20 August 2002 | Piafredux
The Replacements Always Got Killed
From its pixellated artillery airbursts above fixed bayonets title sequence, that seguéd into its rousing march theme, to the end of each show I was one fascinated child. Of course the core of Sgt. Saunders's squad lived through more combat than most WWII infantrymen (casualty figures for the period tell that it was extremely unusual for a unit to have made from Normandy to the Siegfied Line with all its members in combat-ready mental & physical health). And you knew that nearly every guest actor (fresh from the repo depot) would be the casualty in nearly every episode.
I used to think that Rick Jason as Lt. Hanley was soooo handsome! But I best loved Pierre Jalbert as Caje - ruggedly handsome, stoical, lethal to Germans in a firefight. "Caje, take the point," said it all: when Chip Saunders's chips were down he put Caje out front. (Jalbert is a Québecois, not a Louisiana Cajun, which explains his squad-saving fluency in French.)
There was another WWII TV series, 'The Gallant Men', that debuted the same season as 'Combat!' Even as a child I picked up on the rifle fire sound effects paradox between the two shows: in 'Combat!' the M-1 Garands made the the sound of the German Mausers in 'The Gallant Men', but in 'The Gallant Men' the sound effects swapped weapons & armies! I always liked 'Combat!' better than 'The Gallant Men' so that when 'The Gallant Men' was cancelled after one season I thought the better show had survived.
'Combat!'s' writers & directors did well for their time. This was long before gore was shown graphically on TV or in cinema, but the scripts tried hard, and often succeeded, in conveying the privation, filth, & stress of infantry fighting. My uncle is a veteran of Omaha Beach & he didn't think 'Combat!' was realistic, though he never said a word about his own wartime experiences: I suspect they were more like those of the first thirty minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan' & that he wasn't eager to revisit those times even though it's certain they never left him.
'Combat!' often made the German soldiers look like robotic dolts - which they most certainly were not (stats tell grimly that German soldiers inflicted more casulaties per man than any other WWII army). But it's important to be mindful that 'Combat! is Hollywood, not the European Theater of Operations.
For now, gang: "Checkmate King Two to White Rook: Out." (Not bad for a girl, huh?!)