Although the ‘60s television series Combat! is largely forgotten today, it was a great show. The title is quite literal, as the program follows a group of American soldiers fighting their way out of France during World War II. The show aired from 1962 to 1967, and remains the longest running “war” series of all time. Combat! is a true classic, and the third season has just been released on DVD from Image
Season three of Combat! was originally broadcast during 1964-65 on ABC. The set contains all 32 episodes, spread out over eight DVDs. As the list of guest stars confirms, the series was definitely riding high at this point. Nearly every episode is graced by well-known guest stars, a few of which include Mickey Rooney, Roddy McDowell, Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson, Sal Mineo, Robert Duvall, and Frank Gorshin.
In a nod to what I presume is the teen-heartthrob crowd, they even brought in Frankie Avalon. While he did a fine job, this series was about as far from his Beach Blanket Bingo as one could possibly imagine.
In Combat!, war is hell. This is a gritty, action-packed series that does not flinch from the grim realities with which soldiers were faced. The show starred Vic Morrow as Sergeant “Chip” Saunders, and Rick
Jason as Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley. Although both were credited at the top of each episode, they did not always appear together. Many times the story would have one or the other leading the men in the field. Recurring characters include Kirby (Jack Hogan), Doc (Conlan Carter), and Littlejohn (Dick Peabody).There are some really great stories in this season, including “Dateline.” The episode finds Saunders on patrol with a Captain from Intelligence. Their mission is to free a POW prisoner, who just happens to be a reporter for Stars and Stripes. He knows too much, “information that the Krauts would give their eye-teeth for,“ as the Captain puts it, and must be gotten out. The only way to get to him though is to be captured by the Germans, which is not a pleasant prospect. The episode really plays out like a one-hour movie — taut and exciting, with a couple of completely unexpected twists. Frankie Avalon does a great job in “Brother, Brother.” He is actually perfect as Private Eddie Cain, the smarmy, smart-ass kid brother of an old friend of Kirby’s. This episode mostly takes place in the camp, and is a great character study. In watching these shows back to back, I now see that there were basically two types of stories, those that occur in the field, and those in camp. Both are equally compelling.
With 32 episodes on this set to choose from, I guess I cannot discuss them all, but the final hour of the season “Beneath the Ashes” bears mention. This one actually combines both elements, action in the
field, and situations in camp, to a tell a very moving story. The guest star is Chad Everett, who plays Steve Kovac, one of Hanley’s men. Kovac happens to be on patrol with Saunders when Hanley receives
a letter stating that Kovac’s wife is dying. Rather than call Kovac back, Hanley waits. The operation takes longer than expected, and you can probably guess what happens to Kovac’s wife. It was understandable
to me when Kovac vowed revenge, but I am not going to spoil how things end up. As they say, war is hell, in every way.
The bonus features are interesting, if a bit brief. Each episode contains a special “Notes, Oddities, and Bloopers” chapter from Jo Davidsmeyer, who wrote Combat! A Viewer’s Companion to the WWII TV
Series. There are also photo galleries and audio commentaries.
A little background information about Combat! I found interesting is that it is based on the experiences of the 361st Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. The stories themselves are all fictional of course, but while Combat! ran on TV for five years, the real 361st fought their way out of France in under a year.
With the high-quality of writing displayed during this season, it seems like the show could have gone on for much longer. With the combination of the situations in camp, and the action in the field, Combat’s third season held my interest all the way through. I am really looking forward to the release of the remaining two seasons.