DVD Review: Combat! (The Complete Series)

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The Allied infantry forces arrived on French shores as part of D-Day on June 6, 1944. They fought the Nazis across the French countryside until they hit German border in mid-March 1945. The offensive was a hard fought 10 months. TV viewers might be a little vague on the timeline since Combat! had King Company, 361st Infantry Regiment roaming France for five seasons. Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley (Rick Jason), Sergeant “Chip” Saunders (Vic Morrow) and their platoon never had a moment’s rest. If you factor days covered in the 152 episodes, they probably were close to real time for a unit in the campaign. Combat! The Complete Series brings together the most extensive military drama.

The series starts off with the platoon already in France. This isn’t Band of Brothers. “Forgotten Front” has them making the big choice of whether they need to hold onto a German prisoner or kill the guy during a fire fight. The first season has Shecky Greene as Private Braddock. “Rear Echelon Commandos” deals with the problem of expecting competent replacements.The new guys that show up at the platoon include a cook, a disc jockey and a ballet instructor. Not exactly the next Sgt. York to the rescue. “Cat and Mouse” lets Ted Knight (Too Close For Comfort) play a Nazi. He’s so good, it seems like his Ted Baxter character on Mary Tyler Moore might have been playing dumb to avoid war criminal charges. “A Day in June” flashbacks to the D-Day preparations in England. Archival footage of the invasion saves the production from staging large sized military scenes. Harry Dean Stanton (Big Love and Repo Man) was part of the unit on that fateful day with Vic Morrow. Tom Skeritt (Alien) can be spotted in uniform.

The show was a hit and more guest stars were brought in to destroy Hollywood backlots for the second season. Lee Marvin (The Big Red One) arrives ready to blast Nazis in “The Bridge at Chalons.” Nick Adams (Rebel Without a Cause) helps battle for control of a river crossing in “Bridgehead.” “Masquerade” makes you question the identity of James Coburn (In Like Flint). “The Long Way Home” captures Sgt. Saunders. He must deal with the S.S., Richard Basehart (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker) and James Sikking (Hill Street Blues). “The Wounded Don’t Cry” has Sgt. Saunders make a deal with a German to get plasma for a hospital. Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek‘s Spock) is part of the sketchy mission. “The Medal” confuses if Frank Gorshin (Batman‘s The Riddler) or Joseph Campanella (Mannix) took out a German tank. “The Chateau” is a battlefield tale involving Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.). “Survival” shows Sgt. Saunders (Morrow) is as tough as they come when he battles to rejoin his men even with a nasty injury. “High Name Today” makes the guys worry about the hotdog ways of Dean Stockwell (Blue Velvet).

The third season sends the platoon to a higher altitude. “Mountain Man” puts Theodore Bikel (The African Queen) on top of a hill. He claims he’s sitting out this war out after what happened to his family during World War I. However there’s a bit of a fear that he’s working with the Nazis to set the guys up as sitting ducks. Telly Savalas (Kojak) is a Greek colonel out to kill as many Nazis as he can in “Vendetta.” Jennifer Aniston’s dad John is part of Telly’s crew. “Silver Service” puts Mickey Rooney on the front lines. Rooney had served under General Patton during World War II. “The Hard Way Back” paints Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause) as a coward when he deserts Sgt. Saunders in his time of need. “A Gift of Hope” gets Rip Torn (The Larry Sanders Show) tagged as a deserter. But could he really bolt from the battle? “The Enemy” makes Robert Duvall (The Godfather) an explosives expert who has wired a French village to blow. Frankie Avalon is far from the beach in “Brother, Brother.” “Heritage” lets Charles Bronson (Death Wish) blow up stuff.

