I first saw this movie for sale in the US when visiting KSC in Florida - NTSC on VHS over two tapes. I watched it once and immediately searched for it online and found it here at Amazon. The DVD print was excellent from the clear screen transfer through to the ear splitting sound as the Bell X-1 rocket plane thunders across the sky.
The story is one that most space geeks will be familiar with starting with a war hero pilot in the high desert of california flying the Bell rocket plane. You're then introduced to a certain Captain Chuck Yeager - a name that this generation will find synonimous with flight simulator software. The story follows two parallel lines, one line following Yeager and the other following seven astronauts, the Mercury Seven. We see the trials that the prospective astronauts go through, both in their workplace and their homes.
The movie tends towards an element of sentimentality at times and I wonder how much of Tom Wolfe's fiction has any basis in fact but there are some special moments. The flypast with the classic missing man formation at a funeral is an emotive moment, and the ever present preacher arriving like the angel of death carrying the news of another nameless dead hotshot spread across the Mojave adds a darker element.
The film is long, but doesn't feel so and the production values high. The characterisation is, from the biographies of the astronauts and flyers I've read, reasonably accurate and with the mixing in of genuine footage at one point it is difficult to determine whether Al Shepherd is himself or the actor Scott Glenn.
I enjoyed the movie, especially the little touches like the onscreen cameo for General Yeager himself. Watch also for an early Jeff Goldblum role - a marvellous double act with Harry Shearer of Spinal Tap fame. I would suggest that you play the movie loud to experience the full battering wall of sound that is the flight of the X-1 and the launch of the Mercury-Redstone rocket.