I must admit, I was counting the days until the estimated delivery of this DVD. The packaging and covers were already opened before I made it through my front door, and the next several hours were spent gleaming through all 26 episodes on the 3 enclosed DVDs.
I must say, I liked the second season of the Rat Patrol better than the first for several reasons. Foremost, the Germans appear to have spent their time wisely in the desert because they can actually hit the broad side of a barn now. There were at least 3 episodes where the Patrol’s jeeps are the vehicles seen doing flip flops after being hit by enemy fire, and all of the Rat Patrol members get shot this season. Secondly, the series seems to have found its stride and matured more. Hauffman Dietrich doesn’t just stand around with a frown on his face after being upped by Sergeant Troy, he’s mad as hell and not taking it anymore. Although many of the snappy dialogues between the two are missing from this season, we get a deeper look into Dietrich’s character even to the extent of discovering he is capable of killing one of his own comrades.
Along the same thread, the second season seems more “darker” and realistic when compared to the first. Both sides are definately “not ready to make nice” and the stress is showing. Troy’s nicotine habit has noticably increased, Hitchcock’s characteristic smile is seldom seen, Moffitt is apologizing more, and Tully actually disappears for four episodes, replaced by various stand-ins. Also, in spite of requests for translation of German in the subtitles, the powers-that-be have only added useless captions like “Speaking in German”, “Speaking in Arabic”, “Man gasping for air”, okay, maybe not the last one, but don’t expect any difference here. However, on the positive side, Tully’s haircuts are now making him look like a twenty year old, and the orange hair dye is gone. There are also more scenes taking place by the ocean, more German and Allied villains to love or hate depending on your preference, and hardly any episodes so hokey that they can only envoke shaken heads and rolled eyeballs.
If you bought season one and thought it was great, you will not be disappointed with season two, although if you are it will probably be because of slightly fewer episodes and the fact there is no season three. We can only wonder what and where the series would have gone had it been renewed in an hour-long format as was originally planned for the next season. People have consistantly criticized the lack of character development in the series due to its half-hour episodes, but I got to know each character intimately. Whether that happened from watching all 58 episodes, appreciating the fine acting or a combination of both is debatable I guess. I just enjoy having a permanent reminder of childhood TV viewing days around the house now.
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The 1950′s and 1960′s produced a lot of stories about special Commando
operations in the Second World War. Examples are “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “The Guns of Navarone”, “Where Eagles Dare”, “Force 10 From Navarone” and even stories involving the Royal Air Force like “633 Squadron”. This series, “The Rat Patrol” was produced to take advantage of this interest. This series is based on real-life groups like the “Long Range Desert Group” who harassed the Germans behind their lines in North Africa. Although this series was made by Americans, it should be pointed out that it was the British who really developed Commando operations to a high degree. This was due to several factors, one being that Britain was traditionally a Naval power and did not have a large standing army, so they had to get the maximum out of the limited forces they had, thus they encouraged their commandos to be bold by giving them a lot of independence, and secondly, the trauma due to the high casualties of the First World War gave the British the incentive to try to damage the enemy in indirect ways and not just throw massed armies at them frontally. Thus, although these North African Commando groups were mostly British while this series was American, they included a British commando (portrayed well by actor Gary Raymond) into the Rat Patrol as homage to the real leaders in this field. What is important is that
we see the real-life-type dedication of the group, led by actor Chris George, to aggressively carry out their mission, almost without regard to the risk.
Regarding the series itself, I found the quality of the episodes improved
as the first season wore on, yet there were numerous problems. The half-hour format didn’t allow many potential stories and characters to develop. In real-life, Captain Dietrich, their perpetual nemesis, would have been shot for cowardice on more than one occasion as he let the Patrol get the best of him even though his men greatly outnumbered them. In real life, much of the “German” army in North Africa was really made up of Italian soldiers, but we almost never see them. One of the members of the Patrol, Hitchcock, insists on wearing a bright red hat (I presume in order to give him “character”), whereas everyone else, on both sides wears grey-brown uniforms which blend in over the surroundings. It is comical seeing him peer over sand dunes with that hat which could be easily seen by the enemy! Because this was American TV, even though
thousands of rounds of ammunition are fired at them by the Germans, they are almost never hit, and if they are, it is never fatal, which of course, is not the nature of war (compare this with the more serious series “Combat” where Americans do get killed in the series).
