The Rat Patrol – The Complete First Season
Year: 1966 - 1967
Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: 807 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full Screen (1.33:1)
Audio: English – Monaural
January 31st, 2006
It goes without saying that World War II, with its brutality and exhibition of mankind’s worst characteristics, sits atop the list of the most significant historical events of the 20th century. This tragic hostility between countries killed millions of people, nearly eradicated entire cultures, and ultimately determined the structure of global politics from that time until present. Far less importantly, of course, the significance of WWII has made a major impact on American entertainment, with a spate of television shows and movies that have covered the conflict from virtually every angle. Indeed, motion pictures about WWII like Windtalkers still continue to be released, six decades after the war’s end!
One of the many shows based on WWII to hit the small screen was The Rat Patrol, an entertaining but quite unrealistic television program that ran for two seasons, from 1966-1968. This show chronicled the exploits of a fictional quartet of highly specialized commandos assigned to the disruption of the Nazis’ much-ballyhooed Afrika Korps during the war, using any means at their disposal to do so! Since the fearsome foursome were tasked with undermining the operations of particular outfits of the German forces, the show had some continuity, and recurring villains. Generally, the Rat Patrol would square off against troops under the command of German Captain Hauptmann Hans Dietrich (Hans Gudegast / a.k.a. Eric Braeden of The Young & The Restless fame), who did their very best to outwit Sergeant Sam Troy (Christopher George), the leader of the mighty RP. As you might expect, however, the Germans usually found themselves on the losing end of the show’s 56 episodes.
As is the case with most programs that run for a significant length of time, the plots of many episodes of The Rat Patrol were fairly similar to one another – the boys getting into it with German forces, finding themselves running out of hope, and trying to make a miracle happen in order live to fight another day. Still, despite this sameness, the personalities of the actors and their interplay made the show fun to watch, and in seeing this again after many years, the production values were surprisingly high. Though I am not exactly sure of where the show was filmed, the production benefited immensely from the desert environment it was set in, which was both lovely (provided you appreciate the beauty of desert landscapes) and appropriate for the subject matter. The equipment, weaponry, and vehicles utilized in the show also exhibit a much greater degree of realism than one might expect, as I am sure the show probably had a minimal amount of money to work with.
Here is a brief rundown of the 32 episodes that comprised the inaugural season of The Rat Patrol:
--- The Chase of Fire Raid – Air Date 9-12-1966
The series kicks off as any other does, by introducing the characters to the audience. Things really get going fairly quickly, however, when a British explosives expert named Jack Moffitt (Gary Raymond) reports for duty, rounding out the “Rat Patrol’s” membership. Apparently, this member of the British Army was initially sent to help Sergeant Troy and the rest of the RP carry out an important raid on a secret munitions cache that Germans’ Afrika Korps was hoping to utilize.
As the mission gets underway, the Rat Patrol’s nemesis, Capt. Hauptman Hans Dietrich, who commands the Afrika Corps, is also introduced. Upon his introduction, we learn that he has battled the American commando unit before, which he believes will allow him to read into their strategy. Ultimately he decides to ambush the Rat Patrol at the site where the munitions are being stored, and as the episode plays on, tension builds as both sides rush to reach the supplies first! Will the Rat Patrol be able to undermine the Afrika Korps’ cause by destroying their stockpile, or will Dietrich’s forces arrive first and spring their trap? Well, I can’t reveal that, but I am sure the fact that there were 55 more episodes might give you an idea of the outcome…
--- The Life Against Death Raid – Air Date 9/19/1966
As this episode gets underway, Mark Hitchcock (Lawrence Casey) is injured during a firefight with the Germans, and his commanding officer tempts fate by transporting the wounded man to an enemy medical center, to have him receive treatment as soon as possible. Unbelievably, the members of the Rat Patrol almost pull the plan off without a hitch, but an injured German receiving treatment at the facility correctly identifies them as agents of the enemy and attempts to alert the guards! As such, the RP is entered into another race against time, to ensure that Hitchcock gets the care he needs before their cover is blown!
--- The Wildest Raid Of All – Air Date 9/26/1966
In this episode, the Rat Patrol has been tasked with “enlisting” the aid of a prominent enemy General to stave off a pending attack on allied forces. To get close enough to the General to carry out their plan, the members of the Patrol allow themselves to be taken into German custody, and later turns the tables on their captors, eventually taking their target into custody. Unfortunately, despite the Rat Patrol’s best efforts to maintain cover, the captured General is signals a search party, which subsequently pins our heroes down. Out of sheer desperation, the RP attempts to create the illusion that a large and heavily armed force is waiting to greet the Nazi force, in hopes that they will turn tail and run. The question is: will the Rat Patrol’s bluff be called?
