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Combat! Season 1
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Combat! Season 4
Combat! Season 5



Season 5
COMBAT! episodes:

[The Gun]
[The Losers]
[Ollie Joe]
[The Brothers]
[The Chapel at Able Five]
[A Child's Game]
[The Letter]
[The Outsider]
[The Bankroll]
[Cry for Help]
[The Furlough]
[The Gantlet]
[The Masquers]
[A Little Jazz]
[Nightmare on the Red Ball Run]
[The Partisan]

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

The Gantlet

Rating: 0 bayonets

Written by Paul Playdon and Bob Frederick
Directed by Michael Caffey
Produced by Richard Caffey

Aired February-07-1967
Season 5, Episode 20
Syndication Order: 145


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 and uninspiring.

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 here.
  • 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 the same.
  • 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.

Cast Credits

Vic Morrow
as Sgt. Saunders

Rick Jason
as Lt. Hanley

Tom Skerritt
..... Sgt. Decker
Bill Glover ..... Sgt. Crandall

Tom P. Pace ..... Pvt. Jackson
Peter Church ..... British prisoner
Terence Mitchell ..... British soldier
Kurt Landon ..... German doctor

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