Wednesday, November 22, 2006


The man who embodied the image of "Hollywood Maverick", Robert Altman, has passed away. The director of such movie classics as "M*A*S*H", "Nashville", "The Player", "Gosford Park", and "The Long Goodbye" was 81 and was suffering from cancer.

Altman was a five-time Academy Award nominee for best director, most recently for 2001’s “Gosford Park,” and he finally won a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2006.

“No other filmmaker has gotten a better shake than I have,” Altman said while accepting the award. “I’m very fortunate in my career. I’ve never had to direct a film I didn’t choose or develop. My love for filmmaking has given me an entree to the world and to the human condition.”

Altman had one of the most distinctive styles among modern filmmakers. He often employed huge ensemble casts, encouraged improvisation and overlapping dialogue and filmed scenes in long tracking shots that would flit from character to character.

It was not until 1955 that he actually headed for Hollywood; he had gotten a call offering him a job directing an episode of the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Over the next decade, he directed dozens of episodes of “Maverick,” “Lawman,” “Peter Gunn,” “Bonanza,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Route 66,” “Combat!” and “Kraft Suspense Theater.”

The film 'M*A*S*H' spawned the long-running TV sitcom starring Alan Alda, a show Altman would refer to with distaste as “that series.” Unlike the social message of the film, the series was prompted by greed, Altman said.

“They made millions and millions of dollars by bringing an Asian war into Americans’ homes every Sunday night,” Altman said in 2001. “I thought that was the worst taste.”

Altman never minced words about reproaching Hollywood. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he said Hollywood served as a source of inspiration for the terrorists by making violent action movies that amounted to training films for such attacks.

“Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like that unless they’d seen it in a movie,” Altman said.

He directed the Broadway production of “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” following it with a movie adaptation in 1982. Altman went back and forth from TV to theatrical films over the next decade.

He also did some fresh work for television, a medium he had reviled when he left it two decades earlier. In 1988, he directed a strong television adaptation of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” a stage play by Herman Wouk based on his novel “The Caine Mutiny.” The Altman version restored the class conflict and anti-Semitism that had been excised from the 1954 Hollywood treatment starring Humphrey Bogart.

I've looked over the list of TV show episodes directed by Altman and recognized only two episodes of his which I had seen. (I have seen the two 'Tanner' series.) One was "Bolt From The Blue" from 'Maverick'. The other was "Survival" from 'Combat'.

That episode of 'Combat' stays with me for the horrific ordeal of Sgt. Saunders' trek through the countryside and Pvt. Kelly's senseless death for a pair of boots.

Looking online, I found this about 'Survival' at a 'Combat' fan site:

When Vic Morrow received his emmy nomination for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead), he credited his performance in "Survival" for earning him that honor. Morrow delivers an outstanding performance, as mesmerizing and terrible as a roadside wreck that drivers can barely stand to view, yet cannot turn away from. To enhance the realism, Vic Morrow did extensive medical research on burns.

"Survival" is the zenith of Robert Altman's vision of Saunders as a living martyr to war. Altman heaped harrowing images on an already brutal script by John D.F. Black. The episode is uncompromising in its look at agony and despair, and flaunts a shocking grimness, rare even by today's television standards.

Altman offers up some powerful images in this episode, shots that linger in the mind long after viewing:

helpless mortals pulled through the dust and dirt, harnessed to the all-powerful symbol of war and destruction

a man writhing impotently in pain, bound and abandoned to flames

a young man struggling to put on boots, looking up into certain death: a completely pointless death, that didn't progress the plot but merely added another layer of despair and hopelessness

shot after shot of help and succor just out of reach — from the moonlit crossing of Saunders and the squad in the stream, to the agonizing nearness of a golden apple dancing beyond reach in the sunlight

I am glad this episode is part of 'Combat!' And equally glad that this was a departure from the usual fare. Altman's vision is rivetting for an episode or two. In the long run, however, I prefer Kennedy's and McEveety's vision of the show.