--- The Kill Or Be Killed Raid – Air Date 10/3/1966
In this episode, the Afrika Korps has obtained a map that reveals the location of a source of water, which is a rare commodity in the desert. Basically, it is up to the RP to decipher and destroy this document before the Germans locate the water. To carry out their mission, Moffitt pretends to be a member of the German forces to try and infiltrate their base in order to access to the information he needs.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Troy must keep a track of Moffitt’s progress, for should he destroy the document but be unable to flee, orders have been given to take him out – he is an expendable asset on this mission. Obviously, for maximum dramatic impact, the story unfolds in just such a fashion, and Troy finds himself in the unenviable position of doing his duty and killing his friend or ignoring command’s orders and coming up with an improvised solution that both preserves the integrity of the mission and keeps Moffitt alive. I am sure you know what his choice is, and Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk would be proud!
--- The Chain of Death Raid – Air Date 10/10/1966
This installment of The Rat Patrol features a collaborative effort between a most unlikely pair, Sergeant Troy and Captain Dietrich! This is brought about when the RP engages German forces, and the two opposing leaders are conveniently left alone in the desert, where they square off until they are taken prisoner by a band of Bedouins. As resourceful as they both are, however, the duo manages to escape, but it remains to be seen whether they be able to cooperate long enough to survive the unforgiving desert and make their way back to their appropriate places?
--- The Do Or Die Raid – Air Date 10/17/1966
This time out, the German forces have managed to obtain another coveted map, this one revealing the placement of Allied troops and equipment! This unfortunate development leads top brass scrambling, and they end up calling on the RP to switch the real map for a “revised” copy, which would confuse their enemy.
--- The Blind Man’s Bluff Raid – Air Date 10/24/1966
In “The Blind Man’s Bluff Raid”, the RP duke it out with the Germans again, and Troy sustains a concussion during the fighting. After all is said and done, the Sergeant finds himself lost in the desert, with temporary vision impairement. This becomes important because Troy does not know that he has been taken in by a German patrol that is posing as American soldiers, in hopes that Troy will reveal the location of the rest of the Rat Patrol.
--- The Fatal Chase Raid – Air Date 10/31/1966
This time around, the Patrol carries out the ambush of a German convoy that was transporting American prisoner, some of whom do not like each other very much. Once freed, the highest-ranking POW informs Troy that he has intelligence crucial to the Allied war effort, and requests protection two of his men, who presume they were captured because of his actions. This information is then provided to Sergeant Troy a bit at a time, to ensure his continued safety, but as tensions mount, it is not certain that Troy hold back the two POWs that want to do their fellow soldier harm.
--- The Blow Sky High Raid – Air Date 11/7/1966
In this installment the Rat Patrol is tasked with destroying an important radar installation, and is endowed with a newly developed explosive device. Unfortunately, although the explosive is extremely powerful, it is also volatile, and must be handled with extreme care, which makes Troy and his company nervous. Still, the RP sets out to do their duty, but the Germans have learned of their plans, and complicate matters by embarking on a secret mountain road to try and get ahead of the Americans. That’s right, it is another race against time between the German forces and the Rat Patrol, but it is an entertaining episode nonetheless.
--- The Moment of Truce Raid – Air Date 11/14/1966
This episode introduces an interesting twist to the series, as locals that have grown tired of the battles being waged on their lands by foreign infidels engage both the Rat Patrol and Dietrich’s forces. The ensuing battle leaves both the RP and the Germans holed up in a small fort, where they are forced to cooperate once again, to ensure their own survival.
--- The Deadly Double Raid – Air Date 11/21/1966
“The Deadly Double Raid” features more RP trickery, as Moffitt and Tully purposely fall into enemy hands, in hopes of obtaining valuable intelligence from an American POW. Unfortunately, the man they were seeking appears to have been killed, and the effort to retrieve whatever information he did possess from other sources turns up a traitor, as they get conflicting information from different people! The only problem is Moffitt and Tully are not quite sure which of their two main suspects is the real traitor.
--- The Gun Runner Raid – Air Date 11/28/1966
In this RP installment local fighters make a return, this time disguising themselves as American forces to lure the Rat Patrol into a trap. Once captured, it turns out that the Arab force are being backed by an American arms dealer, who will deal with anyone, provided the price is right. As the two sides begin talking, this man is clearly intent on rubbing out the RP, but he soon develops enough respect for them to change his mind and offer them a piece of his action, in exchange for their services. Will the almighty dollar tempt our heroes, causing them to abandon their honor?
