Curbside Cinema: October Sky and the Grandpa Film Festival

One of the unintended benefits of recent family events is that I’ve been spending more time with my father. Every couple of weeks I’ve been going over for dinner and bringing a movie for us to watch afterward. This week it was the 1999 film October Sky.

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s based on the book Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam and tells the story of how a group of West Virginia teens seek escape from their  coal town through model rocketry. Set in 1957, cars are obviously used to indicate the status or fortune of various characters.  There are many interesting ones to be had, so let’s press play:


The first car we see is this hump backed 1937 Mopar sedan that the boys ride around in. Hard to tell what it is exactly without the grille.  I’ll go with Plymouth, since Dodges had a more upright grille opening.

The car is portrayed as being on it’s last legs, the final time we see it, it is abandoned and shot.


Mr. Hickam drives a 1951 Mercury that we see quite a bit of.  This is the last year of the classic lead sled Mercs, finding a driver quality example without custom modifications would have been difficult then, and more so today.

Even though Homer’s father is mine superintendent, he too lives in a company house and drives an older car.


The sole new car in the film is this Corvette, driven by an outsider seeking directions.  It’s also the only brightly colored, shiny, clean car.  A bit heavy handed, but this scene reminds the boys of their position in society, and that of their town.

One of the amusing things about period films is that we see the same cars pop up in different places in the film.   In one brief scene mid movie we see this 1950 Ford departing town as opportunity wanes at the mine.


However the car apparently makes it back to town in time to stick it’s nose into the final rocket launching scene.  This is not amusing to the general movie going population, just to overly detail oriented car people.  Which many of us are  🙂


This 1947 or 48 De Soto coupe pops up in a few scenes, displaying a way cool accessory sun visor.  Curiously there are not a lot of 1940’s cars in this film.



A couple of interesting non-car vehicles appear, one that makes repeated appearances is the steam engine Southern Railway 4501.  20 years after the film was made this engine still runs tourist excursions for the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and remains a coal burner.

But who is the engineer?

It’s O Winston Link, renowned photographer of the last days of steam.


His name wasn’t familiar to me before writing this post, but his nighttime shots of locomotives are quite famous and I’d seen those before.  A pretty cool cameo for Mr. Link, who passed away two years later.


And when Sonny has to make a bus trip of course it’s an iconic Greyhound Scenicruiser.  From watching old movies one might surmise that these buses were everywhere, but from Paul’s bus stop classics series I’ve learned that not many of these problem plagued units were built.


I read somewhere that Homer Hickam wasn’t entirely happy with the completed film, but conceded that changes were required to make the book story-line work as a movie, even if he didn’t agree with the choices.  Nonetheless it’s one of my favorites, just a simple movie telling a good story.  See it if you haven’t, then read the book (which indeed is better than the movie).

Grandpa enjoyed it too, if you have any suggestions for future movies to include in the film festival please comment below.