“Main Event” is slightly comical when a renowned fighter joins the unit. What Sgt. Saunders isn’t counting on is the guy’s manager (Jack Carter) being part of the deal. “S.I.W.” has legendary filmmaker John Cassavetes get accused of a self inflicted wound to go back home. “The Linesman” crosses Jack Lord (Hawaii Five-O) into the battle. After fleeing Dodge City, Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke & McCloud) must force a French family off their farm. “The Old Men” brings back Simon Oakland as the world’s oldest private. “Hills Are for Heroes” is the peak of the show. The platoon is ordered to take a hill without any real support. The combat turns bloody as the men can’t back off the mission. Watching both episodes back to back makes this a feature film experience. Vic Morrow called the shots as actor and director. It’s a shame he didn’t get to direct more feature films. The man had talent on both sides of the camera.

The fifth season brought a new element to the action: color. The addition of hues changed a little bit of the atmosphere in the show. Black and white film does a fine job at capturing the gritty and haggard faces of men who had been in the combat zone for so long. Color film takes away a level of intensity. “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 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?

Combat! The Complete Series allows Vic Morrow a chance to shine over the prolonged campaign. He’s such a force on the small screen. He seems like a guy who has spent five years battling the Nazis instead of just a pretty boy actor with his hair mussed up. The entire series does a great job of always making it seem like the platoon is in jeopardy with a chance that not everybody is going to make it. The numerous guest stars help up the impact of the battles. Seeing how ME-TV has cut back Combat! to only one episode a week, Combat! The Complete Series is the perfect holiday gift for fans that are missing their nightly Vic Morrow fix.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The first four seasons of black and white transfers look sharp. They bring out the muck of the action. Quite a few episodes are a few minutes short of the 50 minutes. Nothing seems incomplete enough to upset my dad when he was watching the DVDs. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The sound is good for a TV series with major explosions.

Audio Commentaries
include Tom Lowell on “The Celebrity,” Robert Altman on “Cat and Mouse,” Michael Caffey on “Cat and Mouse,” Joseph Campanella on “The Medal,” Robert Altman on “Survival,” Ben Cooper & Tom Lowell on “Next In Command,” Sutton Roley on “The Battle of The Roses,” Ted Post on “The Sniper,” Richard Donner on “No Trumpets, No Drums,” Ted Post on “The Bridge at Chalon,” Tom Lowell on “Bridgehead,” Esther Mitchell on “Anatomy of a Patrol,” Ted Post on “The Hostages,” Michael Caffey on “The Glory Among Men,” 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.”

Memories of Combat (23:23) points out how Robert Altman had more control over his episodes than a normal TV director is alive. Richard Donner (director of Superman, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon, Maverick) shares his memories of working with Vic Morrow. He was a selfless actor. One cast member asked him what it’s like to be a star. Vic replied, “I’m not a star. I’m a comet and I’ll flame out before my time.” Rick Jason looked good with a gun because he was a hunter.

Social Security in Action (14:00) interviews Vic Morrow and Pierre Jalbert from Hollywood. This is more of a celebrity chat with an ad break about filing for Social Security benefits. Vic recounts his time in the Navy. Sadly Vic wouldn’t get to file for his social security check.

Rick Jason Radio Interview is from KTRS in St. Louis from 2000. The DJ interviewing Rick is a big fan so he enjoys talking with Rick.

The Big Picture
(28:22) has Vic Morrow narrate a documentary about the Ranger training school at Ft. Benning.

Combat! Directed by Vic Morrow (27:19) focuses on the episodes when Vic was allowed to call the shots on his troops. The actors liked to work with Vic since as an actor, he wasn’t ego driven on the set. “Hills Are For Heroes” was his finest two hours in the director’s chair.

Combat! This Season in Color (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.

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.

Photo Galleries cover all five seasons and the numerous guest stars.

Combat! The Complete Series boxes up Vic Morrow’s adventure fighting the Nazis across France. The series is captivating in its coverage of men at war. The bonus features explain so much about the show. The audio commentaries from Ted Hope (Hang ‘Em High), Richard Donner (Superman) and Robert Altman (M*A*S*H*) is a master class of directors who made the leap from TV to cinema.

RLJ and Image Entertainment presents Combat! The Complete Series. Starring: Vic Morrow, Rick Jason and Dick Peabody. Boxset Contents: 152 episodes on 40 DVDs. Released: November 12, 2013.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.

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