Having said this, I find the series quite entertaining with a lot of exiciting stunt work, and although the
show is, as I said , not “realistic”, the types of missions the show depicts were frequently true-life, and in addition to being entertained,
the viewer does get at least a partial idea of what the free-flowing
war in North Africa was like.
The second, and sadly the final, season of THE RAT PATROL. Christopher George’s real life jeep accident combined with less then stellar ratings contributed to the demise of the show. The 1960s war genre consisting of COMBAT!, TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH, MCHALE’S NAVY, GARRISON’S GORILLAS, and THE RAT PATROL was fast coming to a close. Only HOGAN’S HEROES survived to see the dawn of 1970s.
A recent book on the Mirisch Company also notes that THE RAT PATROL was a deficit production in that there were a lot of up front dollars invested in the first two years of the production that, theoretically, would have born fruit in the third season. Indeed, ABC Television was keen to order a third season of the show, but Mirisch and United Artists declined the invitation.
The North African action continues with Troy and his jeep teams frustrating the Germans at every wadi. Season Two is bit grittier with the Rat Patrol suffering jeep casualties and frequent temporary capture. The Germans, uniformed in their department store khakis, are finally up to their game in anticipating the patrol’s activities. Captain Dietrich (Hans Gudegast a.k.a. Eric Braeden) ingeniously sets up elaborate traps for Troy. Unlike the first season where Dietrich’s character only appeared in half the episodes, the restless German captain shows up in almost every show.
Despite his efforts, the half hour always concludes with poor Dietrich bested once again admist the smoking ruins of a desert base, burning vehicles, and heavy casualties. In real life this fellow would probably have been rewarded with an assignment to the Eastern Front for his troubles.
As with Season One, THE RAT PATROL is military fiction. It is an action packed western set in World War Two North Africa. If you evaluate the stories against historical works such as Rick Atkinson’s fine AN ARMY AT DAWN you will be sadly disappointed. This is simply the story of good guys versus bad guys with lot of gunfire. As such the Rat Patrol is able to destroy German tanks with fragmentation grenades and explode halftracks by gunfire. Small arms fire that mows down dozens of German soldiers only provides an occasional non-lethal flesh wounds to members of the patrol. These guys lead charmed lives.
Without looking too carefully you will see some familiar MGM backlot sets dusted with sand to appear as if in the Sahara. In one episode the Rat Patrol takes on a German railroad depot with an exciting shoot-em-up around the rail yard. This was the same railroad set used in a two-part episode of COMBAT! In episodes such as “The Hide and Go Seek Raid” the Rat Patrol’s activities exanded to more lush green environs as the team temporarily leaves the desert. In this raid you will also see some of the familiar MGM sets such as the stone bridge and surrounding buildings so often tread in episodes of COMBAT! Another episode was shot on the largely abandoned “European Street” so often fought over in episodes of COMBAT! Indeed, Gudegast/Braeden also stalked this street in an episode of the COMBAT! where he played the part of a German sniper.
In Season Two also look for additional familiar faces such as Howard Caine, famous for portraying Major Hochstetter in HOGAN’S HEROES, Bruce Glover, who four years later would appear as villainous Mr. Wint in James Bond’s DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, and Dick Sargent who three years later would appear as the replacement Darrin Stephens on television’s BEWITCHED.
Unlike the first season, in which half the series was filmed in southeast Spain, all of the second season was filmed in California. There are several episodes where despite the use of a wide angle lens, windshield glare of contemporary highway traffic is visible in the background. Southern California, even the desert, had its limitations.
The main drawback to THE RAT PATROL series is that each episode is barely a half hour long. Although this does move the story smartly along it also rushes each episode to the finish line. An hour would have been better. Indeed some of the television episodes would have done well as 90-minute television movies.
The DVD set is very high quality with the color better than was ever viewed on television sets during the series’ original run. There are no special features afforded with this release. The DVD box graphics are slightly enhanced with cast photos superimposed over images other than the vehicles and hardware used in the series. For example, Dietrich is shown as if he is standing out of the hatch of a Sturmgeschutz assault gun with a Tiger Tank following in the background. As I noted earlier, military fiction.