Friday, April 05, 2019

Why Sgt. Saunders is My Favorite Fictional Character of All Time (And Why You Should, Like, Care)

It's no secret that Combat! (1962-67) has been my favorite TV show since I was 14 years old.  This year marks twenty-five years of me loving that show.  A quarter of a century.  I'm still not tired of it.  I still haven't seen all the episodes.  I'm still writing fanfiction for it.  If I ever got a tattoo (not likely, but you never know -- maybe when I'm 64 and have loved it for fifty years?), I would get one of the little stylized bayonet that they use for an exclamation point in the credits.  I've drawn that on myself with inkpen so often it's almost been a tattoo a few times anyway.


It's also no secret that Sergeant Saunders, the C! character played by Vic Morrow, is my favorite fictional character of all time.  I've talked briefly about him here, and at length in a few review posts as well.

So today, I'm going to muse for a while about WHY he's my favorite.  Why I fell so madly "in love" with him in the first place, why I still idolize and admire him, and why he's so very important to me.  If that sounds interesting to you, read on.  If not, well, I'll never know you closed your browser window, will I.  But if you do that, you won't get to the part where I talk about why you should care about this, soooooo... anyway...


The first Combat! episode I ever watched was "The Walking Wounded."  As I said, I was fourteen years old.  It was 1994, the fiftieth anniversary of the D-DAY invasion during WWII, and my dad was absolutely jubilant over how many classic WWII-set movies were being released on VHS.  We rented and purchased dozens, and I was already a fan of great films like The Longest Day (1962), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and The Great Escape (1963) by the time a local TV channel started rebroadcasting classic TV shows, including Combat! (1962-67).  My dad remembered this show from his childhood and suggested we record a few episodes to see if they were worth watching as a family.

We settled down one evening for a family movie night, always a special treat, and Dad pulled this out.  I seem to recall that Mom and my brother didn't really want to watch it.  I was in that difficult stage of life (called my entire childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood) where I instantly wanted whatever other people didn't want, so I was particularly determined to enjoy the show, no matter what it was like.


What was it like?  It was wonderful.  My dad kept saying, "It's like a mini war movie, but with no bad language!"  That's exactly what it was like.  Every episode of C!, including "The Walking Wounded," was like a mini-movie, complete with excellent writing, directing, acting, and cinematography.  The production values were particularly good, especially the special effects, and the writing and acting were head and shoulders above so much sixties TV.  Even at fourteen, I could tell this show was special.

But the most special thing on the screen was that sergeant.  That compelling, fascinating, unusual man who held himself and everyone else to impossibly high standards, who killed enemies in a brusque, businesslike way, yet who offered a sympathetic ear to those in trouble.  The sergeant who refused to let a stranger die even though it meant endangering his own life, and who insisted others ought to be willing to do the same.  Who berated, harangued, and inspired them to be better versions of themselves.

I was fourteen, I was fascinated, and I have never looked back.


There are so many words that come to mind when I think of Saunders.

Fierce.  Gentle.  Noble.  Stubborn.  Kind.  Determined.  Helpful.  Compassionate.  Wrathful.  Intelligent.  Uncompromising.  Loyal.  Angry.  Remorseful.  Insistent.

Heroic.


Honestly, if you look up the word "hero" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of him there.  And if it's an online dictionary, there should be a link to where you can watch the entire show so that you will fully understand and appreciate what a hero should be.


Which brings me to the "why you should care" section of this post.  Why should you care that Saunders is my favorite fictional character?

You should care because if you understand that he is, for me, the ultimate template for Heroes, you'll understand how I react to other fictional characters.  If I'm going to consider a fictional character heroic, they'd better measure pretty high up on the Saunders scale.

They'd better be imperfect, but insistent on overcoming their own imperfections.  They'd better be able to make hard decisions swiftly.  Lead others where they don't want to go.  Inspire respect through their actions and words.  Hold others to a high standard, and be willing to call them out when they misbehave.  And show compassion to the hurting, the helpless, the people who have done their absolute best, but failed anyway.

And that last part is the most important.  Because if a hero is not kind, compassionate, and willing to show love and mercy to both enemies and allies, then they're not a true hero in my eyes.


Why should YOU care?  I guess maybe you shouldn't.  Or don't have to.  You can decide for yourself.


This has been my first entry into the Tribute to Vic Morrow blogathon co-hosted by myself and DKoren of Sidewalk CrossingsClick here for the full roster of contributions as people post them all weekend.


26 comments:

  1. "You should care because if you understand that he is, for me, the ultimate template for Heroes, you'll understand how I react to other fictional characters."

    It's always so interesting reading about the stories and characters that really speak to people on a deep personal level, so I like this a lot. Thank you for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Olivia, I'm glad you found it interesting :-) I also love learning about WHY people glom onto particular characters/stories/themes. Always fascinating. Like DKoren says below, two people can love the same character for totally different reasons, which is awesome.

      Delete
  2. And this, right here, is why Vic Morrow is so fantastic, because Saunders is also one of my favorite fictional characters... but for different reasons. But for both of us, it's all from what Vic instills and brings to the character. It's all him. Because he is simply that good.

    Love this so much!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DKoren, exactly :-D We like to play with ideas of "Oh, could this person play Saunders if they did a new version?" but we both know that nope, nobody else could be quite so good.

