Author's note: Having written an in-depth review of The Rat Patrol: The Complete Second Season last June (if that's possible, frankly, with this slight series), I was curious to see if anything new had been added to The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series in the way of bonuses or supplemental material. As well, I was hopeful that re-watching the First Season might bump up my estimation of the series, in conjunction with the Second Season. Alas, neither anticipation was successfully met. There are no additional bonuses for this newly boxed complete series set (so no need to double-dip). And if ever a network TV show remained resolutely fixed both stylistically and aesthetically between seasons, it's The Rat Patrol. There is no difference between the first and second seasons of this mildly entertaining comic book - in character development (there's little if any), in script construction (each week it's the same: an impossible mission carried out with much violence but little if any actual bloodshed), or in the acting department (everyone is competent...and rather anonymous). So, I've rewritten my original review of Season Two ever so slightly to cover this complete series release, with one or two new takes on the show thrown about.
MGM and 20th Century-Fox have released The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series, a seven-disc, 58-episode collection of the briefly popular WWII combat series. Running only a half-hour long each, these noisy, surprisingly violent little WWII action/adventure stories play rather like those old Rover Boys novels: plenty of action, and little if any complexity. Repetitious perhaps after watching episode after episode (which may be an unfair way to view them, considering they were meant to be seen once a week), you have to admit that The Rat Patrol episodes are professionally done, with a big-screen look to the action that's indicative of the 1960s glossier TV production values.
Set in the WWII North African desert, where Hitler's elite Afrika Korps prowl the sand dunes, The Rat Patrol consists of an unattached, four-man Allied fighting unit led by stalwart American Army officer Sergeant Sam Troy (Christopher George). Second-in-command is Sergeant Jack Moffitt (Gary Raymond), a British demolitions expert who joins up with the team much to the initial consternation of Troy (who isn't sure he can trust the college-educated, but not-battle tested Moffitt). American Privates Mark Hitchcock (Lawrence Casey) and Tully Pettigrew (Justin Tarr) round out the team. Racing around the desert combat zones in Jeeps outfitted with .50mm machine guns, the "Rat Patrol" are relatively autonomous in their selection of, and discretion in, executing commando operations because they belong to no regular unit. Their frequent nemesis is Captain Hauptman Hans Dietrich (Hans Gudegast, later known as Eric Braeden for you Colossus: The Forbin Project, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and of course, The Young and the Restless fans out there), a cold, calculating Afrika Korps C.O. of a heavily armored, mobilized German unit (who nonetheless displays frequent regard for the niceties of war while battling the professionals of The Rat Patrol, whom he respects...while trying to kill them). Playing cat and mouse games amidst the searing arid expanses, Sgt. Troy and Capt. Dietrich match wits week after week as they battle for supremacy in the African wasteland.
The Rat Patrol premiered in September of 1966 on perennially third-placed network ABC. Playing Monday nights at 8:30PM, featuring ABC's mish-mash selection of fading (Peyton Place) or marginal (The Big Valley, Felony Squad, The Iron Horse) series, The Rat Patrol turned out to be one of the few bright spots in ABC's dismal 1966 performance, ranking 23rd for the year (tied with CBS' Petticoat Junction), thus being only one of five ABC series to make it into the Nielsen Top Thirty (along with Bewitched, The Lawrence Welk Show, The ABC Sunday Night Movie, and The F.B.I.). The fact that The Rat Patrol aired directly opposite CBS' The Lucy Show, the third-highest rated show for the year, only made its performance seem that much more impressive. Expectations were high from executives that this trim little successor to ABC's earlier WWII hit Combat would continue its successful ranking.
Unfortunately, ratings faded for The Rat Patrol's second 1967-1968 season. It's always tough to ascertain why a series suddenly drops off in the ratings; so many variables are at work. The Rat Patrol didn't face any tougher competition this year than it had the previous season. It still ran directly against The Lucy Show on CBS, while over on NBC, it now faced the second half hour of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a once wildly popular show that was quickly winding down. It's possible that the direct kids' appeal of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. took a bite out of The Rat Patrol's numbers, considering the fact that The Rat Patrol's simplified, almost cartoonish "mow 'em down" production largely appealed to young boys and their fathers. But I suspect a certain number of viewers tired of the show, forcing ABC to cancel the relatively expensive series.
