Read Arrive Alive – the lost Bill Murray comedy of the ’80s!

April 24, 2020 Jeff Goldsmith

We hope you’re safe, healthy and sheltering in place to flatten the curve and wanted to recommend a great weekend read in Backstory Issue 41!
If you’re looking for a hilariously cool script to read, please check out our article on Arrive Alive where we interview co-writer Mitch Glazer and director Jeremiah Chechik about the crazy comedy that was written for Bill Murray, who turned it down only to have it eventually filmed for a few weeks with Willem Dafoe – before the production was shut down entirely!
Not only does our article feature in-depth interviews about this wild script – but we’re publishing the entire script for you to read as well!
Here’s a free excerpt of the first 850 words of our 2900 word article:

Off The Shelf
Arrive Alive
By Jeremy Smith

In the early 1980s, journalist Mitch Glazer and former Saturday Night Live head writer Michael O’Donoghue joined forces to tell the oddball story of Mickey Crews, a deeply unprincipled Miami hotel detective who gets caught up in a mess of Floridian intrigue involving a decapitated whale trainer, a crooked land development deal and the Miccosukee Indians—just for starters. The script, Arrive Alive, has the sleazy, sun-worn color of a Carl Hiaasen noir, but there’s a misanthropic quality coursing through its corroded veins that bears the unmistakable DNA of O’Donoghue, the savage wit who penned such dark little ditties as “The Vietnam Baby Book” for National Lampoon. It’s funnier, crazier and far more dangerous than your average pulp yarn, and this combination excited producer Art Linson (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Untouchables) enough to shop it around to the major studios.
What followed played out as the familiar Hollywood narrative of an idiosyncratic project that bopped from studio to studio until a risk-taking president of production mustered up the courage to roll the dice and put it before cameras. But in classic Arrive Alive fashion, this story takes a hard left turn just when you think you know where it’s headed: 18 days into the shoot, the execs at Paramount Pictures shut it all down, sending stars (Willem Dafoe and Joan Cusack) and director (Jeremiah Chechik, hot off the success of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) home rather than let them complete what, via dailies, was shaping up in their view to be an over-budget disaster. Thirty years later, the reasons for Arrive Alive’s unmaking are numerous, if hardly agreed upon. Was it poor casting? Questionable aesthetic choices on the part of the director? Or did the studio simply not understand the film they were making until they were in the midst of making it?
To date, the most complete account of Arrive Alive’s tortured existence resides in Linson’s memoir, A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood. In his lively style, Linson recalls a daringly original action-comedy screenplay that required a lighter directorial touch and a different lead. Glazer largely concurs. Backstory caught up with Chechik, who counters that he was simply directing the script as written and the studio lost its courage. O’Donoghue was unavailable for comment on account of having been dead for 26 years.
Our story begins in late-1970s New York City, where the cutting-edge antics of Saturday Night Live’s Not Ready for Prime Time Players captivated a nation of TV viewers and every on-the-make producer in Hollywood. After the runaway success of National Lampoon’s Animal House, much of which was attributed to John Belushi’s scene-stealing portrayal of gluttonous John “Bluto” Blutarski, anyone even tangentially related to SNL was getting a shot at a movie deal. It was in the midst of this feeding frenzy that Glazer was assigned to write a piece about the show for the then influential rock magazine Crawdaddy. On Belushi’s recommendation, Glazer set up an interview with O’Donoghue, one that’s still etched in his memory today. “I walked into his office, and…it was like those wood slats in The Godfather—the blinds with the light coming through,” he recalls. “It was super dramatic: him sitting behind the desk wearing sunglasses. I looked over to the left as I walked in, and the entire wall was nude amputees. I don’t know where he got them, but…the entire wall was covered with naked amputated women.” The writer was so blown away he made O’Donoghue the lead of his profile. “I described Michael as ‘looking like a chemist in a Marseilles heroin lab who sold small children on the side.’ That was the first sentence of my piece, which of course he loved. I remember going up there after the magazine came out and hearing him read that to Gilda [Radner] and Lorne [Michaels]. It was the proudest moment of my life.”
Glazer collaborated with O’Donoghue on 1979’s Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video, a sketch film shot for NBC that ultimately had to be released theatrically due to its off-color content, and through that volatile experience they realized they worked well as a team. When O’Donoghue was rehired as the head writer of a struggling SNL in 1981, he brought Glazer onto the staff, though it nearly destroyed their relationship. “He was spray-painting things on the walls,” says Glazer. “Michael had lost his mind. That was not a great experience.” Nevertheless, while the two were not on speaking terms, Glazer took a meeting with producer-director Linson, who was still smarting from the failure of his Bill Murray¬-as-Hunter S. Thompson vehicle, Where the Buffalo Roam, and found himself pitching a project that would perfectly showcase the melding of his sensibility and O’Donoghue’s. “I’d always loved that idea of me and Michael doing this movie about a sleazy hotel detective in Miami Beach, where I was born and raised. I’d worked as a cabana boy and knew sleazy detectives.” Sure enough, mutual friends intervened to bring the two back together, and they were off to the races. “We started writing in the way that we ended up writing Scrooged, which was the two of us in a room all day, every day, banging it out.”
Dig what you’ve read? We hope you’ll read the other 2,100 words for this article along with the **entire script** in Issue 41!
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