Sunday, 1 January 2017


For You, Herr meGeoff, zee Vore Is Never Over

Born in February, 1960, I was amongst the last of the baby boomer brood. Before I was old enough to participate in organized sports and discover the devil’s music, I refought the Second World War daily. The war was close: my father had served, as did many relatives, neighbours and family friends. Our house was filled with actual artifacts – souvenirs of Dad’s (all of which eventually ended up on display in Ottawa’s Royal Canadian Air Force mess); and my toy guns, Airfix soldiers and spring-loaded metal artillery pieces that launched slim finishing nails lifted from Dad’s basement workshop.

My First Communion took place in 1967. It must’ve been a Saturday because afterward Dad took me to the local hobby shop. Those were the days before Sunday shopping. Maybe it was my Confirmation? Anyway, I selected a panzer, a Tiger Mark IV, as my Catholic reward. The tank was destined to be blown to smithereens by ladyfinger firecrackers. The war was everywhere: dirty, rotten Krauts were being dispatched in our backyard, in Sgt. Rock comics, movie theatres and on syndicated American network television shows like Combat and Garrison’s Gorillas. Budda-budda the best, most exciting, most exotic was The Rat Patrol.

Thanks to time well wasted inside the YouTube vortex, I’ve been able to revisit my favourite ever television show. In colour and everything. A search of the Irish rock band Boomtown Rats whom I once anticipated would be the new Rolling Stones instead led me back into the Libyan desert following a 50-year interlude. Two jeeps rigged with heavy machine guns leapt sand dunes and shot up hapless German convoys. To date I’ve watched six of 56 half hour episodes. Despite the show’s absurd historical inaccuracies each once weekly ‘raid’ has so far aged remarkably well. Inside of 24 minutes a somewhat plausible adventure story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and a sub-plot is told.

The Allies’ Western Desert Force was mainly constituted of Britain’s Eighth Army, the famed ‘desert rats.’ It was augmented by Commonwealth troops and free fighters from German occupied countries in Europe. Axis forces consisted of the woefully inept Italian army bolstered by Germany’s hastily formed Afrika Korps. The enemy goal was not so much to drive the British out of Egypt but to move beyond that country and take control of the oil fields of Persia and of course dominate the Mediterranean Sea.

War is a messy business. Nothing ever goes at planned. Desert warfare is particularly tricky: sand and mechanical materiel do not mix well. The front lines were not clearly demarcated, porous. Too few good roads made for vulnerable and tenuous supply lines. The British were wilier than the Germans, improvising, innovating and adapting to the conditions of the North African landscape. The Long Range Patrol, shortly thereafter re-dubbed the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), was formed in 1940. Its mission was to penetrate enemy lines for intelligence purposes. Its members became pathfinders, navigational experts in a monochromatic and ever shifting theatre of sand. In 1941 the elite and now legendary Special Air Service (SAS) commando regiment was conceived and named as such to mislead the Italians and Germans about its combat role and operational capability.

These confounding Rommel raiders, the LRDG and the SAS, are the genesis of The Rat Patrol, a renegade and incongruous quartet of three Yanks and one Brit wreaking havoc miles behind enemy lines. Troy wore an Australian bush hat. Moffat, like Monty, wore a black beret. Hitchcock wore a red French Foreign Legion kepi. Tully wore a standard GI-issue steel helmet. I suspect the headgear wasn’t paying homage to the various combatants so much as acting as character cues to viewers watching a war that was all yellow. I’m now reminded of the bleached, chalky beauty of Three Kings, a caper flick set in Iraq during the first Gulf War and likely inspired by Kelly’s Heroes.

What became of the cast? For the most part, I don’t know nor am I curious. They were good looking and clean shaven, immaculate heroes wearing pressed, comely uniforms amidst the dust and grime 50 miles beyond the front. The actor who played the recurring and always outwitted foe, an Afrika Korps captain, a ‘good’ German, an ethical soldier, still works, starring as the evil and manipulative Victor on The Young and the Restless.

I think Hollywood is a cesspool of unoriginality. I am tired of sequels, remakes and television series revivals. And yet... If a major studio were to revive The Rat Patrol I would happily pay my money at the box office and take my chances in a darkened cinema. My only advice to the would-be producers and writers would be: don’t think future franchise; don’t spend too much time explaining a hopelessly inane and inexplicable origin story; just get to the derring-do; think Mad Max with Nazis.

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