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Combat!- The Complete Series DVD Review

Combat!- The Complete Series DVD

“Combat!” is one of the very best TV series about WWII.

While perhaps not talked about as much in this day and age, the 1960’s TV series “Combat!” was an immensely popular and influential WWII centric TV series that revolved around a squad of soldiers comprised of Lt. Hanley, the rough and tough Sgt. Saunders, Doc, Private Kirby, Private Caje, Private Littlejohn, and Private Billy Nelson (early on in the show). Throughout the show’s five season 152 episode run (all of which is collected in this complete series set), the gritty series presented a wide variety of storylines on and off the battlefield involving the D-Day Invasion, romantic encounters, bombs, soldiers being taken prisoner, new recruits, a German deserter, squad missions, rescue missions, Kirby being accused of desertion, accidental deaths, encounters with other soldiers, unstable soldiers, patrols, POW camps, allies, allied forces, injuries, military court, civilians, emotional trauma, ammunition, replacement soldiers, intelligence, tanks, helpful guides, undercover Nazis, and soldiers being stuck behind enemy lines.

When it comes to WWII series, “Band of Brothers” is often considered the gold standard, but “Combat!” certainly ranks as one of the best. The first season in particular is completely absorbing as we (the audience) get to know this tight knit group of soldiers. What makes them so interesting is the fact that these characters aren’t one dimensional creations who engage in “missions of the week” for television purposes. They’re fully developed characters that grow episode after episode. We see their hopes, nerves, fears, and desires as well as observe the impact that the war and the loss of fellow soldiers has on them. Additionally, we see the internal conflicts that the soldiers have with one another. They’re not always just fighting the enemy, they’re also fighting themselves.

In terms of the characters, there’s no question that Sgt. Chip Saunders (who was played by the late Vic Morrow) was the real star of the show. Even though he wasn’t technically the main character (that would be Lt. Hanley), Morrow certainly owns the screen and proves to be the most layered and fascinating character.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of “Combat!” is the production values. While there is a lot of apparent backlot sets, this is a pretty massive production that boasts some high quality production values, action set pieces, sets, props and costumes, and even some talented big named directors like Richard Donner (“Superman”) and Robert Altman (“The Player” and “Nashville”). There’s also a HUGE number of famous guest stars such as Harry Dean Stanton, Lee Marvin, Leonard Nimoy, Dennis Hopper, and tons of others. I can spend the whole review just naming guest stars but I won’t.

As I mentioned above, “Combat!” offers up a wide array of episode plots, but, as with any long running series, the storylines are exhausted after a few seasons. This is especially evident in seasons 4 and 5 as plots about injuries, characters being captured, and replacement soldiers happen multiple times. Personally, I think the show peaked with the darker season one as that season featured the best writing. Now, that doesn’t mean the later seasons don’t have any memorable moments. All 5 seasons have classic episodes such as the D-Day centric “A Day In June,” the season two “Gideon’s Army,” the intense “The Enemy” (featuring Robert Duvall,” the Kirby centric “Retribution,” and the exciting first color episode “The Gun” in season 5.

Overall Thoughts: While I suggest checking out the first (and best) season of “Combat!” to start off with, you can’t go wrong with picking up the affordably priced complete series set (especially if you are a huge fan of the show). With 152 episodes and a ton of extra features, this set will keep you busy for a long while.

Note: As far as I know, the episodes are not presented in broadcast order.

Video/Audio:

Presentation: 1.33:1 in B&W and color. How does it look? “Combat!” is an impressive looking B&W series (for the first 4 seasons). Sure, the prints have aged a bit, but the show still looks phenomenal regardless. As for the quality of season 5 (the only one in color), there are some noticeable dirt specs and scratches, but overall the colors appear very rich.

Audio Track: Dolby Digital Mono. How does it sound? This is a very lively track for a mere Mono track. The series is packed with action and the Mono track handles it all surprisingly well.  

Extras:
* “Memories of Combat” features episode clips, cast and crew interviews, set stories, and memories from working on “Combat!”
* “Notes, Oddities and Bloopers”- Text trivia for each episode.
* Combat! Photo Gallery for seasons one and two (two), three (two), four, five (four)
* A very dull commentary by Tom Lowell (who played Billy Nelson) on “The Celebrity.”
* Two separate commentaries on “Cat and Mouse” by director Robert Altman and first assistant director Michael Caffey. Altman (whose track has frequent quiet spots) chats about back lots, characters, and his work while Caffey chats about cameras, Altman, his work on set, etc. Caffey’s commentary is one of the best tracks on this set.
* A likable commentary on “The Medal” by actor Joseph Campanella who quaintly recalls his time on the show.
* Commentary on “Survival” by Robert Altman.
* Commentary on “Next In Command” by Ben Cooper and Tom Lowell.
* A solid commentary on “The Battle of the Roses” by director Sutton Roley who offers up plenty of interesting factoids.
* A bland commentary on “The Sniper” by director Ted Post.
* A very enthusiastic commentary on “No Trumpets, No Drums” by Richard Donner. He chats about sets, directing, the cast, and so forth.
* “Social Security In Action” extra featuring separate interviews with Vic Morrow, Pierre Jalbert”- Part interviews, part Social Security ad.
* Commentary on “The Bridge At Chalons” by Ted Post.
* Commentary on “Bridgehead” by Tom Lowell.
* A worthwhile commentary on “Anatomy of a Patrol” by writer Esther Mitchell. She chats about the story, how she got the gig, her husband and co-writer Bob Mitchell, factoids, etc.
* A Rick Jason radio interview from 2000.
* Commentary on “The Hostages” by Ted Post.
* “The Big Picture”- Vic Morrow narrates this interesting half hour special about soldiers.
* Commentary on “The Glory Among Men” by Michael Caffey.
* “Combat!”- A 27 minute featurette about Vic Morrow’s directorial duties on “Combat!”
* Commentary on “The Gun” by DVD special features producer Steve Mitchell and actor Warren Stevens.
* Commentary on “Cry For Help” by Steve Mitchell and Conlan Carter (Doc). Discussions range from studios, Robert Duvall, shooting experiences, characters, etc.
* “Combat! This Season In Color”- A 2 part featurette about the transititon to color. Episode clips, discussions about the merits and flaws of color, and cast and crew interviews are included.
* Commentary on “Nightmare On The Red Ball Run” by author/fan Jo Davidsmeyer and Steve Mitchell. Easily the best track on the set.
* An enjoyable commentary on “Jonah” by Steve Mitchell and director Georg Fenady. The two chat about rain, sets, Lee Marvin, f/x, shooting angles, and much more.

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December 6, 2013 - Posted by | DVD review | , , , , , , , ,

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