Hanley must secure, at any cost, a strategic road guarded by two bunkers. Machine gun fire from the bunkers decimates the platoon and wounds Saunders. With no artillery support, Hanley is ordered again and again to try to take the hill. The suicide runs take a heavy toll in lives and morale, especially Hanley's. With help from a tank, the bunkers fall, but half the platoon lies dead on the hill. Before Kirby and the others can climb to the top to claim their prize, the platoon receives orders to fall back and abandon their hard-fought position.
The squad's doomed attempt to take a hill provides a searing anti-war commentary. "Hills Are for Heroes" is Vic Morrow's greatest gift to Combat! fans. His direction is remarkable, especially the exquisite composition in his shots and the evocative performances he elicits from the actors. Peabody and Jalbert turn in standout performances. Both Jack Hogan and Rick Jason do their best Combat! work in this episode.
This episode has a great team feel. Morrow peoples the scenes with full-platoon strength. Earl Parker, Vic's stunt double, has a featured, but uncredited, role in Part 1 as Chester, the machine gunner who questions Kirby about Hanley.
Gene L. Coon (of "Star Trek" fame) wrote the screenplay. Morrow helped him craft the dialogue, but took no script credit. The story gives viewers several great Saunders moments: his refusal of the morphine, his gentle reassurance of Littlejohn, and his spectacular PPT (patented pep talk) to Hanley.
"Vic did not direct me in one scene, until the last one, when I sit down and I fall apart," says Rick Jason. "I had gone over the hill in the first rehearsal. And Vic says, 'Okay, Cut. Let's take five minutes. Rick come on, let's go in the dressing room. Frank come on.' Frank [Kowalski] was on the book, so he had to be there. And Vic talks to me for five minutes. And then he says 'All right, let's do it.' I did the first three lines and suddenly Frank got up and ran out of my dressing room. Ran. I mean, he didn't walk out, he ran out. After we shot the scene and we did it in one take, by the way, and we printed the first take I went over to Frank and asked why he ran out of the dressing room. And he said, 'You absolutely freaked me out. The difference between what you had done in the rehearsal and what you did in the dressing room I was so freaked out I had to get away. You got to me. You got right to my gut and I couldn't stay there.'
"It's among the best work I've ever done in my career," says Rick Jason. "And I thank Vic Morrow for that. I've watched 'Hills' several times, and every time I do, I think about his direction. Not my performance."
NOTES, ODDITIES, AND BLOOPERS:
· Caje wears a pinky ring in several shots
· Part 1: Hanley enters bunker wearing a pack; when he gets inside, he has no pack.
· Kirby has a bandage on his left index finger in some firefights.
· Part 1: In the last firefight of part 1, when platoon starts up the hill, the machine gun is picked up, then next shot it is picked up again.
· Part 2: The squad never checks the tank to see if any of the crew is alive.
· "Hills Are for Heroes" shows how a few well-prepared and well-equipped men can stand off a superior force.
· Selig Seligman was so pleased with the episode, that he threw a wrap party after filming. At the party, Frank Kowalski gave the episode its current title.
· This two-parter tops all the actors' lists as favorite Combat! episode, even Tom Lowell, who does not appear in it. Dick Peabody rates it as possibly the best war film ever made.
ABOUT FILMING THE EPISODE:
Morrow filmed "Hills" at Albertson's ranch at Thousand Oaks, because MGM did not have the terrain the story needed. Two German bunkers and the American bunker were built on location. A replica of the American bunker was built on an MGM soundstage for filming the interiors of the bunker. Vic dragged out his twelve day filming schedule to 21 days, more than doubling the budget. ABC regularly sent notes to Vic about the over-run Vic used the notes to light his cigarettes. By finish, Vic Morrow spent a half million of ABC's dollars.
CAST:Rick Jason as Lt. Hanley
Vic Morrow as Sgt. Saunders
Jack Hogan as Kirby [listed on separate card in part 2]
Paul Carr as Kleinschmidt
Earl Parker as Machine Gunner (uncredited)
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