Combat! reviews by Jo Davidsmeyer * Episodes rated from 0 to 4 bayonets
(006) Forgotten Front
Rating: 4 bayonets
Teleplay by Logan Swanson
From the Story by Jerome Coopersmith
Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Robert Blees
Aired Oct-02-1962 - Season 1, Episode 1
Syndication Order 5
Sgt. McGraw and two privates establish an observation post in a dyeworks on the River
Vire. They must provide coordinates to knock out the big gun hammering the American lines.
But a booby- trapped explosive wounds Sgt. McGraw and kills the rest of the patrol. Hanley
dispatches Saunders, Doc, Kirby, and Caje to replace the original patrol and provide aid
to McGraw. But McGraw dies as the patrol arrives.
Saunders finds a terrified, middle-aged German deserter hiding in the facility's engine
room. Doc is left to guard the German, Carl Dorfmann, as the others search for stray
Germans. Dorfmann nervously talks with Doc. He was a magician, a carnival worker, and a
song-and- dance man. He loved to sing American songs such as "Show Me The Way to Go
Home." Singing for Doc, his energy and joy is contagious. Doc can't help but smile at
this jovial man and tap his foot along with the merry song--and this is how the returning
patrol finds Doc "guarding" the prisoner.
Kirby is immune to Dorfmann's
Dorfmann is anxious to help the Americans. When a German patrol enters town, Dorfmann
sends them away. When Doc trips, accidentally dropping his carbine at Dorfmann's feet, the old German
gives it back. But when Kirby lets slip in front of Dorffman that the company is advancing
in the morning, he becomes a threat to the squad.
With the big gun destroyed, the squad starts to return to their lines, but find
themselves pinned down by a German tank entering the town. They can't take Dorfmann with
them, and because of his knowledge about the advance, they can't leave him behind.
Saunders leaves Caje to take care of the German as the others sneak out of the town. Back
at battalion headquarters Caje reveals that he couldn't look the old man in the eye and
"Forgotten Front" provided America its first glimpse of the new action show Combat!
This superb story tells of soldiers struggling with morality in the midst of war. Those
tuning in expecting sweeping action scenes and lots of bang-bang- shoot-'em ups, may have
been disappointed by this intimate look at a small corner of the war and the men who
In the series premiere, a squad of American soldiers come face-to- face with the enemy,
only to discover that this enemy is merely a frightened little man. Worse, a nice man.
Ultimately, events require that he be killed. And a single soldier must choose between
following his orders and following his conscience.
This type of moral dilemma was at the heart of this exceptional television series. At
its best, Combat! examined how soldiers struggle to keep (and sometimes find)
their moral center. This was not a series that glorified war, but it certainly showed the
kind of "glory" that men (and women) can rise to when tested under fire. Combat!
showed war as a furnace that either tempered and strengthened soldiers or destroyed them.
Directed by Robert Altman, "Forgotten Front" deftly underplays the emotions
and drama of this complex morality play. When death comes at the beginning of the episode,
the emotions are fully felt, but not wallowed in. Saunders has lost a friend in McGraw.
But his loss remains private and personal. The story has no villain, except for war
itself. The closest thing we get to a "bad guy" in this episode is Kirby acting
as a surly American jerk.
In his television debut, Albert Paulsen plays the German prisoner with an endearing
charm and vulnerability. Jack Hogan as the Kirby-you-love-to-hate makes obnoxious an
artform. This early episode is among Morrow's finest outings as Sergeant Saunders. Besides
playing the many levels of a harried and exhausted soldier leading men who don't wish to
be lead, he shows us a man at odds with his own actions and with what he must ask of his
command. He also shows us a "dangerous" side of Saunders that's more than a
little frightening as he confronts a prisoner whose life is in his hands and a GI who
disobeys and order.
The ending as originally filmed had Caje executing Paulsen's character. Altman was
later forced to add the scene that now ends the episode, where it's revealed the old man's
life was spared--an ending I far prefer. I feel the producers made a good call by
insisting on the alternate ending. I don't think viewers would have taken to heart a show
that premiered with the willful murder of a kindly old man. And I doubt they would have
accepted a character with innocent blood on his hands as one of the "good guys"
among the regular cast.