--- The Lighthouse Raid – Air Date 12/5/1966
Here, Private Tully Pettigrew (Justin Tarr) and Moffitt are in the process of escorting a French general to an abandoned lighthouse, where they presume he will be safe. What they don’t know, however, is that the man running the lighthouse plans to turn the man over to the Germans.
--- The Daredevil Rescue Raid – Air Date 12/12/1966
This episode puts the RP in yet another hairy predicament, as the Germans have cornered a large number of Allied troops, and are preparing to deliver the coup de gras. The RP is tasked with setting their rescue in motion by uncovering a secret shortcut, long buried under the desert sands, which would allow heavy Allied firepower to engage the German forces and possibly free the trapped soldiers. The only man who can find the shortcut is Moffitt’s father, but he goes missing just as he is about to rendezvous with his son, so the RP decides to try and discover the location of the road themselves – except for Moffitt, who goes off on his own to try and locate his father.
--- The Last Harbor Raid 1, 2, and 3 – Air Dates 12/19/1966, 12/26/1966, and 1/2/1967
This ambitious multi-part episode chronicles the RP’s effort to free several thousand Allied prisoners of war from their German captors, who have been forced to rebuild facilities that the Allies had destroyed. Aftersome tense moments, the RP elects to shuttle the POWs to freedom via boat, but as luck would have it, they are intercepted, and forced to try and outwit the enemy.
--- The One That Got Away Raid – Air Date 1/9/1967
In this episode, the RP is tasked with rescuing a German informant that has fallen under the suspicion of his commanding officers. Basically, they have to impersonate German soldiers once again, in order to infiltrate the enemy compound and secure their target. Par for the course…
--- The Two For One Raid – Air Date 1/16/1967
In “The Two for One Raid”, the Rat Patrol is called upon to dispose of some munitions that have been sent to a farmhouse for storage. Trouble begins for the RP, however, when the RP levels the building, but finds their intelligence was wrong, as there were no munitions being stored there!
--- The Last Chance Raid – Air Date 1/23/1967
This installment is fraught with tension, as the RP’s radio gets knocked out in a firefight, and they are thus incapable of warning command about the pending trap being planned for Allied forces by a large German anti-tank unit. In an effort to warn their fellow soldiers, the RP heads for the nearest radio broadcast facility, and hopes against hope that they will be able to convey the information about the ambush to Allied brass.
--- The B Negative Raid – Air Date 1/30/1967
As you may have guessed from the title, this one is about blood! More specifically, Moffitt is badly wounded during a strike on a group of German soldiers, but the RP is in a remote location, far removed from the medical facilities that Moffitt will need to survive. Pressed for time, Troy elects to make for a nearby German field camp, to try and acquire the blood Moffitt needs as quickly as possible. As luck would have it, Dietrich is charge of the base of operations, and Troy not only finds him, but “convinces” him to assist in the search for blood.
--- The Exhibit A Raid – Air Date 2/6/1967
In this RP adventure, Sergeant Troy and Hitchcock apprehend a high-priority Nazi officer, who is clever enough to manipulate the situation and leave Troy facing a court martial!
--- The Holy War Raid – Air Date 2/13/1967
“The Holy War Raid” chronicles Captain Dietrich’s masquerade as the Rat Patrol, in order to fake the capture and subsequent rescue of an Arab holy man. In doing so Dietrich hopes to gain the allegiance of local warriors, and have them aid him in his fight against the RP!
--- The Two Against Time Raid – Air Date 2/20/1967
As its title implies, this episode features yet another race between the RP and German military forces, both of which are trying to reach a secret munitions stash before their enemy does. It is a decent episode, but there is not much more to it than that, I am afraid.
--- The Wild Goose Raid – Air Date 2/27/1967
This episode tells the tale of how the Rat Patrol learns (at the last minute) of a German plot to abduct high-level British and American politicians, and their subsequent effort to stop the plot from being carried out!
--- Bring ‘Em Back Alive Raid – Air Date 3/13/1967
In “The Bring ‘Em Back Alive Raid”, the RP sneaks into a Nazi camp, to seize one of the German’s best scientific minds. Unfortunately, however, Dietrich catches them in the act, and takes the boys prisoner. You guessed it, now they have to escape!
--- Take Me To Your Leader Raid – Air Date 3/20/1967
The RP is excited that they were able to free a prisoner they believe was an American officer, but it turns out that he is really a German spy pretending to be an American POW! His orders are to assassinate an American General, and only the RP can top him!
