Combat! reviews by Jo Davidsmeyer
Episodes rated from 0 to 4 bayonets
(Vic Morrow and William Schallert)
Rating: 3 bayonets
Written by James Menzies
Directed by Michael Caffey
Aired November 1, 1966
Season 5, Episode 8
Syndication Order 139
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
"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
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."
as Sgt. Saunders
as Lt. Hanley
Dick Peabody as Littlejohn
Jan Merlin as Lt. Geiben
Ray Stricklyn as Pvt. Earl
Ron Soble as Cprl. Wiltz
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
Hank Brandt ..... Karl Schiller
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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