One of the most popular night-time dramas in the 1960's didn't involve
police or doctors. It was Combat!
an hour-long show focusing on a group of low-ranking soldiers fighting
their way across France during WWII. While there was plenty of action
in the show, especially at the beginning and end of every installment,
the human drama of the ordinary soldiers was what made people tune in
week after week. It lasted for five seasons, making it the longest
running WWII drama to air on US TV. Previously released in several
varieties, Image has put the entire five seasons of this excellent show
out in a complete series set just in time for the holidays.
Set at the height of World War II, Combat!
follows the members of the (fictional) 361st Infantry Regiment as they
forge on across France. The group is led by 2nd Lt. Gil Hanley (Rick
Jason), an efficient officer who is smart enough to listen to someone
with more experience every now and again. That experience comes in the
form of Sgt. "Chip" Saunders (Vic Morrow). A veteran of the North
African Campaign (where he received a Purple Heart), he was the only
one to see combat before he and the rest of King Company landed on
Omaha Beach on D-Day. The rest of the company includes PFC Paul "Caje"
LeMay (Pierre Jalbert), a smart Cajun who can speak French, PFC William
G. Kirby (Jack Hogan), the complainer of the group who also has a
propensity for getting into trouble, and Littlejohn (Dick Peabody), the
tall man from a small town. There are other regulars, including comic
Shecky Greene who was in the first season, as well as a number of
fill-ins and soldiers temporarily assigned to K-Company who rarely
survive the episode.
The stories usually follow K-Company while they're attempting to
complete an assignment, but more than a few revolve around the down
time the soldiers get waiting for something to happen. The show
explores the human face of war while still giving viewers a good dose
There are a lot of excellent installments, but one that stands out is Masquerade, from the second season.
In this adventure K-Company crosses paths with a Lt. Comstock and Sgt.
Kanger (James Coburn) who are transporting a captured German Colonel to
battalion headquarters for questioning... they just need to find it.
Soon after getting directions however, their jeep hits a mine and the
enemy Col. is severely wounded. Saunders and his men help the trio get
back to their base where a doctor operates on the prisoner, but
something doesn't seem quite right about the two Americans. That's
because they're really German soldiers in disguise. Comstock is the
leader, but Kanger's English is much better... he's lived in the States
and understands the slang that the enlisted men use. Not only that, but
he dedicated to his mission and totally ruthless. A machine that is
willing to kill anyone at all in order to make sure his objective is
James Coburn really makes the episode. He plays Sgt. Kanger with just
the right amount of menace and intelligence. He makes small mistakes,
like pressing Hanley to let him take the captured Nazi to Headquarters
a bit too often, that arouse Saunder's suspicions, but he does it in a
way that makes everyone else think he's just anxious. A nice touch is
when Kanger makes his superior officer fearful of him after the
Lieutenant makes a mistake. Kanger's a killer, but he can be personable
when it suits his needs. It was a great performance in a superior
The show is very realistic in many ways. The uniforms, equipment, and
props all look authentic, and they do a great job capturing the sheer
boredom that occurs in war. The relationships between the men feel
natural too. Many members of the cast and crew had been in the
military, and they went to great lengths to get things right.
That's not to say that everything was grounded in reality. It was hard
to totally suspend my disbelief for some of the plots, (like the one
where Saunders is captured by a WWI vet suffering from shell shock
(played by Eddie Albert) who things the American is a German... and who
happens to know the location of a German weapon that Saunders is
looking for) but these are few and far between. A more frequent
complaint is just about impossible to get away from in this type of
show: only the guest stars die and the main characters just get
wounded... over and over again. (Just how many times does Vic Morrow
get shot in the leg??) That doesn't really harm the program, and is
really only a concern if you're a stickler for that type of thing and
binge watching the show.
This re-release has the same content (as far as I can tell) of the
earlier Combat: The Complete Series set. The entire 152-episode series
arrives on 40 DVDs, housed in 5 multi-disc cases, each one containing a
single season. These season sets come in a Saving Private Ryan-inspired
slipcase. It's a nice set; I just wish they had designed the outer
slipcase differently. These are full-length, uncut episodes running
45-47 minutes each. (More on that in the extras section.)
The show's original mono soundtrack is provided, and it sounds fine for
a show from the 1960's. There isn't a lot of dynamic range, and there
is a bit of background noise but it's very light and not really
noticeable. The dialog is easy to understand and the music comes
through loud and clear. There are no subtitles.
The first four seasons were shot in black and white, while the final
season is presented in color. All five look very good; they're
reasonably sharp with a good amount of detail. There is a stray piece
of dirt here and there, but that's very minor and infrequent. A solid
looking presentation of a classic TV show.
There are quite a number of extras included in this massive collection.
First off there are seventeen commentary tracks on various episodes
featuring crew and cast members associated with the episodes. I was
happy to discover that the late Robert Altman and Richard Donner, two
directors who went on to bigger and better things, give their thoughts
on some of the episodes they directed.
In addition, there's a featurette that takes a look at the show, Memories of Combat (23:23), a
radio interview with star Rick Jason from 2000, The Big Picture (28:22), a
documentary on Ranger training school narrated by Morrow, Combat! Directed by Vic Morrow
(27:19), a look at the episodes that the star directed, and a look at
the trials and tribulations that occurred when the show changed over to
color, Combat! This Season in Color
One of the most interesting bonus items is a seemingly innocuous
interview with star Vic Morrow, Social
Security in Action (14:00). There has been a rumor going around
that the show originally ran 52-minutes and that these Image releases
the syndicated versions of the show which are cut and/or sped up to
make them fit extra commercials. In this short Marlin Car "of the
Hollywood Social Security Office" talks with the TV and movie star
about his life and career, and they mention how important it is to
register for Social Security. During the chat Marlin mentions that the
episodes of Combat! were
60-minutes long and Vic corrects him. "47-minutes of actual show and
the rest is commercials." Surely Morrow, who directed some episodes,
would be very familiar with how long the show ran.
In addition to all of that, there are photo galleries and an Oddities and Bloopers text piece
for each episode. The latter points out continuity goofs and
interesting bits of trivia for each show.
While there is a lot of great bonus material, there is one omission
that makes this set a little user-unfriendly: There is no episode
guide. Not only have that, but the discs themselves had neither the
episode names nor the episode number. So if you want to see the twelfth
episode from season three, you have to take an educated guess, pop in a
disc, and cross your fingers.
One of the most impressive WWII dramas to ever air on TV, Combat! has
held up very well over the years. Exciting, enjoyable, and even funny,
this show about some regular guys fighting their way across France is
well worth picking up. Highly