1966-67 season color title card (With Rick Jason)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||152 (List of episodes)|
|Running time||46 to 52 minutes per episode|
|Production company(s)||Selmur Productions|
|Original run||October 2, 1962 – March 14, 1967|
Combat! is an American television program that originally aired on ABC from 1962 until 1967. (The exclamation point in Combat! was a stylized bayonet.) The show covered the grim lives of a squad of American soldiers fighting the Germans in France during World War II. (The episode "Crossfire" shows D-Day as a flashback, hence the action occurs during and after June 1944.) The program starred Rick Jason as platoon leader Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley and Vic Morrow as Sergeant "Chip" Saunders. The series was unusual in that Hanley and Morrow would play the lead in alternating episodes.
Combat! premiered on ABC on October 2, 1962, and was broadcast for five seasons. TV's longest-running World War II drama (as of May 2013), Combat! aired 152 hour-long episodes. The first four seasons, spanning 127 episodes, were produced in black and white, with the final season, 25 episodes long, filmed in color. The show was developed by Robert Pirosh, who wrote the pilot episode.
Although the series ran for five seasons, King Company, 361st Infantry Regiment (the Army unit around whose fictional experiences the program was centered) never fought its way out of France.
According to Rick Jason, "Our budgets for the first year, including pre-production, production, and post-production, (that is, the entire cost of each negative) was $127,500. In the fifth year (in color) we delivered them for $183,000. Our time schedules were six shooting days. Therefore, on a five-day week, we took a week and one day to shoot a show. Here and there, a segment went to seven shooting days and everybody in the front offices got a little nervous."
Jason said of the working conditions, "In the first year of the show, Vic and I were given dressing room suites in a building that hadn't been renovated in twenty-five years. We also had no dressing rooms on the outdoor sets (we were thankful just to have chairs). Vic went on strike the beginning of the second year and things got much better."
Wesley Britton wrote, "The producers and directors of the series (including Robert Altman, whose work on the show included 10 defining episodes) went the extra mile for establishing credibility and realism. Then and now, viewers see motion picture quality photography as in the long shots very unlike most network television of the period. They had military advisors on hand to look over scripts and maps. The cast couldn't shave during the five day shoots to help the 'beard continuity.' Except for occasional dialogue, for the most part when the 'Krauts' or 'Gerrys' spoke, they did so in German. Actor Robert Winston Mercy, who wrote one script and played a number of German officers, told me the uniforms were so precisely recreated with correct pipings and insignias that he would cause a stir among Jewish cafeteria workers when he strode in wearing his costume during lunch breaks."
- Rick Jason as 2nd Lt. Gil Hanley
- Vic Morrow as Sgt. "Chip" Saunders
- Pierre Jalbert as PFC Paul "Caje" LeMay
- Jack Hogan as PFC William G. Kirby
- Dick Peabody as PFC "Littlejohn"
- Conlan Carter as "Doc" (seasons 2–5); nominated for Emmy Award, 1964
- Tom Lowell as Pvt. Billy Nelson (first and second season)
- Shecky Greene as Pvt. Braddock (first season)
- Steven Rogers as "Doc Walton" (first season)
- William Bryant as Pvt. McCall (fifth season; other characters in first season)
- Paul Busch, frequently played different parts, mostly Germans
Guest stars appeared as additional squad members, French citizens or German soldiers. In the first season, the then little-known Ted Knight and Frank Gorshin made appearances. Other notable guest stars included Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, James Coburn, Bill Bixby, Dwayne Hickman, Telly Savalas, Luise Rainer, Charles Bronson, Richard Basehart, Eddie Albert, James Caan, Jeffrey Hunter, Leonard Nimoy, Frankie Avalon, Sal Mineo, Neville Brand, Brandon De Wilde, Tab Hunter, Beau Bridges, John Cassavetes, Roddy McDowell, Walter Maslow, Mickey Rooney, Claudine Longet, James Whitmore, Dennis Hopper, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, Keenan Wynn, Richard Jaeckel, Fernando Lamas, Ricardo Montalban, Claude Akins, Warren Oates, Nick Adams, Joan Hackett, Jack Lord, and Dean Stockwell.
Producers for the series were:
- Series pilot: Robert Pirosh
- Season one: Robert Altman, Robert Blees, Burt Kennedy, Gene Levitt, Richard Maibaum, Paul Stanley
- Seasons two through four: Gene Levitt
- Season five: Richard Caffey
- The executive producer for all five seasons was Selig J. Seligman, head of Selmur Productions.
Directors for the series were:
Most of the cast members were veterans of the armed services, with several having served during World War II. Jack Hogan, Dick Peabody, and Shecky Greene all served in the U.S. Navy, while Rick Jason served in the Army Air Corps. Vic Morrow served in the U.S. Navy in 1947. Conlan Carter served in the U.S. Air Force during the post-Korean War era. Pierre Jalbert was a drill sergeant in the University Air Training Corps at Laval University in Canada during World War II.