It's not that the second season is any worse or better than the first (and thus causing the ratings' decline), and that's just the point: they're exactly the same. There's absolutely no growth in either the characterizations or in the emotional or intellectual content of the episodes. Now, I'm not demanding that The Rat Patrol be as complex or as "truthful" as a comparable series like Combat. The Rat Patrol can be just as simplistic as it likes, as long as it's entertaining and competently done. Even if The Rat Patrol's goals are set much lower, meeting them still gets a nod from me. But I imagine enough viewers noted the fact that watching Season Two of The Rat Patrol was almost like watching reruns of Season One, and decided maybe they should check out The Man from U.N.C.L.E. one more time, or see what crazy Lucy was up to that week (often times, a strong sense of déjà vu will enter into your mind when watching the second go-around, as if you're wondering what exactly was recycled: stock action footage, or portions of whole scripts).
Taken individually, and forgetting the fact that one episode looks and plays pretty much like any other, The Rat Patrol shows are quite straightforward little combat vignettes. The half-hour format doesn't allow for a whole lot of exposition or shadings to the characterizations, so we're treated to plenty of gunplay, nicely mounted in the Spanish deserts where the series was partially filmed. I had forgotten how relatively violent The Rat Patrol was, with frequent knifings and machine gun blasts interspersed with more creative ways of killing people (a sling-shot bullet to the head stands out in memory) - all of course presented quite bloodlessly to satisfy the network censors. In fact, that might also have been a factor in ABC's decision to cancel the program, too; quite a few advocacy groups were gearing up in the mid-to-late 60s, expressing concern over the levels of violence depicted in network TV shows. And certainly it didn't help matters that so many viewers were experiencing the real-life violence of Vietnam footage televised on their local and national news each night.
A case could probably be made that the comic-strip violence of The Rat Patrol violated in some way the sensibilities of the viewing audience who had real-life wars to worry about each night. But I think perhaps The Rat Patrol's relative innocence (no blood, no major characters getting killed, no grinding boredom often associated with military life, and impossibly perfect commando raids, always flawlessly executed) didn't offend viewers so much as it eventually bored them. Each individual episode of The Rat Patrol is more than competently produced and directed, and they're enjoyable, too; it's rather like reading a Sgt. Rock comic book - but without the social commentary. However, there's so little lateral movement for the characters or for the situations in The Rat Patrol that eventually, they all tend to blend together. Christopher George, a talented actor who had to be used very carefully to make him stand out (he never got the big break that put him past the recognizable "B" list), has so little to do here that his disconnect with the various shenanigans is obvious. As for Eric Braeden, this was the first big break for the naturalized actor from Germany (stardom would eventually come from his role on a network soap), and he's quite good in what was already a pretty familiar character by this point in WWII feature films: the tough, efficient, but essentially fair-minded professional German soldier. While Braeden is fine in the role, the role itself is no more original nor any more interesting than the familiar little battles that litter The Rat Patrol episodes. So it's a tough call for The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series: the total effect is much less than the sum of its competent parts.
Here are the 58 (!), one-half hour episodes of seven-disc boxed set, The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series, as described on their slimcases:
The Chase of Fire Raid
Englishman Jack Moffit joins three American commandos to destroy a British supply trove before the Germans can lay claim to it.
The Life Against Death Raid
When Hitchcock is seriously injured during a desert battle, Troy risks taking him to a nearby German field hospital.
The Wildest Raid of All
To stop an upcoming attack, the Rat Patrol allows itself to be captured in an attempt to abduct the German general in charge of the operation.
Kill or Be Killed Raid
Moffit penetrates German headquarters, where he attempts to translate an ancient parchment that holds the secret to a desert water source.
The Chain of Death Raid
Captured by Bedouins, Troy and Captain Dietrich escape into the desert, only to find themselves hopelessly lost.
The Do or Die Raid
A Panzer unit has a map showing a strategic oasis occupied by the U.S. Eighth Armored Division, so the Patrol is ordered to switch maps and trap the Germans.
The Blind Man's Bluff Raid
Suffering a concussion from an explosion, Troy regains consciousness in a medical tent, unaware he's in a German field camp.
