I was a teenager when I discovered Rat Patrol in 1966. I was at the time depressed because of the cancellation of another WW II show that I enjoyed very much, 12 O’Clock High, which I sincerely wish they would release on DVD but have not.
The Rats came in to fill that void in my TV watching life and I enjoyed every single episode. What makes a girl or a woman want to watch a war show? NO, it isn’t the shoot ‘em up 50′s or the racing jeeps spewing sand! It’s the interesting characters and the stories which had heart to them. With just a half hour they couldn’t delve those characters as deeply as 12 O’Clock High did (one of the best character dramas ever) but they made a good go at it. They displayed the many facets of the regulars, Troy (Chris George) who was the original loner/rebel who had to learn to be a team player and to trust others, and Moffitt (Gary Raymond) the intelligent, laid back Englishman whose strong emotions lay carefully controlled just below the surface. Less time was accorded to Hitch (Larry Casey), the cute skirt chaser, and Tully (Justin Tarr) whose love is his jeeps.
The other regular was the German commander Dietrich played by the actor then known as Hans Gudegast who has since gone on to a long lasting career in soap opera as Eric Braeden. What was so great about Dietrich was that, contrary to the popular stereotyping of the German foe at that time, he was not a conscionless, sadistic Nazi. He was a good soldier who loved his country even though in his heart he knew its methods were misguided. He gave a very human face to the enemy and you couldn’t walk away from this show hating him. You understood that the enemy is human too.
There were also numerous guest characters in the many different episodes, too many for me to remember and describe, but they were very often memorable and dimensional in their own limited ways so that you felt for them as well.
So ladies, don’t turn away from this one because of the war theme. There is a lot here that you will like too, not the least of which is Chris’ swarthy good looks and Gary’s elegant gentlemanly good looks. I give it a 10… I mean 5… well, whatever the top rating is.
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The music and opening credits with the Rat Patrol jeeps flying over the sand dunes grabbed my attention as a kid. The jeeps with 50 caliber machine guns mounted in back, looked so cool flying over the sand and dodging enemy fire. This was probably the reason why I watched this program, since when it was originally on TV, I was too young to understand the storylines. Dominic Frontiere’s theme, is bold, powerful, and unforgettable. A great, little piece of music.
Since my memories of the show are so vague, I look forward to viewing this program as and adult, and seeing how the war in North Africa is presented. A bit of historical accuracy would be nice, but all I really want is some good old-fashioned, 60′s style war action.
Christopher George was an under-appreciated and mostly forgotten actor, who was only 54 when he past away. He frequently appeared on TV in the 70′s, and this is an opportunity to see him as a 60′s prime time star. As Sgt. Troy, George was fiery and tough, a familiar role for him. Paul Raymond was British Army Sergeant Moffat. Moffat’s lower key personality complemented Troy’s more emotional one. Lawrence Casey, as “Hitch” was memorable to me, mainly for his gum chewing.
Probably the cast member most well-known to today’s viewers was on the German side. Hans Gudegast, played Capt. Dietrich, who in leading forces of the Afrika Corp proved to be a worthy adversary, bringing a sense of class and honor to the desert conflict. Gudegast later changed his acting name to Eric Braeden, and appeared frequently in films and on TV. In 1980 he became a regular on the daytime drama The Young and the Restless, where he still appears.
The Rat Patrol was created by veteran director Tom Gries, who’s directorial credits include the films Helter Skelter, The Hawaiians, The Greatest, Breakout, and Breakheart Pass.
This is what action shows are all about. THE RAT PATROL was another of those television series that had kids playing outside repeating the previous night’s episode. The first season had 32 episodes. Compare that to today’s television series where the overpaid actors boast about 20 episodes per season. I have noted this before in my reviews for COMBAT! and it also applies for THE RAT PATROL. THE RAT PATROL was produced in an age where actors actually had to work for a living.
The biggest shortcoming of THE RAT PATROL is that the running length of 24 minutes per epidode is too brief to tell the story. In 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s television, many shows stretched 30 minutes of story to fit an hour-long time slot. Even COMBAT! occassionally fell into this trap. Not so with THE RAT PATROL. A half hour was not enough time to develop the plot. As such, some of the episodes are rushed and several shows include occasional annoying narration for things that are already patently obvious.
The exciting RAT PATROL soundtrack was composed by Dominic Frontiere. Frontiere was frequently behind the music for shows like THE OUTER LIMITS, THE INVADERS, and THE FLYING NUN. By the way, some of Frontiere’s RAT PATROL soundtrack, note for note, ended up in 1970′s THE LAST ESCAPE starring Stuart Whitman.
THE RAT PATROL was one of those television shows that was meant to be military fiction. This series was more of a shoot-em-up western set in Tunisia. M*A*S*H lengthened the Korean War to more than a decade. COMBAT! successfully immortalized the second half of 1944 for five years. THE RAT PATROL achieved no less significance in sustaining the six months following the November 1942 Torch landings into two seasons.
The show did not syndicate well in Great Britain. In World War Two the US Army did not have long-range desert raiders. Those honors go to the British and Commonwealth — and they know it. Still, in watching the television series, it is nice to think that three GIs and one Brit in American jeeps harrassed German convoys and destroyed sturdy “German” panzers and half tracks with grenades.
The pilot episode was shot in the dunes near Yuma, Arizona, not too far from where George Lucas would years later film dune sequences of RETURN OF THE JEDI. In fact, the Yuma convoy sequence reappears in several episodes when the film editor appeared to need additional attack filler. Look for the vintage M-7 Priest self propelled guns.
Location shooting for the following 16 regular episodes was completed in Spain. You can see the difference immediately between the clean bright sand of Yuma and the dirty gray Spanish sand. Spain served as a location for numerous films. Italian westerns used Spain for years. Most of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA was filmed in Spain. Director Richard Lester used Spain as the desert setting for HOW I WON THE WAR. Immediatly following THE RAT PATROL, PLAY DIRTY and PATTON would also be filmed in Spain. In fact, some of the Season One RAT PATROL locations are very familiar. The wadi/valley used as El Guettar in PATTON is seen several times in THE RAT PATROL.
Life in southeastern Spain was rough for cast and crew. However, Spain was the place to be for shooting desert films. Spain boasted army surplus weapons and vehicles from numerous countries. Curiously you will also note that Troy and his Rat Patrol are equipped with postwar Spanish Star Largo Z-45′s, copies of the German MP-40 submachine gun with a hybrid influence of the US Thompson submachine gun. By the way, the German soldiers in the series were also equipped with Z-45′s.
By episode 18, filming resumed back in the American southwest. Immediately recognizable in “The One that Got Away Raid” is that the Rat Patrol is now equipped with Thompson submachine guns. Some Spanish Army surplus followed the production team back to the States. If you look carefully you will see that several of the “German” helmets have a small clasp welded to the forehead area of the steel helmet. Only Spanish Army helmets, produced in Stalhelm coal-scuttle style, bear this modification.
Contrary to popular myth, THE RAT PATROL was not an ABC spinoff of COMBAT! Both creator Tom Greis and actor Hans Gudegast (Eric Braedon) were veterans of the Selmur Productions COMBAT! series, but Mirisch Films and Television took on THE RAT PATROL as its own contribution to the ABC lineup. Curiously, even though he receives co-star billing, Gudegast appears in about only half the episodes.
THE RAT PATROL was also filmed in color. The use of color was an expensive task in the mid 1960s. Even HOGAN’S HEROES pilot episode was shot in black and white. Keep in mind that in the 1960s only a minority of households boasted color televisions. Even those sets were large console-type units that were largely under the viewing control and…