The story took place in France during WWII and the Americans made me wear makeup and a hairstyle that were not at all related to the 1940’s era… for them, it was normal…!”Marisa Pavan Aumont
Marisa as Marie Marchand
Combat is an American War series of 152 episodes created by Robert Altman and Robert Pirosh, broadcast between 1962 and 1967. The series displays the trials and tribulations of the war through a company of soldiers fighting in the European front in WWII. Among the lead actors in the series are Rick Jason and Vic Morrow. The “Ambush” episode, the twelfth installment in season 2, aired on December 3, 1963 and takes place in a little French village during the German occupation.
What exactly happens in this episode?
The young French woman Marie Marchand is in a state of panic as she frantically searches in vain for an American soldier who will help her save her father from death by a firing squad of American soldiers. He is accused of being a collaborator with the Vichy regime. Once her father is shot, Marie flies into a rage, accusing the soldiers of being assassins. Under a barrage of stones thrown at her house by the villagers, she leaves on bicycle to her uncle’s house. While on route, she uncovers a hidden German artillery unit. She then discovers her uncle writhing in pain on the ground, his house in burnt ruins around him. While she tries to nurse him back to consciousness, American soldiers turn up to the site of the destruction. Feeling sorry for Marie in her sad situation, they propose taking her uncle to the village for proper medical attention. Morally weakened by the death of her father, Marie accepts their help. It is at this point that we discover Marie’s father was falsely accused and executed in error! Unfortunately, on route back to the village, the Americans receive an urgent radio call from their commander that they must immediately try to locate a hidden German artillery unit. Having no choice, they decide to abandon Marie and her dying uncle to go in search of the Germans. Marie then decides to hold them to their promise by exchanging information on the location of the Germans in exchange for two soldiers carrying her uncle to the village. The soldiers are sceptical of her story and while they debate it amongst themselves, Marie’s uncle dies. With that, the bargain is now off. The soldiers now argue that if she doesn’t give up the whereabouts of the German unit, her fellow villagers might die in a barrage of artillery fire. Now swayed, Marie shows them where the enemy is hiding out. After reading this article, you might envision our beautifully charming Italian actress, aged 30 years, playing the role of Marie Marchand speaking French the entire time with just the hint of a foreign accent.
Marisa’s dramatic performance in this episode is simply incredible! We genuinely feel the shock and anxiety that her very realistic character goes through. “Ambush” from the Combat series is one more proof of Marisa’s talent and determination to effectively portray a character. Besides being talented, this lovely young woman who had just turned 30 here had also just started a family with Jean-Pierre Aumont! We find her full of energy and drama as she plays a character with a tragic destiny. I’d also say that she is all the more endearing for the way in which she speaks French with a tiny accent. By that time, she had already been married to Aumont for 7 years and her French was nearly perfect. This is an episode to watch in order to realise how well she plays in a language she was not born into. Let’s not forget that Marisa herself was familiar with the war and the German Occupation in Italy. At the time, she was barely 10 years old and according to the book Pier Angeli: A Fragile Life by Jane Allen, the young Maria Luisa witnessed horrible scenes of violence in Rome including the execution of a Jewish child by a Nazi soldier.
When I spoke about this episode with Marisa, the first thing she said was “Ah, yes. The story took place in France during WWII. One thing I remember is that I shot a short film with Vic Morrow…” Ironically, in watching the episode, Marisa seemed to not recognise herself and it was funny to hear her say “Yes…. I saw a girl who resembled me and was wearing a hair and make-up from the 1960s not at all in keeping with the period outlined in the script for the series…” I think Marisa will never cease to surprise me!