Museum of Television and Radio Program II


Once Upon a Savage Night

D: Robert Altman (1964); with Phillip Abbott, Ted Knight, Robert Ridgley.

A Walk in the Night

D: Robert Altman (1966/8); with Carroll O'Connor, Andrew Duggan.

Yes, there was Nashville. And the classic Warren Beatty-Julie Christie Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller. But for dedicated Altman fans, it seems the biggest boon at the Austin Film Festival would have to be this rare collection of the director's early work in Sixties television. Produced for Kraft Suspense Theater, "Once Upon a Savage Night" follows a serial killer named Georgie Porgie -- one moment a brutal sociopath and the next a reserved gentleman -- along a three-day path of seduction, murder, and increasingly desperate attempts to elude the police. Shot in Chicago mostly at night, the first film to use Kodak's high-speed Ektachrome stock, "Once Upon --" allows its mystery to evolve slowly, craftily, and the hour-long program showed enough promise that it was expanded to a longer version played at drive-ins. The second program, a pilot called "A Walk in the Night," also received a second chance, airing on NBC two years after it failed to go anywhere. Carroll O'Connor plays a policeman in pursuit of a Swedish sailor, who abandons ship in search of his family, all the while unknowingly toting a bomb in his suitcase. Along with writers Brian McCay and Robert Eggenweiler, Altman milks this dramatic irony for all it's worth: Tension mounts as the sailor swings the suitcase thoughtlessly, throws it to the ground, or walks carefree through the infant ward of a hospital. "A Walk in the Night" is occasionally taut and artful, but it's no surprise the pilot wasn't picked up. While this collection is an interesting glimpse at the director as an underemployed hack, it's still Sixties television. And dedicated Altman fan or no, that may be the real reason why this second installment was so woefully underattended.

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