"Bridgehead," Saunders must take a German-held bridge despite nearly
insurmountable opposition, including resistance from private Hellar, a new member of the
"Bridgehead" has all the elements of a great "Combat!" episode,
plus the benefit of a script by Edward J. Lakso and direction by Bernard McEveety.
Well-acted, carefully crafted moments abound: a genuine Saunders' patented pep-talk to a
new squad member, Littlejohn's self-recrimination over a fatal blunder, Billie's
near-paralyzing fear under fire, and Doc's impassioned desire to shed his non-combatant
role and seek vengeance. With all this going for it, "Bridgehead" should be a
top-notch episode. But these excellent moments exist in isolation. The parts never gel
into a cohesive whole.
I believe this is the only Combat! episode that takes place in
real-time (the "action" of the show takes ~55 minutes, the episode is ~55
minutes long). Saunders' near-impossible mission must be completed within a set amount of
time. This should add a harrowing tension, certainly a sense of urgency. But director McEveety, usually so skilled at developing pace, inexplicably lets the action meander from
one corner of the battle to another. No sharp-focus is kept on the overall mission, no
compelling push links all the scenes together to drive the action forward.
One major detriment to the episode is the character of Hellar, portrayed by Nick Adams.
Nothing wrong with Adams' performance. He ably embodies this jazzman's arrogance, ego, and
wise-cracking insubordination. He's a laid-back shirker, which makes keeping an intense
pace to this episode rather difficult. Nothing makes this character move fast, so scenes
with him break any tension created earlier. His eleventh-hour redemption and
self-sacrifice are predictable. Overall, his character is a distraction from what might
have been a breath-taking episode. With his character removed, they might have created a
story as moving as "Hills Are For Heroes," which in its plot is remarkably
similar to "Bridgehead."
Doc and Billy have the best moments in this episode. In a series of scenes,
Tom Lowell vividly makes clear the fear of a young man facing certain death. He is
compelled to fight on, not by duty or honor, but by the sheer will of an angry Sergeant.
Lowell displays the greatest kind of heroism, managing to do battle through an
all-consuming terror. Despite uncontrollable shaking and tears, he does his job. His
fellow soldier, older and more mature, meets the same challenge and fails -- spending much
of the episode huddled in a corner overcome by personal demons and unable to support
Billy's efforts. Conlan Carter gives us a Doc that dispels any lingering memory of Steven
Rogers' sensitive, introspective medic. Carter's Doc rails against the non- combatant role
imposed on him by regulations. Not a passive man by nature, in this episode he has reached
his limit, no longer able to sit by and watch the casualties mount. "I'm beginning to
think I'm gonna be all by myself when this thing's over," Doc says to Hanley,
"Now the killin' is gettin' way ahead of the fixin'. He wants a weapon, he wants to
fight back. Carter convincingly shows the mixed desires and fears of this complex
character: tender and compassionate as he deals with Littlejohn's wounds (physical and
emotional), then vengeful as he craves blood for blood. It's a great scene, for awhile;
it's hard to believe the passion of Doc's convictions when just a few sentences from
Hanley restore his reason and good nature.
Notes, Oddities, and Bloopers
Any episode that starts with a close-up of Paul Busch can't be all bad.
Billy's father apparently has recovered from his unfortunate death in "The
Celebrity", since Billy talks about a recent letter from his father.
Editing boo-boo: we see a scene of Doc bandaging a wounded Kirby BEFORE Kirby gets
It's nice to hear Hanley talk about the other squads' activities in this episode; I was
beginning to think that this was the most seriously understaffed platoon in the US army.
Would someone please get Saunders a knife! In five years of "Combat!", he
never carried a knife or a bayonet, so he's always mooching blades from the guys. In this
episode he even mooches a bayonet from the Lieutenant. What's his aversion to carrying
edged weapons? Morrow certainly carries them enough in other roles he's tackled.
We see Joey Walsh (Pvt. Jack Johnson in "Bridgehead") again in fourth
season's "Hills Are For Heroes". We also see Noam Pitlick (the ill-fated Pvt.
Scott) in third season's "Beneath the Ashes."
This episode contains my nomination for the oddest character- exposition dialog of the
whole series. Hellar says "It's all a matter of direction. You stick your neck into a
lion's mouth and you come up without a head. Me, I'm a south-bound fellow in a north-bound
as Sgt. Saunders
as Lt. Hanley
as Pvt. Mick Hellar
Jack Hogan as Kirby
Tom Lowell as Billy Nelson
Dick Peabody as Littlejohn
Conlan Carter as Doc
Noam Pitlick .... Pvt. Gene Scott
Paul Busch .... German Sergeant
Joey Walsh .... Pvt. Jack Johnson
Richard Jury .... Pvt. Wayne Shrope
Fred Harris .... Cole
- I'm gonna say this once and I'm gonna say it to all of you. Keep your mouths shut, your
heads down and your ears open. You'll follow my orders and don't ask why. Is that clear?
Saunders in Command (43 k)
- Nobody cares. And you want to know why? Because they haven't got time. Because
everybody's fighting his -- his own little slice of the war. And this is our little slice.
- You better open your eyes and look around. You may die here today, Hellar. And if you
don't know why, if you can't come up with a reason then your -- your whole life has been
one big nothin'.
- We can't take that house without a tank, Lieutenant.
- We have to.
- We were told to.
Doing the Impossible (54