Darkness. Flare of acetylene torch—revealing a man sitting on the floor, wedged in between two pieces of bulky equipment. The headgear he is wearing has been ripped open, revealing his face, a single stream of blood trickling down his forehead. He waits in the darkness, the only light the glare from the torch.
By the age of nine, I’d seen more than my share of movie heroics, usually featuring A-list actors portraying courageous characters risking all, being selfless, and “doing what a man’s gotta do.” Many of these actors were undeniably talented, but it’s also true they starred in studio films with big budgets, had top screenwriters providing the dialogue, and often featured some of Hollywood’s best directors overseeing the action.
From a speaker inside Lt. Calder’s damaged headgear, a voice is heard:
Voice: Can you hear me?
Calder: Loud and clear. Nice to have company.
Voice: Are you all right?
Calder: I’m alive, if that’s what you mean.
Paul Langston—playing a supporting character in a B science fiction film, outfitted in what looks like a satin space suit with a squared-off helmet—helped define for a nine-year-old boy the idea of courage and how it is expressed. The character Langston plays has a broken leg, is unable to move, and has an acetylene torch as his only weapon. There’s one more thing—an indestructible Martian creature is trying to kill him.
Calder: I picked a good spot right between the induction pumps.
Voice: You mean it can’t get at you?
Calder: It could if I didn’t have this torch. To reach me, it has to stretch down in. Every time it does, I give it the torch right in the eyes. (pause) Here he comes again!