The Fatal Chase Raid
The Patrol ambushes a German unit transporting American POWs, setting free the sergeant who allowed them to be captured and two soldiers who want to kill him.
The Blow Sky High Raid
A prized German radar station must be destroyed and the Rat Patrol is issued a supply of powerful explosives to do the job.
The Moment of Truce Raid
Fanatical Arabs, determined to wipe out all "infidels," attack the Rat Patrol and Dietrich's caravan simultaneously, forcing both sides to fight together or die.
The Deadly Double Raid
Moffit and Pettigrew allow themselves to be captured in order to get information about Rommel's new battle plans.
The Gun Runner Raid
An ex-American air hero-turned-Nazi gunrunner captures the Rat Patrol, which has been interfering with his business with Captain Dietrich.
The Lighthouse Raid
Pettigrew and Moffit transport a French general to a lighthouse where a trawler will take him out of enemy territory, unaware the lighthouse keeper intends to ransom him back to the Germans.
The Dare-Devil Raid
German artillery traps 2,000 Allied soldiers and their only chance of rescue lies with the Rat Patrol, who must uncover a desert highway buried deep below the sand.
The Last Harbor Raid - Episode I
The Rat Patrol is ordered to liberate the 5,000 Allied POWs used by the Germans to rebuild their bombed harbor.
The Last Harbor Raid - Episode II
To evacuate the Allied POWs, Moffit and Hitchcock recruit the aid of a woman whose father was shot by the Germans.
The Last Harbor Raid - Episode III
The Patrol blows up a Nazi munitions dump in an attempt to liberate 5,000 POWs and evacuate them on a fishing fleet.
The One That Got Away Raid
To obtain his secret radio codes, the Rat Patrol is forced to liberate a German defector from Gestapo headquarters.
Two For One Raid
Valuable ammunition has been dropped by parachute to an Arab farmhouse, and the Rat Patrol must destroy it before it is picked up by a German convoy.
The Last Chance Raid
When the patrol's radio transmitter is destroyed during a skirmish, Troy's unable to warn headquarters of a large Nazi anti-tank outfit waiting in ambush.
The B Negative Raid
When Moffit is seriously wounded in a raid on a German convoy, Troy decides to obtain the blood he needs from a nearby Nazi field camp.
The Exhibit A Raid
Troy and Hitchcock capture an infamous Nazi POW camp commander who turns the tables on them and sets Troy up to be court-martialed.
The Holy War Raid
Using a fake Rat Patrol, Captain Dietrich abducts a holy man, intending to "rescue" him and thus gain the allegiance of the desert's Arab population.
The Two Against Time Raid
The Rat Patrol races to destroy a top-secret desert munitions dump before "half the German army" arrives to refuel the next morning.
The Wild Goose Raid
The day before an important conference, Troy learns of a German plot to kidnap the British and American Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Bring 'Em Back Alive Raid
When the Patrol raids German headquarters to shanghai a top Nazi scientist, Moffit, Pettigrew and Hitchcock are captured by Captain Dietrich.
The Take Me To Your Leader Raid
The Patrol believes they've liberated a captured U.S. Major, unaware he's a Nazi agent planning to kill General Montgomery.
The Double or Nothing Raid
Moffit's about to be executed for espionage against the Third Reich when the Rat Patrol suddenly appears, blasting their way to his rescue.
The Hour Glass Raid
When Captain Dietrich captures a skilled Allied physician, Troy wants to rescue him, unaware the doctor is actually loyal to the Reich.
When they kidnap a Luftwaffe pilot who knows where an Allied invasion force is stationed, the Patrol puts Moffit in his place to disinform the German command.
The Fire and Brimstone Raid
After planting timed explosives in a German ammunition depot, the Patrol runs into Captain Dietrich's men, who order them to surrender or die.
The Delilah Raid
A young woman claiming to be a French Resistance fighter asks the Rat Patrol to help her blow up a German radar installation.
The Truce at Aburah Raid
The Rat Patrol agrees to a temporary truce with German forces in order to rescue a young Arab girl who has fallen down a well.
The David and Goliath Raid
The Patrol must get medical aid to a severely wounded Tully, and it appears that Dietrich is the only one who can provide it.
