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Combat! Season 1
Combat! Season 2
Combat! Season 3
Combat! Season 4
Combat! Season 5


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Season 5
COMBAT! episodes:

[The Gun]
[The Losers]
[Ollie Joe]
[The Brothers]
[The Chapel at Able Five]
[A Child's Game]
[The Letter]
[Headcount]
[Decision]
[The Outsider]
[Conflict]
[Gulliver]
[The Bankroll]
[Cry for Help]
[The Furlough]
[Entombed]
[Gadjo]
[Anniversary]
[Encounter]
[The Gantlet]
[The Masquers]
[A Little Jazz]
[Nightmare on the Red Ball Run]
[Jonah]
[The Partisan]

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Combat! reviews by Jo Davidsmeyer • Episodes rated from 0 to 4 bayonets 

Headcount


(Vic Morrow and William Schallert)

Rating: 3 bayonets

Written by James Menzies
Directed by Michael Caffey
Produced by

Aired November 1, 1966
Season 5, Episode 8
Syndication Order 139

Synopsis

The squad, with two German prisoners, are caught in a barrage during which a wounded German soldier allows himself to be captured. When Saunders gets his prisoners to battalion headquarters he finds it evacuated except for fifteen prisoners, a wounded American Major and a couple men. The Major orders Saunders to assist him in taking his prisoners back to Battalion.

When the transport truck hits a mine, the driver is killed, a German is wounded, and the truck destroyed. The Major is mortally wounded and dies. Now only four Americans are left to transport 18 German prisoners by foot.

On the march, two Germans try to hang behind, but Saunders finds them. All rest while Saunders scouts ahead. When water given to wounded man, they attempt an escape -- two German shot, one runs away, but is captured by Saunders.

Next morning a German patrol passes by their location. The delirious wounded German nearly gives them away. In trying to silence him, Littlejohn accidentally smothers the wounded man and kills him. The brother of the dead man goes berserk. The Germans C revolt and the new guy in the squad is killed (surprise!), leaving now only three soldiers to guard the prisoners.

Trying to get the Germans across a stream, the brother attacks Littlejohn. Littlejohn loses his gun in the process; he now must guard prisoners with Saunders' pistol. After setting off a booby-trap, the German Lieutenant grabs Saunders' gun, holds him at gunpoint. Kirby and Littlejohn don't drop their guns. The mysterious German prisoner distracts the Lt. and Saunders gets his gun back.

Finally, safely back at battalion, they discover the prisoner is an American intelligence officer.


Review

"Headcount" is a tightly written and directed episode. Each act offers a neat twist and a new danger. The story offers a typical Saunders dilemma: he's stuck doing a task that he'd rather avoid, but once he takes it on he's going to do it, finish it, or die trying. The use of the mysterious German prisoner (Ron Sobel, who also was featured in the third season episode "More Than A Soldier") was interesting. He was never central to the action in any of the acts, but he was always there, always in the background, creating suspense as to when something was going to break with this character. Who is he? Why did he allow himself to be cap- tured? What's his agenda?

I especially liked the sequence at the end where the German gets the drop on Saunders and holds him at gunpoint. The reaction of the squad was quite wonderful. Great wordless acting -- saying with body language that they were not going to drop their guns though they desperately wanted to save Saunders life. But also the body language threat still there, saying "go ahead and pull the trigger, but you're going next." After seeing this same setup in so many westerns and cop shows, it's good to see the sad reality of that situation in war time. A soldier is not a valid hostage. Any soldier will be sacrificed in order to complete the mission.

For those who have a favorite German or expendable, this is the episode for you. Center stage throughout the episode is a whole gaggle of the faces we've come to love in Combat! Not since "Operation Fly-Trap" have so many of the supporting soldiers been featured in an episode. The producers must have used the "expendable" budget for half a dozen episodes in this one story.

