Thursday, November 6, 2008

Action sequences the way they should be done: Television

In general, television as a storytelling medium stinks on every possible level. But every once in a while, TV does actually produce something worthwhile.

My all-time favorite TV series is Combat, which ran from 1962-1967 on ABC. For four of its five seasons, it was filmed in glorious black-and-white as it followed a squad of WWII American soldiers slogging across France in face of German resistance.

And my all-time favorite episodes consist of a two-part story from the fourth season. "Hill is for Heroes" involved the squad (along with the rest of their understrength platoon) attempting to capture a hill. Without heavy weapons or significant artillery support, they have to cross a huge chunk of open ground to get to the top of the hill. The Germans occupy a pair of bunkers there--covering every inch of that open ground with machine gun fire.

The platoon leader, Lt. Hanley (played by Rick Jason) knows he can't take the hill with the resources he has, but his own C.O. reminds him of the urgent (and militarily legitimate) need to do the job. Hanley's men know it's hopeless as well--they focus their resentment on him. But Hanley's just doing what he has to do.

It's great drama, with Rick Jason and Jack Hogan (as Pvt. Kirby) giving heart-felt performances. It all leads up to a denoument that might very well hold the world-record for most ironic climax ever.

And the action sequences are superb. The episodes were directed on location by Vic Morrow (who apparently went seriously over-budget and over-schedule to get it all done right). Long shots of the hill and the open ground make it apparent for us just how difficult attacking the hill is. The point-of-view shifts from one part of the battle to another, but we never lose track of the overall situation. It's great stuff from start to finish.

This YouTube clip, taken out of context with the rest of the story, doesn't do a perfect job of showing just how good "Hills are for Heroes" is in toto, but it does at least give a sense of it. Take a look:

Hills are for Heroes

That ends our series on action sequences. The next time you see a poorly choreographed, hyper-edited fight scene in any media, you are now legally allowed to track down the people responsible and beat them up. Just be sure you beat them up in a properly choreographed manner.


  1. Awesome show that Combat. just watched "The Little Carousel" and wept like a schoolgirl...

  2. Anyone who doesn't shed a tear at the end of "The Little Carousel" simply doesn't have a heart.

    That was one of the strengths of "Combat." They didn't shy away from doing tragic endings if that's what was appropriate for the story.


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