Judge P.S. Colbert conscientiously objects to fighting and dying for this box set.
"Technical Assistance Of Department Of Army Is Gratefully Acknowledged."
First things first. RLJ Entertainment's Combat!: The Complete First Season appears to be an eight disc repackaging of the "Campaign 1 & Campaign 2" half-season sets issued by Image Entertainment in 2004, with the exact same extra features now bundled into a discounted eight disc box set.
Those who charged that the previous sets engaged in a bit of trickery by offering time-compressed, syndicated versions of the episodes (which reduced the running time from approximately 52 minutes to 46-49 minutes, on average) will be disappointed to learn that the shows presented here all fall below the fifty minute mark. Thirty two episodes is nearly impossible to get through in a week (especially if one wants to keep his family together), and so I'm only attesting to the several segments I viewed when I say that I didn't notice any unnaturally rapid movement of the actors or plot lines therein.
What I did notice was that, even after half a century, Combat! still holds up as great, gritty entertainment, bolstered by strong ensemble work, both in front of and behind the camera. Lieutenant Gil Hanley (Rick Jason) and Sergeant Chip Saunders (Vic Morrow), lead a rotating group of Army infantry men through the fog of World War Two. Starting in England, where the men await D-Day orders in the first story ("A Day In June"), then steadily progressing through France for the season's remainder.
Along the way, adventure abounds, with some future television and movie stars making their bones: Robert Culp (I Spy), Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap), Tom Skerritt (Alien), and Ted Knight (Caddyshack), who pops up several times, playing a variety of (villainous) Germans. Among the platoon regulars is one of the strangest casting coups in television history: none other than legendary nightclub comic Shecky Greene, in the role of beefy wisenheimer Private Braddock—for a handful of episodes, anyways, until the comedian realized how much less money he was making by staying off the live circuit to play soldier.
Famed directors Robert Altman (Gosford Park), Burt Kennedy (The Train Robbers), Laslo Benedek (The Wild One), and Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) all take turns at the helm, while among the writer's ranks are a pair of Oscar winners: Richard Pirosh (Battleground) and Harry Brown (A Place In The Sun), Tony award winning Luther Davis (Kismet), and such diverse talents as David Zelag Goodman (Straw Dogs), Richard Maibaum (From Russia With Love) and Logan Swanson, actually a pseudonym for vaunted sci-fi-horror-fantasy writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend).
The audio commentaries and photo gallery are nice enough in the typical hit-and-miss style of such "bonus features," but the twenty-three minute documentary "Memories of Combat!" is a real gem. Series biographer Jo Davidsmeyer, author of "Combat!: A Viewer's Companion to the WWII TV Series" moderates, and fills in the blanks between interviews of crew and cast members (including eason one regulars Pierre Jalbert and Tom Lowell), which reveal a spirit of closeness and collaboration among the show's makers that obviously went a long way towards making it a study in timeless, quality viewing.
As for the quality of the viewing, I must admit that some night scenes get awfully dark, and the stock footage of real WWII action—while invaluable in terms of establishing authenticity—has really taken a beating over the years. Look, I'd love nothing more than to see a (black and white) corrected picture, and have the sparkling sound to match (subtitles are always helpful, but missing here), but I'm not holding out any hope at this point. In the meantime, avid fans who passed the first time on unduly expensive, poorly-reviewed half-season sets have a chance to add to their collections with a better deal this time around.
To paraphrase someone I never wish to credit: For now, we have to go with the first season set of Combat! we have, as opposed to the first season set of Combat! we might want or wish to have at a later time.
Guilty. Sentence commuted.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: RLJ Entertainment
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