 
Ron Soble (foreground) and Jack Hogan (background)

I'm not sure the end offered a satisfying conclusion. Though I did laugh hysterically at Littlejohn's final line after discovering that the mysterious German was really an American intelligence officer... "should have shot him when we had the chance."

My major complaint with the script centers around Saunders. Yes, we've come to expect that Saunders has all the answers. In "Headcount" that remains true as he anticipates the Germans' escape attempt and outthinks them at every turn. However, the script also "dumbs down" Kirby and Littlejohn. A stronger and more confident script writer could have made Saunders brilliant on his own, not in contrast to those around him.

Despite these minor detractions, this is an enjoyable episode with a strong performance by Morrow and the slew of Germans. Peabody especially shines in this episode. His Littlejohn not only gets the best lines, but the scene where he discovers he has accidentally killed a helpless man is touching and subtle: beautifully understated. William Schallert is fine in a role I wish had been larger, both so we could see more of Schallert and we could learn more about this Major who passes on his obsession about these prisoners on to Saunders.


Notes, Oddities, and Bloopers

  • I disliked the overly long German barrage that started the episode. I got the impression that the effects staff was having a oodles of fun just blowing things up. Some lovely explosions, but compared to the real WWII footage that I have come to expect at the opening of a COMBAT! episode, the television stuff just looked fake. So many great explosions in the forest, and every tree remained standing! Amazing!
  • Only one new member of the squad in this episode -- guess who gets killed?
  • Littlejohn shown again as a clumsy soldier (I wish they would stop doing that)

About Filming the Episode:

These comments are by CombatFan list member Pat, aka "Bowerytrush." This story was related by William Schallert while at Mickey Sinardi's Show Stopper! Stars on Parade at The Sporstman's Lodge in Studio City California in the Autumn of 2003. Several Combat! alum were in attendance there and, "All spoke fondly of working on the show, but Schallert was the only one to really elaborate on the experience to much of a degree. He was obviously pleased that I was aware of his appearance on the show and he had very definite memories of filming the scene where he is discovered dead while sitting and leaning against the tree. Schallert claimed he wanted to play the scene with his eyes wide open in a death stare but the director wouldn't let him."


Cast Credits

Vic Morrow
as Sgt. Saunders

Rick Jason
as Lt. Hanley

Jack Hogan as Kirby
Dick Peabody as Littlejohn
Jan Merlin as Lt. Geiben
Ray Stricklyn as Pvt. Earl Konieg
Ron Soble as Cprl. Wiltz

William Schallert ..... Major Fisher

Tom P. Pace ..... Kurt Shiller
Richard Kindelow ..... Driver
Gerd Rein ..... German Prisoner
Paul Busch ..... German Prisoner
Mike Masters ..... German Prisoner
David "Buddy" Pantsari ..... German Prisoner
Jeff Pomerantz ..... German Prisoner
Oliver C. Stein, Jr. ..... German Prisoner

and
Hank Brandt ..... Karl Schiller


Dialog Excerpts

KIRBY: I knew it. I knew he was an officer all the time.
LITTLEJOHN: We should have shot him when we had the chance.

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Amazon.com logoRelated Reading:
We Were Each Other's Prisoners:
An Oral History of WWII American and German Prisoners of War
Compares the experiences of American and German POWs in WWII. Based on over 150 interviews with surviving prisoners, Lewis Carlson brings the stories of these men to life. From the anti-Nazi German soldier who surrendered rather than fight for Hitler, to the U.S. prisoner who thrice escaped his German captors--the last time to join Russian troops in the Battle of Berlin--to the Jewish-American prisoner sent to a slave labor camp, these moving accounts reveal the terror and anguish of being captured and celebrate the resilience that kept these soldiers alive.
Check price at Amazon for We Were Each Other's Prisoners

Nazi Prisoners of War in America by Arnold Krammer
Nearly a half million Germans prisoners were transported to the United States as enemy alien prisoners during WWII. Here is their story, told in their own words, in their letters, and the stories of the Americans who interacted with them.
Read more... 

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