under the auspices of the army. During World War II, von Braun and his group work on developing V-2 rockets for the army at Peenemünde Rocket Center. When von Braun realizes that the quality of steel used in the rockets is not good enough, he joins the Nazi Party to acquire money and better materials for their work. A party official, unable to countenance their early failures, threatens to close Peenemünde in thirty days unless they have a successful landing. During their intense work, von Braun's secretary, Elizabeth Beyer, an undercover spy for the U.S., secretly photographs their plans for the Allies. The next test is a success, and the Nazis plan to mass-produce V-2 rockets to launch over London, hoping the resultant devastation will lead to the war's end. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the Schutzstaffel, or S.S., who is suspicious of the army, asks von Braun to join his personal staff. When von Braun, who prefers to work under Dornberger, refuses, he is arrested and accused of working on a model for a spaceship to reach the moon in addition to working on weapons. After a tape recording of von Braun referring to Adolf Hitler in an insulting manner is heard, the scientist is told he will be executed, but through Dornberger's influence, Hitler becomes convinced that von Braun's intellect puts him in a class of people too important to be executed. As they need von Braun to work on the V-2 rocket, Himmler is ordered to release him. Von Braun's fiancée Maria is upset by the scientist's indifference to the fact that his rockets may kill children in London. When London is bombed, the Allies decide to bomb Peenemünde. After receiving a call, Elizabeth hugs her lover, scientist Anton Reger, a colleague of von Braun's, and leaves the city. Peenemünde is then hit with a bomb, which kills over 700 people. Elizabeth runs back to help, but is stopped by a guard. The next day, Anton finds a secret camera in her lipstick holder and accuses her of pretending passion to get information. She insists she loves him and explains that she became a spy after S.S. officers callously shot her husband, mistaking him for someone else. Although Anton strikes her in anger, he hides the camera to protect her. As Germany nears defeat and the Russians approach, von Braun encourages his colleagues to try to reach the Americans, so that they might be able to complete work on the spaceship. Outraged, Anton calls von Braun a traitor, but the others vote to join von Braun. After surrendering to the Americans, von Braun refuses to consider himself a war criminal, but Maj. William Taggert, a former newspaperman whose wife and baby were killed in a London bombing raid, argues that because von Braun "invented an infernal device to be used to support an iniquitous regime," he should be tried and hanged. Taggert's ranking officer, however, tells von Braun that Gen. Eisenhower has approved the continuation of his research and that he has been cleared, based on Elizabeth's report, to go to the U.S. for a probationary period of one year. Von Braun is warned, though, that he might face rebuke by the American public. Taggert seethes at the perceived immorality of using someone like von Braun, whom they fought to destroy. The scientists, along with Elizabeth, who is assigned to work with them, are sent to White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, where soldiers resent them. Taggert, the Special Intelligence Officer assigned to the group, blames von Braun for the death of his wife and child, and though Elizabeth, who has grown fond of Taggert, urges him to calm down, he rails against scientists who do not accept responsibility for the destruction that results from their work. After a year, when von Braun learns that Maria will soon arrive and that he may become a citizen, he comes to appreciate his adopted country. Sometime later, after he and Maria are married, war breaks out in Korea and the scientists are sent to a new installation at Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama to work on weapons. Incensed that von Braun is to work for the military, Taggert resigns to go back to work as a journalist. Although Maria agrees with Taggert that von Braun should refuse to make rockets for war, he declares that he must continue his work. The Redstone rocket is successful, yet after the truce with Korea, Congress refuses to allocate money for space research. In a televised debate with von Braun, Taggert contends that human problems are more important to solve than scientific ones. After the navy wins an important commission over the army to design a satellite, the Russians launch the first satellite into space, and von Braun blames Taggert for holding the army program back. In December 1957, after the Vanguard rocket explodes on liftoff at Cape Canaveral, Taggert goes on television to lambast von Braun's program. As they watch, Maria asks von Braun if he now cares about the potential destruction that can result from his work, and he replies that he does. Worried about the loss of U.S. prestige, the Pentagon gives von Braun ninety days to launch a satellite successfully. Taggert is among the press corps at the launch, and when another journalist accuses him of wanting it to fail and putting his own concerns above those of the country, he is reminded that this is the same accusation he once used against von Braun. After a suspenseful two hours, word arrives from stations around the world that the launch is a success. Later that evening, Taggert admits to von Braun that he has almost grown to like him. He asks what science offers in place of human values, and von Braun says it has a concern for the future and that the urge to explore is what makes man human. Taggert now wishes him good luck in exploring the universe. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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