The Starfighters is an American film released in 1964. It was written and directed by Will Zens and stars Bob Dornan, Richard Jordahl and Richard Masters. In an unusual twist based on the storyline of a pilot and his congressman father, pilot and actor Dornan would seek and win election as a U.S. congressman in California.
The Starfighters did not go into wide release. It was the subject of episode #612 of Comedy Central's Mystery Science Theater 3000 and was labeled one of their "10 most unwatchable films" viewed by Paste magazine.
Lieutenant John "Junior" Witkowski (Bob Dornan) and his buddy, Lieutenant York (Steve Early), arrive at George Air Force Base, Tactical Air Command, in Southern California to train to fly the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, with special emphasis on the complicated mid-air refueling maneuver.
Witkowski's congressman father (Carl Rogers), a famed World War II bomber pilot, frequently calls him, concerned about the safety of fighter aircraft. The congressman wants his son to be transferred to a Convair B-58 Hustler or Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber squadron in the Strategic Air Command. Witkowski also finds romance with Mary Davidson (Shirley Olmstead), an Iowa girl.
During training, Major Stevens (Richard Jordahl) sends Witkowski, York and Lieutenant Lyons (Robert Winston) on a cross-country mission. The three trainees are forced to separate as they encounter a storm. Lyons' aircraft goes down in the mountains, while Witkowski is feared lost. Later, they learn that Lyons parachuted safely, and Witkowski has landed safely at an alternate base. Witkowski, who has impressed senior officers and won his father's admiration, is among those selected to be transferred to a unit in Europe and bids a temporary good-bye to Mary.
The catchline: "The blazing adventure of the men and planes who rocket to the very edge of space" belies the film's very evident "infomercial" look. The majority of The Starfighters deals with the training of F-104 pilots during the period when the aircraft was being introduced in the United States Air Force, and consists predominately of stock footage. The footage was of the F-104s of the 831st Air Division (479th Tactical Fighter Wing), stationed at George AFB from October 1958.
The aircraft featured in The Starfighters included F-104A and C variants, the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, the Lockheed T-33 and the Kaman H-43B Huskie.
The Starfighters was not given wide release and was soon relegated to drive-in theaters and second run showings. Although it was not critically reviewed, audience reaction since has continually placed it in the category of one of the "worst films" ever. The audience score on the Rotten Tomatoes film review aggregator website had it listed at 6%.
The Starfighters was featured in episode #612 of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. The cast and crew (and later fans) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 were the film's most prominent critics. Tom Servo summed it up thusly: "So basically, according to themselves, the Air Force is a bunch of leather-faced, not-so-bright, heavy drinking, dull-witted speed freaks who poop in their pants and can't make it with women, right?" The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide complained "nothing happens in it."
The film is included in Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Collection Volume 12 from Rhino. It provided several running gags that were repeated throughout the series: humming the jazzy music whenever an aircraft is seen flying, mentions of the "poopie suit" (an Air Force survival suit designed to help contain body heat in the event of a bailout over water), and the use of the word "refueling" as a synonym for any long, dull scene.