Combat! reviews by Jo
Episodes rated from 0 to 4 bayonets
Cat and Mouse
Written & Directed by Robert
Produced by Robert Altman
First aired 04-Dec-1962
(Episode 9 of Season 1)
Saunders is one of only two survivors of an ill-fated patrol into enemy
territory. He must return to the blood-filled field, but now under the command of Sgt.
Jenkins, an unyielding leader with little use for Saunders or Saunders views on how
to run the mission. When the rest of their patrol is slaughtered, the two sergeants become
trapped inside a millhouse used by the Germans as a command center. Saunders and Jenkins
can find no compromise, taking opposite paths to achieve their mission. The mission is
accomplished, thanks to Jenkins sacrifice of his own life. But the victory is hollow, the
information bought by Jenkins blood was no longer important to the brass behind the
lines. The Allied advance rolls on, crushing everything in its path.
An Altman-directed episode seems like an opportune moment to jump on
a soapbox. I have not availed myself of the opportunity thus far. Do not fear, I will try
to be brief.
Altman is quoted in articles about Combat!, that he is proud
for being responsible for the only "anti-war" Combat! episode, and for
showing the futility of war. I am guessing that the comment refers to "Cat And
Mouse," primarily because this is the only episode that he is both wrote, produced,
and directed. It is hard to tell for certain though, since so many of the Combat! episodes
I question whether a story such as "Cat and Mouse,"
though, truly is an example of the futility of war. It certainly shows the often futile
efforts of individual soldiers and individual actions within the broad mosaic of a world
conflagration. But I doubt many holocaust survivors would argue about the futility of
America fighting this particular war. The effort and lives lost were not wasted. The
culmination of tens of thousands of actions like those portrayed in "Cat And
Mouse" and countless individual sacrifices by brave young men and women were to a
purpose a great purpose.
No one, of course, wants war. But there are times when force is
required to halt an aggressor. One would wish everybody could be nice and just get along,
but when all means of appeasement and discussion fail, war is far from a futile act. It
can be either the ultimate form of aggression or the ultimate path to true peace. It is
the responsibility of a free people to make sure that if the desperate measure of war is
ever taken, that it is taken for the advancement of the latter.
I will now get off my soapbox and say, after that self-indulgent
pedantry, that I really like this episode. Albert Salmi, as Sgt. Jenkins, is a perfect
foil for Morrows Saunders. It is a pleasure to watch two pros working together under
the solid direction of a gifted artist like Altman. No false notes in this episode; no
gaffs of any kind. When the two sergeants clash, Saunders is up against another Sergeant
as equally stubborn, battle-hardened, and certain that "right" is on his side as
Saunders is. Watching this episode, I cannot decide which is the immovable object
and which the irresistable force.
Morrow is remarkably moving in the final scene, as he reports the
unneeded information that Jenkins died for. I remember this scene vividly from viewing it
as a child. Thirty years later, when I finally saw the episode again, it had lost none of
its power or vibrancy. The story, the acting, and the message are still relavent decades
after Altman commited them to images of light and dark trapped on celluloid.
Albert Salmi was a WWII vet, read more about his war record.
NOTES, ODDITIES, AND BLOOPERS:
- Saunders escapes from the mill without boots or jacket, yet has both
when he reports in.
- First appearance of actor William Bryant. Bryant will become a
semi-regular cast member by fifth season, playing Pvt. McCall.
- Jenkins leaves the pre-patrol briefing with an M1 Garand and appears
on patrol moments later with an M1 carbine.
Vic Morrows as Sgt. Saunders
Rick Jason as Lt. Hanley
Steven Rogers as Doc
Pierre Jalbert as Caje
Guest Star Albert Salmi as Jenkins
Dick Peabody as Littlejohn
William Bryant as Major O'Connors
Hans Difflip asColonel Burgen
Ted Knight as German Captain
Robert Winston German Lieutenant
Werner Becker as first German Soldier
Frank Behrens as Captain Reed
John Alonza as Bialos