Books and Movies · History

The Rat Patrol: Defying History, with Style

Desert warfare. Unbeatable heroes. All in color.

Some months ago, my dad and I were debating about what to watch on tv one night.

“I know what we should watch!” he exclaimed suddenly. “The RAT Patrol!”

I looked on with amusement on as he rooted around our DVD case for the set of discs. I’d seen a few episodes of his beloved childhood show a few years earlier, but hadn’t thought much of it then, and was preparing to be just as under-whelmed this time around. Therefore, as the first episode began to play, it was with a kind of tolerant disdain that I observed two jeeps dramatically cresting a sand dune, catching air, and thundering into battle while theme music blared. The show started. I watched on. But this time I really watched it.

And it was amazing.

The Rat Patrol (link to IMDb) was filmed between 1966 – 68 and was the first WWII television series that was aired entirely in color. It depicts the struggle between Axis and Allied forces in North Africa through the adventures of a small band of desert warfare specialists. The “Rat Patrol” are allegedly part of the real-life Long Range Desert Group, which you can read about in the book Stirling’s Desert Raiders.  However, as will be discussed in later blog posts, this is actually a historical improbability of epic proportions.

But more on that another time. This band of heroes is made up of four hunky men, two jeeps, and a lot of snappy one-liners. If I had been in charge, I would’ve called it Hunks and Jeeps. Less inspiring, maybe, but accurate. The show views best when it’s not taken too seriously, and for what it is – a live action comic book. I have by now watched the entire series, and consider the time highly well spent.

While fans are consistently disappointed in its lack of a third season (and a fourth, and a fifth…) there’s plenty to like about what was made. Each 24 minute episode fills a pretty tall order for such a short timeframe: quasi-feasible plotlines, compelling characters (more on them in later posts), and plenty of hair-raising stuntwork (back in the good old days when safety was for the weak).

Of course, slightly cheesy television shows from the sixties aren’t for everyone. I, myself, will be the first to point out the improbability of their historic usage, the first to laugh when a karate-chop to the throat completely incapacitates someone, and the first to raise an eyebrow over a glaring plot-hole. But despite these faults, I think the show still delivers its money’s worth of entertainment value.

As Obi-Wan so wisely stated in The Empire Strikes Back, and as with many things in life, my experience with The Rat Patrol depended entirely on my point of view. When I first watched the show it didn’t fit my twenty-first century standards for entertainment – I focused only on its faults and disregarded any virtues it may have had. But when I watched it without that prejudice, I fell in love with the characters and found a story worth sharing. If you’re into hunky guys, comic book plotlines, and laughing at sometimes-but-generally-not-very-accurate WWII history, then this is the show for you!

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