- Sergeant Saunders wears a camo pattern helmet cover. The camo is parachute silk and not the pattern used by the US marines in the Pacific campaign.
- Eric Braeden appeared in a number of episodes as a German soldier. He was featured in a leading role (as Hans Gudegast) in a later World War II series, The Rat Patrol.
Combat! has been aired on and off since the 1970s in Greece, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, South Korea, Venezuela, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Pakistan, and Taiwan.
Combat! is also aired on Me-TV.
Syndication created a new audience and interested commentators.
Pop culture scholar Gene Santoro has written,
TV's longest-running World War II drama (1962-67) was really a collection of complex 50-minute movies. Salted with battle sequences, they follow a squad's travails from D-Day on--a gritty ground-eye view of men trying to salvage their humanity and survive. Melodrama, comedy, and satire come into play as Lieutenant Hanley (Rick Jason) and Sergeant Saunders (Vic Morrow) lead their men toward Paris. Under orders, Hanley keeps sending or leading Saunders and his squad on incessant patrols though they're dead on their feet and always shorthanded; replacements are grease monkeys or cook's helpers who are fodder, and everybody knows it. The relentlessness hollows antihero Saunders out: at times, you can see the tombstones in his eyes.
Most of the first 32 episodes are very good indeed, thanks to taut scripts and canny direction... Series developer Robert Pirosh copped an Oscar for writing Battleground: his hard-edged realism is often reflected in the plots.
Later episodes inevitably get uneven, though there are gems throughout... But this TV series, shot on MGM back lots when color TVs were rare, remains exceptional."
Wesley Britton, son of a World War II veteran, wrote, "Unless you watched Combat! during its original 1962-1967 run, you might not know just how popular and influential the program was... In a league of its own, Combat! was aptly titled as considerable time was spent with the American soldiers engaged in machine gun fire fights and explosions while the soundtrack was filled with the martial horns and drums of the rousing Leonard Rosenman score. Combat! was also distinguished by its grim and realistic stories that frequently had only the most minimal of dialogue, and that often being only quick orders from Sgt. Saunders to his unit while they were on the move."
Britton added, "The 25 episodes of the fifth and final season of Combat!, the only one broadcast in color, maintained the high-quality of the show so well established in the first four years. One major change was a move from MGM studios to CBS which meant, among other matters, a new sound crew and different props. Further, in this season the color was especially memorable as most viewers were accustomed to seeing World War II in black-and-white like the newsreels of the war years. However, using color resulted in a variety of production problems such as the lack of usable stock footage. But the show wasn't simply spectacular explosion fests, although most episodes opened and closed with violent skirmishes believably orchestrated by the special effects crew."
The Super Famicom game, Sgt. Saunders' Combat!, was based on the television show and only released in Japan. It allowed players to re-enact crucial World War II battles in Western Europe and North Africa. The names of fictional officers in addition to real-world officers (i.e., Karl Bülowius, Joachim Peiper, and Anthony McAuliffe) are used in order to maintain a sense of historical accuracy.
VHS and DVD releases
Several Combat! episodes are available commercially from WorldVision, with six tapes in all. These were the time-compressed syndication prints and ran slightly less than the original airtime of 50–51 minutes. The frequently asked questions for the shows' mailing list confirms this.
Image Entertainment has released the entire series on DVD (Region 1). They released each season in two-volume sets in 2004 and 2005. On December 6, 2005, Image Entertainment released a 40-disc boxed set featuring all 152 episodes. Each season set, as well as the complete series set, features various extras including commentaries, oddities, bloopers, and photo galleries.
However, all episodes are the time-compressed versions that were distributed by WorldVision for syndication; each comes in at 46 to 47 minutes, instead of the original runtime, which was 50 to 51 minutes.
On October 9, 2012 Image Entertainment released a five-DVD collection of 20 episodes called Combat! - 50th Anniversary Fan Favorites.
On November 12, 2013, Image released Combat! - The Complete Series, a 40-disc set that features all 152 episodes of the series.
- Davidsmeyer, J. (1996, 2008) Combat! A Viewer's Companion to the Classic WWII TV Series. Sarasota, Florida: Strange New Worlds.
- Jason, Rick (July 2000). "Vic Morrow". Scrapbooks of My Mind: A Hollywood Autobiography by Rick Jason. www.scrapbooksofmymind.com. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- Britton, Wesley (July 29, 2013). "DVD Review: Combat! The Complete Fifth Season". BC: Blog Critics. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
- Santoro, Gene (March–April 2011). "Infantrymen on the Small Screen". World War II (Leesburg, Virginia: Weider History Group) 25 (6): 69. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- Combat Fan website FAQ.
- Combat: Season 1 – Campaign 1 : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
- Lambert, David (July 3, 2012). "Combat! - '50th Anniversary Fan Favorites' 5-DVD Set Arrives in October". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved July 5, 2012.
- Davidsmeyer, J. (1996, 2008) Combat! A Viewer's Companion to the Classic WWII TV Series. Strange New Worlds: Sarasota, Florida. (ISBN 978-0970162434)
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