Season 1 Episode 5
“The Trick Is To Stay Alive” reminds me of a noir movie whose title I can’t remember. I must have seen a similar plot before but I’m stumped. It must have been a black and white movie starring Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum or Sterling Hayden but I can’t put my finger on it. It was probably directed by John Huston or Robert Aldrich or Jules Dassin and probably starred Veronica Lake or Rita Hayworth or Mary Astor as the femme-fatal. Wait it’s on the tip of my tongue.
No, I can’t remember.
The plot of “The Trick Is To Stay Alive” is simple, like any classic noir movie. A big, tough, lunatic is under the spell of an alluring, ruthless woman who uses him to do her bidding. If she wants him to try on a sweater lifted from Sonny Pruitt’s over-night bag, he does. If she wants her man to kill their partner, he does. She wraps him around her little finger and all you want to do is shout at the screen, “She’s using you, idiot. Snap out of it. She’s going down and you’re the sap she’s taking down with her!”
It must have been done before. It’s too good a story not to have been.
We were toying with the idea of a Bonnie and Clyde type story during our first year. Our writer, Dan Ullman, came up with an interesting take on the classic film and Joe Gantman, the producer, suggested we do it as a “bottle show”… meaning…. most of the action would take place in one confined location. With the script and one of my favorite episodic directors, Michael O’Herlihy, in hand, I was confident that our guys would make this episode “sing”.
Great! Now let’s find some actors who have “the chops” to keep the scenes tight and energetic under those difficult circumstances. Marilyn Hassett came to meet us and we thought she had a lovely, “girl next door” vulnerable presence that would work nicely playing against type as a “twisted, black widow”.
I first met Aldo Ray when he was filming the Green Berets with John Wayne at Ft. Bragg. I had been impressed. The writer of The Green Berets, Robin Moore, was a client of mine and I decided it would be fun to be on the set during filming. Ray had been a U.S. Navy Frogman and had a nice, tough edge to him… and who could forget that gravelly voice? So, some years later, when casting “The Trick Is To Stay Alive”, I recalled Aldo’s performance in The Green Berets and suggested we try to get him. Aldo thought the script was great fun and immediately announced, “I’m good to go.”
Sometimes, it’s funny how actors are cast. I knew James Keach’s brother Stacy, very well. Stacey Keach was a marvelous actor and I remembered meeting James several times at Stacy’s home. Our casting director suggested James for the role of Ron, a simple-minded sociopath. I reviewed some of James’ work and thought that he had what it takes – and that perhaps I’d get the opportunity to watch another wonderful actor emerge on our set. James does a very nice job playing the “unhinged thug”. And I couldn’t be more pleased as he has gone on to many other fine acting jobs and directing projects.
A special, fun recollection I have of “The Trick Is To Stay Alive” occurred many years later. I was producing a film for CBS-TV, A Memory In My Heart, starring Jane Seymour who was married to James. James showed up at the set unexpectedly while I was deep into a conversation with our director and star. He snuck up behind me, gave me a big bear hug, and started down memory lane. He couldn’t stop talking about how much he enjoyed doing Movin’ On and what a great opportunity it was to work with an amazing cast and crew- creating the impossible!
“The Trick Is To Stay Alive”, set in Astoria, Oregon, is a tense episode. When you look at the performances of Claude and Frank you will see the depth of their acting talent. “Will” turns up the charm to manipulate Mary Kate, the Hassett character, and the shrewd “Sonny” cleverly goes after the Ray and Keach characters. Great teamwork eventually brings the bad guys down. Nice work…. all around!!!