Though the episode is rife with technical flaws, the acting and script are so strong
these defects barely detract from the raw power of the story. The well-crafted script lets
us look at the situation from the viewpoint of Doc (Steven Rogers), the only non-combatant
and a character new to this game of war. He feels that his reactions to the German are due
to his inexperience. But through Saunders we see that even a war-weary veteran still
struggles with the larger questions of morality and duty.
Notes, Oddities, and Bloopers
- No prologue, starts with theme music and credits. These credits were unique to this
show: no narrator and no moving bayonet background.
- Continuity Problem: Scene with Saunders cooling himself under waterpipe, Saunders goes
from damp to soaking wet in one edit. Within 30 seconds he's bone-dry again.
- Lighting Problems: In the night scene in the engine room, what's the source of light?
It's bright as day inside. Throughout the episode the lighting is dreadful. The squad's
using flashlights down in the Engine room, so apparently we're supposed to think this room
that is lit bright as day is dark. One nice bit is, unfortunately, not possible. As
Saunders is outside waiting for Caje to shoot the German, we hear the gunshot and see the
muzzle flash brighten the side of Saunders' face. Sorry, They weren't line-of-sight, and
light doesn't travel well around corners.
- Four men, including McGraw, were killed by the booby-trap. Unfortunately, only three men
were in the room (the soldier giving cover never came inside).
- Shall we discuss how medics shouldn't be handling weapons, let alone holding prisoners
- At night, when the tank comes rolling up to the dyeworks, they use a stock piece of
footage of a tank approaching ... unfortunately its a *daylight* shot.
- Both Kirby and Caje call Saunders "sir."
- Why the heck didn't the tank just move forward, block the squad's escape, and blow them
to smithereens? (Just where is smithereens?)
- One of the few episodes where the German's outshoot the Americans. Body count in this
episode: Americans dead, 4; Germans dead, none.
as Sgt. Saunders
as Lt. Hanley
Shecky Greene as Braddock
Jack Hogan as Kirby
Steven Rogers as Doc
Pierre Jalbert as Caje
Albert Paulsen ..... Carl Dorffman
(NOTE: Tom Skerritt appears in an uncredited role at
end of show as soldier asksing after Saunders' Thomopson)
- How well did you know McGraw? Well, I asked you a question, Sergeant. How well did you
- As well as I knew Crenshaw, Allen, Goldshlag, Lister, and fifteen other guys that got
- You know I didn't say more than ten words to him in maybe three weeks.
- You never say much to anybody. That's your personality.
- I know what you think. "This is the enemy." Well, I am no one's enemy. I never
had any fight in me. Never. My mother was happy about this. "Oh, such a boy,"
she said. "So sweet, so gentle." But my father, he's disgusted. I say to my
father, "It's easier to smile than to fight."
- Did, uh, Doc say anything to you?
- No. Nothing.
- Well, he talked to me. You know it's kinda rough on Doc. He got to know that German. He
talked to him. He told me how he handed him back his carbine and how he was in vaudeville
and... so don't say anything to Doc about what happened back there. There's no reason why
he should know.
- I won't tell anything to Doc.
- And don't you worry about it either. A decision had to be made. A tank looks down your
throat, you do what you think is best. There was nothin' else to do.
- Yes there was. And I did it.
- You did what? ... You did what?
- I didn't kill him. Look, do you think it's easy? You just pull a trigger and shoot an
old man who's lookin' up at you?
- I heard you fire.
- Yeah, I fired. But I didn't kill him. I just couldn't. They don't teach you that. Nobody
ever taught me that!
- All right. Forget it.
- I started to, but...
- Forget it.
- I just couldn't. That's all.
- Forget it. You...did right, Caje.
- Yeah, but if the old German told 'em.
- I don't think he told 'em a thing. And even if he did, one piece of information isn't
gonna win or lose this war. You did right. Well, if we're gonna move out I better scrounge
me up a Tommy gun.
- Don't you think you have to be pretty sure? Awfully positive before you start playing?
Playing God with people's lives?
- Yeah, that's for sure.
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