Combat!, a one-hour WWII drama series on television, followed a frontline American infantry squad as they battled their way across Europe. With mud-splattered realism, the show offered character studies of men striving to maintain their own humanity in the midst of a world torn by war.
Combat! enters its fourth year with the same solid, quality entertainment and multitude of guest stars that characterized the first three seasons. Like every season, it has hits and misses, although the standout episode, “Hills Are For Heroes”, goes a long way toward balancing out the bad and quite possibly making this season my second favorite of the show (if “Hills” wasn’t a part of Season 4, I would say it was no better or worse than Season 3). Each season has a different ‘feel’ for me, very difficult to explain but there all the same, and I would say that Season 4 is a little…darker than any of the others. At least that’s the impression I’ve always gotten. There’s an episode with a murderer (“Nothing To Lose”) and one with a guy who gets killed in a pretty gruesome way (“Retribution”) and, yeah, it’s pretty dark at times. Plus, the ending of “Hills” always struck me as quite (read: VERY) depressing. But I still love Season 4 (as I do all the others, really), and now to discuss all the reasons why.
Main characters: If Season 4 ‘belongs’ to any character, it’s Kirby. Really. First, there’s “Retribution”, which is giving me feels just remembering it: Kirby’s soon-to-be brother-in-law is found beaten to death by a sadistic German CREEP and Kirby goes off on a vendetta to find the guy and kill him. Jack Hogan’s acting is amazing, as usual, and Kirby continues to change and grow through the whole season, which ends in the pinnacle of his characterization (IMO) in “The Leader”. The decisions he makes and things he does in that episode show just how much he’s matured. He also carries a large chunk of the plot in “Hills Are For Heroes”, which I view as the biggest testing the squad has ever had to go through; I’d even so far as to say that it almost rips them apart (at least some of them) before Saunders steps in and gets Hanley back on track with that wonderful pep talk. (BEST. SCENE. EVER.)
Speaking of Saunders, he ends up with hearing loss in Season 4, which is pretty big. He also puts up with green replacements and old men joining the squad, a POW camp episode, getting wounded countless times, etc., etc. How he manages to stay on his feet is awe-inspiring in and of itself. Hanley gets several focus episodes, and “Hills”, of course, which I’d say was quite a traumatic experience (it’s my sister’s favorite and least favorite episode all at once – she’s a huge Hanley fan, so go figure). All the other characters (Caje, Littlejohn, and Doc) don’t get any big moments, from what I can remember. (I’m rather sleepy right now, so if I’ve forgotten anything, remind me!) Doc is his same steady, dependable self, Littlejohn keeps getting bit parts, and Caje is still awesome.
Minor characters: Compared to seasons 1, 2, and 3, Season 3 doesn’t have as many minor characters that I’m fond of or that I at least find interesting, but there are a few. “Hills” is populated by some nice minor characters – Einstein, particularly, and Earl Parker (Vic Morrow’s stunt double) gets a small part. Elisabeth and I have also grown to like Hanley’s radio operator in that episode; he gets practically no characterization, but we still kinda like him, for whatever reason. Andrea Darvi returns in “Gitty”, and does just as well in that episode as she does in “No Trumpets, No Drums” and “The Party”. All the POW chaps in “Ask Me No Questions” are great as well, and the British dude in “Evasion” is a lot of fun. I also like the four replacements in “The First Day” (yes, even Tate), but overall, there isn’t any minor character in Season 4 that I love. (Not like Avery or Brockmeyer, anyway.)
The list of guest stars for Season 4 includes Sal Mineo, Leonard Nimoy, John Casavettes, and Claude Akins.
Favorite/Least Favorite episodes: There are a few blah episodes in Season 4. “A Sudden Terror”, for one. *beats head against desk at the sheer stupidity of this episode* (Ditto for “Luck With Rainbows”.) “The Linesman” has got to be one of the most boring episodes in the history of the show, and “One At A Time” isn’t much better. Now, Season 4 is probably my least-watched season (I don’t know why, it just is), so most of these episodes I’ve only seen once, but I think the ones I’ve listed deserve it. A few other episodes that didn’t capture my interest: “The Ringer”, “The Farmer”, “The Old Men”, and “The Flying Machine”. There are others, but I won’t list them all, because I’d rather talk about all the truly excellent episodes in this season.
Like “Hills Are For Heroes”. I can’t understand why this hasn’t been released in movie format yet, because if you view it as a movie, it ranks right up there with some of the great war films (not going to name names, though, because just about everyone has a different idea of what makes a ‘great war film’). I believe I watched “Hills” quite early into my foray into Combat!, and the ending really knocked the breath out of me for a while, a bit like how “Cat & Mouse” did when I first watched it. Didn’t expect that ending at all. Vic Morrow directed “Hills” by the way, if you didn’t know, and he has a wonderful directorial style all his own. I could go on and on about the perfection of this episode (episodes?), but I won’t. (Rats. Now I feel like watching it again, and I don’t have the time.)
After “Losers Cry Deal”, I’d say that “The First Day” would be the best episode to show a first-time C! viewer: great characterization for all the regulars, interesting plot, emotional depth, snappy dialogue – everything that makes Combat! what it is. I’ve watched it quite a few times, and the missionary family who stayed at our house for a few days really enjoyed it, which made me quite happy (I love introducing people to my fandoms and having them enjoy whatever book or movie or TV show it is). “The Leader” is another fantastic episode from Season 4. Seeing Doc and Kirby having a serious discussion was interesting, since they’re usually doing some kind of back-and-forth banter (usually about one of Kirby’s imaginary wounds). The atmosphere reminded me of Hell Is For Heroes – filmed at night, a small force having to fill a gap in the line, tricks and traps, and so forth. Did anyone else get that feeling?
I also enjoy “Evasion”, “Finest Hour”, “The Raider”, “S.I.W.”, “The Mockingbird”, “Ask Me No Questions”, and “Gitty”.
Overall: Season 4 offers fans several strong episodes. It’s the last season in b&w, and while there are a few recycled plots, Combat!’s fourth year of episodes stands on its own two feet. All the characters we’ve come to know and love over the past several seasons haven’t changed at all (with the possible exception of Kirby) and there’s enough action, excitement, and drama to satisfy anyone. One of my favorite seasons. Next up, my final Combat! review which will focus on the controversial fifth season (controversial because of the show’s switch to colour).