Combat! 1960’s Television at its Gritty Best
by Guy Belleranti
Running from October 1962 to March 1967, Combat was perhaps television’s best war drama.
152 one-hour episodes were shown over this time, all on ABC. All but the final season was in black and white.
The series followed a platoon of American soldiers fighting in World War II Europe after the Normandy invasion. The program was realistic and it never glamorized war. The black and white cinematography of the first four seasons especially had a gritty feel.
Rick Jason played Lieutenant Gil Hanley as the platoon’s tough, disciplined leader. Vic Morrow played Sergeant “Sarge” Chip Saunders, Hanley’s right hand man. Unlike Hanley, Saunders was not a professional soldier, and while he was demanding of his men, he was also very caring.
Other characters of importance included PFC Paul “Caje” Lemay a French speaking Cajun played by Pierre Jalbert, Private William Kirby played by Jack Hogan and Private Littlejohn played by Dick Peabody.
The show often alternated focus between lead characters Hanley and Saunders as it dealt with the numerous moral issues war presents. It showed man against man, man against nature and man against himself. The sets were usually very authentic, and sometimes actual war footage was used to add to the show’s gritty look. While the program dealt with serious issues and tough situations it also was able to do so without the graphic violence of today’s war pictures.
Combat featured excellent writing, directing and editing. It also had great acting. In addition to the fine regulars, numerous other name actors appeared as guest stars. Among them were Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Tab Hunter, Robert Duvall, Dan Duryea, Richard Basehart, Telly Savalas, James Coburn and Leonard Nimoy.
Many of the program’s episodes are now available on DVD, and after having recently viewed a few I can honestly say that Combat was, indeed, a top-notch television drama.
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