People joked that Combat! wasn’t canceled. Hollywood just ran out of backlot sets that could be destroyed for battles. The series took exceptional glee in tearing up houses and streets that had appeared in hundreds of films over the decades. They needed it to look like King Company, 361st Infantry Regiment were in a French warzone. For their final campaign in the French countryside, the troops encounter a new force: color film. Gone was the gritty black and white. Now the audience know they’re marching in green fatigues. The addition of color wasn’t the only tone change in the productions. The episodes on Combat!: The Complete Fifth Season let the big time guest stars control the narrative. The men of King Company act as a support unit for the guests’ stories. Lt. Hanley (Rick Jason) and Sgt. Saunders (Vic Morrow) still knew how to save the day.
“The Gun” has the unit in charge of moving a massive cannon through difficult terrain in order to take out a German bunker. Wayne Rogers shows up in the battle years before he’s be stationed on M*A*S*H*. While Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk) is up for a court martial, he must join others on a mission. “Ollie Joe” features your USDA required visit from Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo). “The Brothers” has Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause) and Ted Knight (Caddyshack). “Cry for Help” makes Robert Duvall (The Godfather) a Nazi medic. Can he overcome his beliefs to help in a dire situation?
“Gadjo” has Sgt. Saunders crossing paths with a gypsy played by Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island). There’s way too much macho on that screen for a set under 30 inches. “Anniversary” turns freedom fighter Telly Savalas (Kojak) into man sick of both Allies and Nazis. Can the unit get him back on their side? Or will he get taken out like Col. Kurtz? Saunders gets captured by the Nazis in “The Gantlet.” “The Masquers” is another peak into the televised military service of Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat). Turns out Nazi soldiers are dressing up as US troops. Can Captain Stubbings be a German in disguise? MacLeod served in the Air Force. “A Little Jazz” brings Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet) to the front as a musician playing in a USO Band. He gets battlefield action that’s not in his preferred tempo. “Nightmare on the Red Ball Run” is a second dose of Claude Akins. Likewise the final episode “The Partisan” brings back Robert Duvall. Maybe the show had to come to an end since they ran out of guest stars as well as property to bullet ravage?
Like The Fugitive and The Avengers, Combat! lost a sense of intensity when it went to color. Black and white film has the ability to amp up the intensity of a scene. The sweat stands out more on a face. When Combat! went color, there situations don’t seem as strained. The show was still good, but the pressure wasn’t as high at the height of combat in Combat!. While it was nice to see the stars in full color, the fifth season was a good time for Combat! to cease fire.
The Gun, The Losers, Chapel at Able-Five, The Letter, Conflict, A Child’s Game, The hiBrothers, The Furlough, Cry for Help, Ollie Joe, Gadjo, Headcount, Anniversary. The Outsider, Nightmare on the Red Bull Run, Gulliver, Decision, The Gantlet, Entombed, The Bankroll, The Masquers, Encounter, A Little Jazz, The Partisan and Jonah,
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The color in the transfer reflects the drab green worn by the unit. They didn’t go too far in bringing hues to the battlefield. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The sound is fine enough that Vic Morrow can be heard over gunfire.
Audio Commentaries include Warren Stevens on “The Gun,” Conlan Carter (“Doc”) on “Cry For Help,” Jo Davidsmeyer and Steve Mitchell on “Night Mare On the Red Bull Run” and George Fenady gives the details of the finale “Jonah.”
Notes, Oddities and Bloopers are provided for each episode. Jo Davidsmeyer, author of Combat! A Viewer’s Companion to the WWII Series lets you know what to watch.
Combat! This Season in Color Part 1 (62:40) explores the transition from when the series had to become color. There’s a debate about if the show works with hues. Cast and crew seem mixed if it changed the tone of the series when they lost the shadows. But the network needed color. This is broken into two parts.
Photo Gallery of Guest Stars (1:00) are production pics of familiar faces.
Photo Gallery of Behind the Scenes (2:01) explores what it took to battle on the backlots.
Photo Gallery of The Squad (6:21) has the gang ready for battle in two bonus features.
Combat!: The Complete Fifth Season tells the story of King Company with color. The show has changed a bit with the new element, but maintains its exciting battlefield stories. The episodes appear to be normal speed with times falling between 50 and 51 minutes.
RLJ Entertainment present Combat!: The Complete Fifth Season. Starring: Vic Morrow, Rick Jason, Pierre Jalbert, Jack Hogan, Dick Peabody, Conlan Carter . Boxset Content: 25 episodes on 8 DVDs. Released: August 13, 2013.