In a flashback story told as the men rest on a rainy night, Sgt. Saunders recalls the experiences of himself and several other men on the day of the D-Day invasion, including tales about ...
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In a flashback story told as the men rest on a rainy night, Sgt. Saunders recalls the experiences of himself and several other men on the day of the D-Day invasion, including tales about Braddock, who won the platoon pool for when the invasion would take place; Doc Walton, who was reluctant to go into battle; Caje (called "Caddie" in this episode), who is accompanied by another Cajun; and Lt. Hanley, who at the time was still a sergeant, and had little battle experience compared to Saunders. Following the landing, the men move inland and come upon a farmstead held by a squad of German infantry. Written by
D-Day Flashback Adventure is a Good Introduction to the Series
Although this was the eleventh episode of "Combat!" broadcast in the fall of 1962, it was actually the first one produced and its story, tied to the D-Day invasion, is a good introduction to the series, even though some of the regulars (e.g., Tom Lowell as Pvt. Billy Nelson and Dick Peabody as Littlejohn) hadn't been cast in those roles yet. (This is the first episode in the DVD set that was released back in 2004, which also grouped the episodes in production order.)
"A Day in June" also uses an unusual technique for the show the story is told in flashback. As the episode opens, the squad is holed up in a barn somewhere in France on a rainy night, and someone suggests establishing a betting pool about when they'll reach Paris. This is a springboard for recalling the day of the invasion the previous June, when the character of Braddock (Shecky Greene) was involved in a similar pool. (Look quickly during this opening scene, incidentally, for a brief shot of a young Tom Skerritt.)
The series' earliest shows reflected a preference for ensemble storytelling, and this one is no exception, having *at least* four competing story lines. There's the love-hate rivalry between Sgt. Saunders and Lt. Hanley (who, during the flashback sequence, is just a First Sergeant, although he still outranks Saunders; Saunders, however, is already a decorated veteran of several campaigns, while Hanley has just a "good conduct" medal); there's the reluctance of "Doc" (Steven Rogers) to go into battle; there are *two* separate story threads involving Braddock, one of which has him in a grudge match with a character played by Harry Dean Stanton; there are also a couple of different stories that involve Caje (Pierre Jalbert, referred to here as "Caddy"); and, oh yes, there's the main "battle" story, about their assignment once they get ashore and into France. A lot of territory (literally and figuratively) to cover in just one hour!
Because this was the first episode, the characters were just getting their "sea legs" with their performances and characterizations. Doc is somber throughout, Caje (oops, Caddy) is lively during the early sequences, then mordant later on when his Cajun comrade becomes a casualty; Hanley is nervous commanding the men, and a little tense with Saunders; and Saunders is alternately acerbic and serious.
The Braddock character is clearly intended as comic relief, whether having to abandon his field pack in the landing craft before hitting the beach so that he's constantly complaining about hunger, or always managing to land grenades right near Sgt. Saunders as Saunders sneaks toward the German position. There are also several amusing scenes as Braddock becomes increasingly hampered by his pool winnings as the story progresses. At the same time, the Braddock character does become tiresome, so perhaps it's fortunate that Greene decided he was losing too much money by not working his usual Las Vegas stand-up gigs and quit the series after eight episodes.
Still, the real pleasure in watching "Combat!" is seeing Vic Morrow during his prime. Morrow was such an intense, emotional actor that, when he's on-screen, it's impossible to take your eyes off of him. Although those around him were competent, Morrow was the anchor who held this show in place. It's no wonder that although Rick Jason was ranked higher in credits, and his Lt. Hanley outranked Morrow's Sgt. Saunders, more and more scripts came to focus on Morrow as the series went on. "A Day in June" is therefore a fine introduction not only to the series but also to a fine actor doing his best work and one who was taken from us much too soon.
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