--- The Double or Nothing Raid – Air Date 3/27/1967
In a few words, a member of the RP has been captured (again), and sentenced to death for espionage! Knowing their pal’s life is on the line, the rest of the Rat Patrol comes to the rescue, even though they are hopelessly outnumbered. Will they manage to save their friend and colleague?
--- The Hour Glass Raid – Air Date 4/3/1967
This episode involves the RP’s attempt tot rescue another POW that has been taken into custody by Dietrich’s forces. Sadly, however, the POW does not want to be rescued by the RP, but is actually a German sympathizer, which poses a serious problem for the Rat Patrol!
--- Mask-a-Raid – Air Date 4/10/1967
In this installment, the RP learn that a German POW was going to reveal the location of a large Allied force to his superiors, and decide to send Moffitt back to report for him, in order to mislead the Germans. Improbable, yes, especially since it was done so very many times, but since this was only a television show, I guess a little latitude is in order!
--- The Fire and Brimstone Raid – Air Date 4/24/1967
The 31st episode in season one centers around another operation in which the RP are to destroy a munitions dump. Unfortunately, nothing is ever eassy for the Rat Patrol, for after prepping the facility to blow, they encounter German troops, who order them to surrender!
--- The Delilah Raid – Air Date 5/1/1967
In the final episode in the set, the RP receives a request for aid from a rather unlikely source – a female claiming to be a French fighter. What does she want, you ask? Oh, only a little help in destroying a German radar facility!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
The many episodes of The Rat Patrol are offered by MGM in their original full frame (4:3) format, and for a television program of this vintage, I must say that the transfers are rather impressive. Sure, there is a bit of aliasing present, and on occasion, the image looks a little soft, but this transfer has plenty of positive aspects as well. For instance, the limited color palette is rendered well, with the sky exhibiting deep blues, the sand dunes a rich, warm tones, and the characters skin tones looking pretty natural. There were also almost no print flaws to speak of, and certainly much less than I would have expected from a 40-year-old TV show.
In addition, black level in the transfers I saw never wavered, so there was abundant detail in shadows, and although edge enhancement is present, its application never detracts from the image. Finally, the backgrounds are reasonably detailed, and video noise/pixelization in the desert sands is negligible, which brings out the many qualities of the arid but beautiful locations The Rat Patrol was filmed in. Overall, this is a very respectable effort, and I cannot imagine fans of the series taking offense to the way these episodes’ visual information is presented on DVD! Good work MGM!!!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
In no uncertain terms, the workmanlike monaural audio tracks for the episodes included in this box set are not on par with the excellent visual transfers, but they do present the source material in a decent enough manner. The best news is that dialogue is nearly always crisp and clear, and thus easily discernable. Frequency response is also fine, save for in the very lowest portion of the audible spectrum, which could have been a bit punchier for my taste. Unfortunately, the soundstage is rather narrow, and the tracks also lose a bit of composure during action-packed sequences.
Considering the source material’s age, however, these are really minor quibbles, and the soundtracks really do not take anything away from the episodes. They just are not able to compare with the mixes of today.
A six-page “Collectible Dossier” is included, which gives a brief bio for the actors who played Sergeant Troy, Hauptmann Dietrich, Private Hitchcock, Private Pettigrew, and Sergeant Moffitt, briefly describes the character, and includes a short filmography for each. Of course, a promotional page for some of Sony Pictures’ other WWII related DVDs is shamelessly included as well. As extras go, this “collectible dossier” is not only not collectible, but also rather lame, due to its lack of detail. A retrospective look at the series, or perhaps some vintage promotional material would have been a much better addition to the set, especially for fans (assuming any is available of course).
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
While it was not very realistic, did not last very long, and did not propel many of its players to stardom, The Rat Patrol was actually a fairly entertaining program, even though it dealt with a horrific time in human history. Unfortunately, most of the lead actors did not realize future success (Eric Braeden being the notable exception) from their appearances here, which is surprising, because their performances were actually quite good. Odds are, if you are reading this review, you are familiar with the show, and wondering how it was treated on DVD. In my humble opinion, you can rest assured that your money will be well spent, as the entire first season is included on the four discs in the set, and the episodes look very good and also feature decent reproductions of the soundtracks.
Unfortunately, the lone extra is a rather lame “collectible dossier” that does not contain anything fans will not already know. It is too bad some sort of retrospective look at the show was not created, or some vintage promotional material could not be unearthed, for this release (if it exists at all). I guess I should not be surprised at the lack of real extras though, given that this was a short-lived show, which many people seem not to have heard of. Perhaps we’ll see something of that nature on season two? Time will tell, but in the interim, the 32 episodes that comprised season one of The Rat Patrol are sure to keep fans occupied. Recommended!