Germans ambush a transport truck, capturing Saunders and killing all others. In a
cattlecar en route to Germany, Saunders and other American and British prisoners attempt to
break open door. Sergeant Decker (Tom Skerritt) doesn't aid escape effort. He's content to
sit out the war in a POW camp. As train pulls into station, the prisoners break lock, jump
guards, and escape. Dogs are set after them. Sgt. Decker is mauled. Saunders kills two
Germans and the dog. Decker and Saunders dress in German uniforms to move more freely.
Next morning, when two Germans hail Saunders and Decker, Decker panics. Saunders kills
both Germans, but is shot. He calls for Decker's help. Decker abandons him. Saunders
passes out (2nd time this episode).
German patrol finds Saunders and, thinking he's a German, brings him to a field
hospital. He is injected with morphine and experiences a series of slow-motion drug
"trips" . Germans evacuate the hospital during barrage. Saunders wanders away to
suffer more slo-mo flashbacks filled with killing, mayhem, garbled voices, and bad music.
While hallucinating, Saunders mistakes an angry German cyclist for the German Shepherd
he earlier fought; Saunders kills the German and takes his motorcycle; giving us an excuse
for lots of footage of a drug-happy Saunders cheerfully hot-rodding between shell bursts.
He crashes cycle and, for 3rd time, passes out.
Saunders awakes next morning amid a gun-battle. Helpful Germans pull him to safety and
get killed for their trouble. A German officer aids Saunders, then turns to kill a British
soldier, but Saunders yells a warning in English -- and another helpful German (Walt
Davis) bites it. Saunders rescued by the British. At British aide station, he is reunited
with Sgt. Decker. Saunders backhands Decker and walks out of the story. He should have
done it much sooner.
Vic Morrow and Tom Skerritt
Saunders fills out a German uniform very well.
There! I knew if I thought long enough I'd come up with something nice to say about
this episode. Except for glimpses of a dashing Saunders motorcycling through a barrage,
and some spectacular night-time pyrotechnics care of special effects artist A. D. Flowers,
this episode is a waste of time, talent, and tape.
The plot: we've seen it before, and done far better in "Odyssey". This later
version lacked any of the emotional appeal of the earlier venture. The episode is devoid
of human compassion, even from Saunders. One of Saunders men dies enroute to the aid
station, grasping at the Sergeant's hand, and Saunders is unmoved. He announces the death
with all the emotion of a weather report.
The Tom Skerritt character was just there. Even as a plot device, though, the character
failed. The action of this story could have happened without this character; he did
nothing to advance the story. And we are given no insight into this weasel of a soldier.
This shallow and superficial script is populated with one-dimensional characters. I'm not
quite sure how scriptwriters Playdon and Frederick managed, but they made Saunders flat
Saunders' drug-induced hallucinations are simply goofy. This could have been an
opportunity to delve into the psyche of a soldier or provide some background information
about Saunders. Instead, it's used as an excuse for graphic violence and excruciatingly
slow closeups of mayhem. I was disturbed by the emphasis on violence in this episode.
Usually Combat! uses violence to a purpose; this was just glorification of violence. The
sequences where Skerritt and Saunders are attacked by the German shepherd are overly long
and graphic. Perhaps director Richard Caffey was trying to graphically illustrate the
horrors of war. Instead, we experienced the horrors of a director with a concept.
The cinematography during Saunders' hallucination is reminiscent of the hokey style of
the "Hawaii Five-O" psychedelic trips -- but not nearly as funny. The script by
Paul Playdon and Bob Frederick, besides being one-dimensional, is full of happy
coincidences. How amazing that under the influences of morphine, not only does Saunders
avoid blurting out something in English, he is also fully capable of driving a motorcycle!
He cannot quite distinguish between a German soldier and a German Shepherd, but can
distinguish clutch from accelerator. The writers copped out on scene transitions. Three
separate times Saunders blacked out in order to move to the next scene.
Ranking this episode among all 152 episodes of Combat!, I put it at 152.
Notes, Oddities, and Bloopers
- love those one-size-fits-all German uniforms.
- It's tough to be an expendable. The poor Germans are hauling bodies out of the truck and
then lifting Saunders into the truck. I hope they were pumped up.
- The German who picks up Saunders' tommy
gun looks at it very oddly. Hope it wasn't broken.
- Saunders has great reflexes when unconscious. Germans lean his unconscious body against
the gate of the truck, and he pops the left leg under him to support the weight as he's
waiting for them to lift him.
- repetition: two different shots of rifle butt crashing into a skull as seen from the
victim's POV (once it was Saunders' POV, second time it was the German Shepherd's)
- continuity error: during dog attack, second German runs up, stops, wipes his mouth,
Saunders moves around the rock; then we see the same sequence of German running up,
stopping, wiping mouth, just from a different angle.
- I was curious about the choice of spelling for the title. GANTLET is a valid alternate
spelling, but the preferred spelling is GAUNTLET. Was this a choice to make sure the
viewer thought of "running a gantlet" as opposed to thinking of the medieval
cuffed glove. Gantlet also has a meaning in regards to railroad tracks; there was
certainly enough footage at the rail station to make me wonder if I missed some connection
- Hard to pinpoint a time for this episode. Americans still fighting in France far from
the German frontier. But Decker seems certain the war won't last much longer.
- Did Saunders get all the good drugs? How come the German soldier in the truck with
Saunders is unmedicated and screaming his head off?
- The morphine seems to have cured Saunders' bullet wound.
- How did they get back to the front? The train Saunders was on traveled for hours away
from the front and toward Germany. Yet he managed to walk back to the front within a day
(after a small sidetrip to a German field hospital)
- Costume notes: Saunders made complete uniform switch, right down to the boots and
undershirt. In final scene he's still wearing German uniform with British jacket. Decker
- Walt Davis' last words before dying "Bleib liegen. Ihr Kriege Ihnen." Proof
positive, nice guys finish last.
- After five years as a GI expendable and German cannon fodder, Tom P. Pace finally got a
featured role as Jackson.
as Sgt. Saunders
as Lt. Hanley
Skerritt ..... Sgt. Decker
Bill Glover ..... Sgt. Crandall
Tom P. Pace
..... Pvt. Jackson
Peter Church ..... British prisoner
Terence Mitchell ..... British soldier
Kurt Landon ..... German doctor