      Delete
  3. I love this so much.

    Saunders isn't my favorite C! character..but he's such a GOOD one. Really, if people want to know what a great protagonist looks like, they should look to him. And Vic Morrow did such a stellar job bringing him to life. <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eva, I have learned So Very Much about storytelling from watching Vic act. The tiny gestures and nuances and just... how he paces his dialog... it's an endless learning experience. And the show as a whole is so good at packing a mighty wallop into a short story.

      Delete
    2. It is! Even though there are a few bad episodes (*cough*ASuddenTerror*cough*) the writers were really good at coming up with great, gripping plots. I think it was the strength of the acting (particularly Vic's - although all the mains and almost all of the guests were really good) that really sold the show. They were able to take those [already very good] stories and elevate them to something truly special.

      Delete
    3. Eva, yes, there are a few clunkers, but comparatively few, I think. The writing overall was so, so good, and then the actors stepped up to match that, even surpass it. Look at how Vic Morrow took the character of Saunders as written in the first 3 or 4 episodes and deepened him, changed him until he and the writers were creating a totally different character. Truly special, indeed.

      (And that really goes for everyone on the show, but maybe especially for Vic, Pierre Jalbert, and Jack Hogan, who seem to have had their characters change and grow the most over the course of the show.)

      Delete
  4. Clearly I need to watch this, I wonder if it's on Amazon Prime. I've been going through my movie/tv lists marking which things are on Prime, then which I will see what is at the library.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Livia, yes, you do. I don't believe Prime has it, but you can watch most/all of the eps on YouTube. I linked to a listing up in my post (where I was talking about dictionaries).

      I would suggest starting with "The Long Way Home," which is a 2-part episode, because it really gives a great feel for the show as a whole and lets all the regular characters shine.

      Delete
  5. Very nice. Saunders rules! He's a little bit of every man but does a better job than most of overcoming his shortcomings for the success of the operation. I've always associated him and Captain Kirk as being very similar. If all the Federation veneer were rubbed off Kirk and a bit of gritty texture applied instead, I think we get Saunders.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Stanley! You're so right -- he's that magical blend of everyman and hero. Captain Kirk so, so much reminds me of him -- the two of them were basically all I aspired to be/pretended to be/wished to be when I was a teen. They're both such protective, tenacious, wonderful characters. I really can't think of anyone in modern TV (what little I watch of it anymore) who is similar except for Gibbs on NCIS, who is such a throwback to that kind of leader.

      Delete
  6. Never seen even a single episode of Combat (at least not to my knowledge, but since it aired in the early sixties it might have been something I saw but just don't remember.) I won't go buy the series yet, but I'm convinced to check it out, if my library ever gets any of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quiggy, I think if nothing else, you would appreciate how many familiar faces pop up as guest stars :-) I hope you can find it! Definitely suggest it to your library -- I've gotten a couple libraries in the different places I've lived to at least get the first season.

      Delete
  7. I love this post. Because I can see bits of Saunders in you, and you in Saunders, based on what you described. <3 I think it's often that way with the characters who mean most to us.

    For me, that Favorite Character of All is the Tenth Doctor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awwww, Katie, you made me get tears in my eyes. Why? Because I've spent 24 years trying to be more like Saunders. So many times I ask myself, "How would Saunders handle this?" or run his lines through my head to get myself through something, or imagine him giving me a pep talk (his specialty). So... that made me tear up.

      How cool you have that same thing with the Tenth Doctor! That character who helps you be (and see) yourself better than you would be otherwise. Love it.

      Delete
    2. *hugs* Well, I think you're doing a good job!

      Yep! The Tenth Doctor always tries to see the good in people, and to imagine what their potential could be, even though that's hard for him because he's had so many rough experiences in the past. But he TRIES to believe in goodness and to spread kindness. I want to be that kind of person, too.

      Delete
    3. Aww, thanks, Katie!

      I think if I ever tried Doctor Who again, I would try his seasons because he does look the most endearing.

      Delete
  8. A great post! I especially agree with the dictionary thing. There definitely should be a picture of the Sarge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Anna and Irene :-) Glad you enjoyed it!

      Delete
  9. Great to find someone who feels like I do. I have the series on DVD and literally watch an episode every day. Morrow is so powerful in the role. It was my favorite show in the 60s, and still is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was a time when I watched at least one disc a week! Someday, maybe I'll be able to do that again. I remember when the series came to DVD and I eagerly awaited each season as they released it :-)

      It's been my favorite show since I was a teen in the '90s. So superb.

      Delete
  10. I have fun with the Combat Facebook page. Great to talk about individual episodes and share thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have fun there too! I was a member of the C! email chat list as far back as 1999, and I still enjoy hanging out with those same folks on FB now and then.

      Delete
  11. About the time Combat! came on TV, I used to go with my mom to meet a Rhone Poulenc pharma rep to import Chlorpromazine. He spoke like Caje ...I knew a Parisienne to who taught us French, which was obligatory in 1973 at Indiana University for a B.A. in chemistry. It all worked out perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Unknown! That's very cool :-) What nice memories!

      Delete

Agree or disagree? That is the question...

Comments on old posts are always welcome!

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)