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TV: Tonight on “Combat!”

Mar. 12, 1963 - Tonight’s episode of “Combat!” (7:30 p.m. on ABC) was less written than improvised. Producer-director Robert Altman took John Black’s script of the escape of a prisoner during World War II and virtually improvised the action. Nearly 90% of the episode, called “Survival,” has no dialogue. It tells of the escape of Sergeant Saunders (Vic Morrow) and other members of his squad from a German prison camp during an artillery bombardment. Saunders is badly burned in the shelling. He drifts apart from the other soldiers and wanders aimlessly, in great pain, through a German forest, seeking the American lines. Altman says: “We used a hand-held camera and followed Vic while he improvised what he felt the soldier would do. He gave a brilliant performance — brilliant. We had to film in sequence because we had only a general idea of what would happen next.” It is interesting to note that after Altman finished the episode, he left “Combat!” for good. Television is wary of improvisation.


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