The Trial By Fire Raid
Troy is captured while trying to destroy a German ammunition train. The rest of the Patrol attempts a diversion to set their leader free.
The Darers Go First Raid
The Rat Patrol captures a German tank and decides to utilize it by blowing up an ammunition dump inside a German fort.
The Love Thine Enemy Raid
Troy must decide whether to take a German nurse to a field hospital in order to save her life or continue with his mission.
The Darkest Raid
Moffitt takes the place of a captured German captain in order to pick up a cache of "confiscated" diamonds.
The Death Do Us Part Raid
The Rat Patrol must rescue a captured Arab boy who has some vital information for the Allied forces.
The Do-Re-Mi Raid
When USO entertainer Mickey Roberts is captured, the Rat Patrol is assigned to help him escape, but Roberts has other plans.
The Kingdom Come Raid
On a mission to deliver secret anti-aircraft shells, Hitchcock is wounded and left for dead by a fellow survivor of a German ambush.
The Hide and Go Seek Raid
The Patrol must rescue the kidnapped son of an Allied general whom the Germans plan to exchange for one of their generals in Allied hands.
The Violent Truce Raid
Moffitt is facing a court martial - and the only person who can clear him of the charges is Dietrich.
The Life for a Life Raid
The Rat Patrol, a pregnant Arab woman, and a French Resistance fighter are trapped in the cellar of a mosque by Dietrich's men.
The Fifth Wheel Raid
The British believe an officer has defected to the Germans, but the man's aide insists it's not true and forces the Patrol to take him on a rescue mission.
The Two if By Sea Raid
The Rat Patrol fakes Moffitt's death in order to feed false information to the Germans and destroy one of their Tiger tank convoys.
The Street Urchin Raid
Soon after Troy hides some top-secret photographs of vital German installations, the photos are stolen by a young street urchin.
The Pipeline to Disaster Raid
The Rat Patrol rescues a British general from behind enemy lines while on a mission to destroy a German oil pipeline.
The Boomerang Raid
On a mission to convey Allied information, Troy becomes suspicious of his contact when he's reluctant to ambush some German soldiers.
The Fatal Reunion Raid
It's shades of Casablanca when Moffitt's old flame, a French Resistance fighter, joins the Patrol in the attempted rescue of her husband.
The Decoy Raid
Moffitt is betrayed into German hands by a Vichy official in exchange for a Swiss nurse and her lifesaving typhus vaccine.
The Touch and Go Raid
After Dietrich captures the Rat Patrol, he and his men take their place in guarding an Allied munitions dump.
The Field of Death Raid
The Germans capture Troy's brother and use him as bait to trap the Rat Patrol.
The Double Jeopardy Raid
The arrival of a team of teenage guerrilla fighters spells double trouble for the Rat Patrol.
The Hickory Dickory Dock Raid
On the eve of a dangerous mission, Moffitt receives word that his younger brother has been killed by a German bomb in London.
The Tug of War Raid
Dietrich captures Troy and a French Resistance fighter and sentences them to hang for refusing to answer his questions.
The Never Say Die Raid
Troy and Hitchcock are captured by a German colonel who turns them over to a sadistic underling for torture.
The Kill at Koorlea Raid
The Rat Patrol is accompanied by a crack British sniper on a mission to assassinate a brutal German general.
The full-screen, 1.33:1 video transfers for The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series looks quite amazing, actually; as good as feature films released that year, with solid, rich colors and a bright, vibrant picture. Grain is apparent but not unexpected considering the age of the original elements. The full frame transfers are excellent, with just a very small, slight tendency to go a little orangey or yellow with some of the prints, which may come from the original source materials. No compression issues to speak of.
The Dolby Digital English mono mix accurately represents the original broadcast presentation; all dialogue is clearly heard.. Close-captioning is available, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
There are no extras for The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series.
Clean, efficient, professional, and totally devoid of originality or passion, The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series still delivers the comic-book WWII goods for action fans who don't want to waste time thinking about it, anyway. It may seem repetitious, but you have to hand it to The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series: each episode is competently executed for maximum action and excitement. I recommend The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series, but only for die-hard WWII action fans.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.