Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Iconic 1960s series 'Combat" is blasting away again

By Mouser the King Cat

There always seems to be room for one more TV network, and one of the latest to the table is the Heroes & Icons channel, an offshoot of MeTV designed to appeal to male audiences. It concentrates on westerns, crime dramas and its new “Star Trek” monopoly. (It is showing all five series incarnations, in order, from the beginning.)

All the shows are vintage, from an era when people didn’t spazz out so much about violence on TV. After all, a show titled “Have Gun, Will Travel” might be expected to feature a bit of gunplay. Hard-boiled detective Joe Mannix was regularly shot, stabbed or knocked unconscious.  But things changed by the 1990s. The debate about needless violence on “NYPD Blue” was aired in the press months before the show first aired in 1993.

But even on action-oriented H&I, one show is an outlier. The classic “Combat” has made an unexpected comeback and is on the weekend schedule at H&I, which is carried on a smattering of over-the-air stations and cable systems. (The show runs in the overnight hours, away from kiddie eyeballs, so maybe the crusaders won’t notice.)

Combat” is a classic World War II drama that aired five seasons on ABC on the 1960s and lives on in reruns around the world. The H&I website describes it as “a tribute to the average G.I., men struggling to keep a moral center in the midst of violence.” The plots were “gritty,” code for plenty of automatic weapons fire exchanged, producing a high body count but little blood. The first four seasons were filmed in black-and-white; the last was in color.

Co-stars Vic Morrow and Rick Jason made the most of the sparse dialog. The guest star roster was impressive (although many were one-offs because they caught a bullet). The special effects were stellar. This is pop culture expert Gene Santoro’s description: 

TV’s longest-running World War II drama 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 (Jason) and Sergeant Saunders (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.

Both stars have passed on, Jason in 2000 at the age of 77. The horrible story of Morrow’s death is well known. The father of Jennifer Jason Leigh was decapitated by a helicopter rotor in 1982 while filming “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” He was 53.

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