Featuring one of the loopier premises in the history of primetime drama, this feature-length pilot movie launched a short-lived series, which has since become a minor cult favorite among sci-fi fans. Beloved TV icon Andy Griffith stars in the movie as a junkyard owner who builds his own private spaceship for a trip to the moon, where he plans to salvage abandoned NASA equipment and sell it to the highest bidder. Once the concept went to series, Griffth reprised his role, with his character piloting the spaceship for missions to remote locations around the globe; in the first regular episode, the goal was to retrieve monkeys for a zoo and to explore the possibility of bringing back an iceberg for a California community suffering from drought. Not hard to see why the series got canceled. Still, two things make the Salvage-1 pilot movie charming—Griffith’s affable persona and the lightness of the storytelling. Written by Mike Lloyd Ross, whose character development and dialogue are as clunky as his narrative concepts are wild, Salvage-1 introduces Harry Broderick (Griffith) as an expert in repurposing junk—he buys a World War I biplane for a song, then guts the vehicle and sells parts to various buyers, making a $14,000 profit in the course of a morning’s work.
Harry’s gotten hip to the multimillion-dollar value of tech that NASA left on the moon, and he’s identified an aeronautics expert with a theory that might facilitate inexpensive space travel. Harry hires the expert, ex-astronaut Skip Carmichael (Joel Higgins), who in turn enlists the aid of fuel specialist Melanie Slozar (Trish Stewart). Together with Harry’s regular employees—including a pair of former NASA ground-control techs—Harry cobbles together a spaceship called the Vulture. Meanwhile, uptight FBI agent Jack Klinger (Richard Jaeckel) sniffs around Harry’s junkyard because he senses something strange is happening. Salvage-1 is predicated on an inordinate number of convenient plot twists, and Ross’ script is so upbeat that there’s never any real tension, but Salvage-1 is fun to watch simply because it’s such a lark. Even the laughably bad special effects featured during the Vulture’s moon shot aren’t enough to diffuse the good vibes. This is pure gee-whiz escapism, and the saving grace of the piece is that it never pretends to have meaning or substance. So, yes, the acting is hokey and the story is borderline stupid, but who cares? Fun is fun.