Combat! reviews by Jo
Episodes rated from 0 to 4 bayonets
(023) Next in Command
Rating: 2.5 bayonets
Written and Directed by Burt
Produced by Burt Kennedy
First aired February 5, 1963
Season 1, Episode 18
Syndication Order: 23
"Next In Command" is the last of the trio
of Combat! scripts written by Burt Kennedy. As with "Far from the Brave" and
"The Walking Wounded," the show gives us a morally-unwavering Saunders faced
with a soldier spiritually broken by the war. This time Saunders' second-in-command
battles his own inner war. Ben Cooper plays Corporal Cross, the newest addition to the
squad, tormented by a fatal mistake he'd made on another hill. That mistake has crippled
him, stripping away not just his ability to fire a rifle, but his ability to be a soldier.
A hallmark of a Kennedy script is the close relationship between Billy and Littlejohn.
In "Next in Command," the comradely between the two goes over the top and enters
dangerously into the land of "cute." I wonder if we have Kennedy to thank for
the early resurrection of the Billy character. He directed "The Celebrity,"
Nelson's first appearance in Combat! and also wrote and directed the next episode filmed,
"Far from the Brave." Did he see in the Nelson character something he wanted to
use in the next episode? After the Kennedy triad of scripts, their relationship is fixed
in the Combat! canon. (Though after this episode, Billy's helmet never again gets used to
Jack Hogan's Kirby is deliciously obnoxious in this episode, retaining the edge he had
in "Far from the Brave." Here we have the Kirby-as-troublemaker character firmly
established, along with the introduction of his history of being demoted. I just wish he
was carrying his BAR in this episode. The antagonism between Littlejohn and Kirby is also
strongly evident. And speaking of demotions .... poor Brockmeyer has gone from being a
corporal in "The Medal" to a buck private in "Next in Command."
Character-wise, this is a strong episode, with inter-relationships between squad
members a vital part of the story. But the plot is weak. Saunders messes up
uncharacteristically while dealing with Cross. When the Germans show up at the house, why
does he take Cross with him to dispatch those soldiers? Cross has already demonstrated
that he's unreliable (Also, why would the first-in-command take the next-in-command on a
dangerous outing--one of them should have stayed behind). And why did Saunders take
Cross's word that he'd killed the German. I'd want to see a body. Better yet, Saunders'
ought to want to BURY the body; they'd already buried the bodies of the Germans killed
earlier. Odd that Cross can disappear the whole night and nobody notices. Worse yet, when
Cross runs out of the house during a firefight into certain death .... Saunders follows
after him, abandoning his squad while they fight the enemy. No, no, no!
The ending comes out of nowhere. How were they tossed off the hill? When last we saw
them, they'd destroyed the mortar and it looked as if the squad was again victorious
(Heck, they'd killed twelve out of twenty Germans and only suffered two losses, not bad.)
Notes, Oddities, and Bloopers
- can anyone identify the battles that Cross lists? Those French names don't fall easily
on these German ears. But he lists many battles he participated in, which could help
"date" this episode if anyone can identify them.
- Interesting that Hanley deliberately withheld information from Saunders. It seems that
Hanley protects the privacy of *all* his non-coms, not just his favorite.
- Davis and Baker again appear as part of the squad.
- Brockmeyer has been demoted in this episode. He's a buck private, though last time we
saw him he was a corporal.
as Sgt. Saunders
as Lt. Hanley
Jack Hogan as Kirby
Pierre Jalbert as Caje
Steven Rogers as Doc
Dick Peabody as Littlejohn
Tom Lowell as Billy Nelson
Fletcher Fist ..... Brockmeyer
Bill Harlow ..... Davis
Dennis Robertson ..... Baker
- Don't you ever get tired of gripin', Kirby?
- The sign of a good soldier, boy. Ain't that right, Caje?
- They say that.
- I'll leave the bowin' down and buckin' to you guys, Littlejohn. Extra stripe on my
sleeve don't mean nothin' to me.
- You were busted once, weren't you, Kirby?
- Twiced. Never was entered into my service record though, cause, uh, I was just a actin'
- I just can't picture you as a non-com, Kirby.
- Well, why not?
- I just can't.
- I had the best squad in the outfit.
- Then why'd you get busted?
- It was politics. Look, it's not what you know in this man's army. It's who you know. You
can check into it. You'll probably find that our new corporal just stepped on somebody's
- Anybody knows about steppin' on toes, it'd be you, Kirby.
- Why don't you drop dead, you big ox.
- Don't pay any attention to him, Littlejohn, he's his own worst enemy.
- You wanna bet?
- I think you got me mixed up with the chaplain. You don't have to tell me anything.
- Look, I don't hire and fire, I just work here. I do like I'm told. I was told to climb a
hill and who to take with me. You're one of 'em.
- I thought I could work it out.
- How many dead men do you figure to leave behind before you do?
- I tried.
- Like you're trying now? With a bottle?
- It's easy for you to talk.
- Easy? You think I never lost a man because I made a mistake?
- It's not the same.
- I'm alive. They're dead. The only difference between us, Cross, is I haven't got my head
stuck in some wine cellar feeling sorry for myself.
Hollywood Trail Boss:
Behind the Scenes of the Wild, Wild Western
by Burt Kennedy
At RECON '98 (the Combat! cast reunion) we were fortunate to have Combat!
director Burt Kennedy as a guest. He shared great anecdotes of the series and of
Hollywood. Read in this book his experiences as a director in the heydey of the Hollywood
western. The book is as charming and fascinating as the man himself, and gives insight
into the man who defined the character of Sgt. Saunders. Order Hollywood Trail Boss