"We didn't have a script for it," remembers Altman. "We had the situation and how he got burned and separated. But then it was just working with Vic and figuring out the things a man does when he's out of his mind in pain. The surrendering to a dead German just happened. It seemed right." This was Robert Altman’s last work on Combat! "They didn't feel we should make this episode. I got fired over it."

Tanner on Tanner (2004) (TV)
"Gun" (1997) TV Series
"Tanner '88" (1988) (mini) TV Series

The Real McTeague (1993) (TV)
Black and Blue (1993) (TV)
McTeague (1992) (TV)
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1988) (TV)

"Saturday Night Live"
- Episode #2.16 (12 March 1977) - (segment "Sissy's Roles")
- Walk in the Sky (15 July 1968)
"The Long, Hot Summer"
- The Long Hot Summer (1 January 1965)
"Kraft Suspense Theatre"
- The Long, Lost Life of Edward Smalley (12 December 1963)
- The Hunt (19 December 1963)
- Once Upon a Savage Knight
"The Gallant Men"
- Pilot (5 October 1962)
- Forgotten Front (2 October 1962)
- Rear Echelon Commandos (9 October 1962)
- Any Second Now (23 October 1962)
- Escape to Nowhere (20 November 1962)
- Cat and Mouse (4 December 1962)
- I Swear by Apollo (11 December 1962)
- The Prisoner (25 December 1962)
- The Volunteer (22 January 1963)
- Off Limits (19 February 1963)
- Survival (12 March 1963)
"Kraft Mystery Theater"
- In Close Pursuit (13 June 1962)
"Route 66"
- Some of the People, Some of the Time (1 December 1961)
"Bus Stop"
- The Covering Darkness (22 October 1961)
- Portrait of a Hero (29 October 1961)
- Accessory by Consent (19 November 1961)
- A Lion Walks Among Us (3 December 1961)
- ...And the Pursuit of Evil (17 December 1961)
- Summer Lightning (7 January 1962)
- Door Without a Key (4 March 1962)
- County General (18 March 1962)
"Surfside 6"
- Thieves Among Honor (30 January 1961)
- The Robbery (1 January 1961)
- Silent Thunder (10 December 1960)
- Bank Run (28 January 1961)
- The Duke (11 March 1961)
- The Rival (15 April 1961)
- The Secret (6 May 1961)
- The Dream Riders (20 May 1961)
- Sam Hill (3 June 1961)
- The Many Faces of Gideon Flinch (5 November 1961)
- Bolt from the Blue (27 November 1960)
"The Roaring 20's"
- The Prairie Flower (12 November 1960)
- Brother's Keeper (19 November 1960)
- White Carnation (3 December 1960)
- Dance Marathon (14 January 1961)
- Two a Day (4 February 1961)
- Right Off the Boat: Part 1 (13 May 1961)
- Right Off the Boat: Part 2 (20 May 1961)
- Royal Tour (3 June 1961)
- Standing Room Only (28 October 1961)
"The Gale Storm Show"
- It's Magic (17 March 1960)
"Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse"
- The Sound of Murder (1 January 1960)
- Apollo with a Gun (8 December 1959)
- The Highbinder (19 January 1960)
"Hawaiian Eye"
- Three Tickets to Lani (25 November 1959)
"U.S. Marshal"
- R.I.P. (6 June 1959)
- The Triple Cross (9 January 1960)
"The Millionaire" (6 episodes)
- The Pete Hopper Story (10 December 1958)
- Millionaire Alicia Osante (18 March 1959)
- Millionaire Henry Banning (1 April 1959)
- Millionaire Lorraine Daggett (29 September 1959)
- Millionaire Andrew C. Cooley (8 December 1959)
- Millionaire Jackson Greene (22 December 1959)
"Alfred Hitchcock Presents"
- The Young One (1 December 1957)
- Together (12 January 1958)
- Sitting Duck
- Two of a Kind
- The Black Maria
- In Ways Mysterious
- The Midnight Show
- The Perfect Crime
- The Unknown Soldier
- A Matter of Trust (6 April 1959)
- Guilty of Old Age (13 April 1959)
- Experiment X-74 (11 May 1959)
- The Challenge (1 June 1959)
- The Big Lie (8 June 1959)


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