Sgt. Schultz may have known "nothinggggg," but Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks he knew more than anyone thought.
Our reviews of Fan Favorites: The Best of Hogan's Heroes (published April 11th, 2012), Hogan's Heroes: The Complete First Season (published April 27th, 2005), and Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Third Season (published May 31st, 2006) are also available.
"I warn you. We have ways of making you talk."—Col. Wilhelm
"Your tactical planning, Colonel…Brilliant, yes; but at times, overelaborate."—Col. Biedenbender (James Gregory)
The first thing that should be obvious here is that Hogan's Heroes bears little resemblance to conditions in an actual POW camp and, although the writers showed off a great deal of historical knowledge when shaping Hogan's wisecracks, very little resemblance to actual war. It does, however, show a lot of resemblance to the war movies it parodied (Col. Hogan even wore the bomber jacket worn by Frank Sinatra in Von Ryan's Express), with helpings of Three Stooges-like slapstick thrown into the mix.
Facts of the Case
The series is set during World War II in Luftwaffe Stalag 13, where Col. Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer, Operation Eichmann) is proud of his record of never having had a successful escape, a record that (barely) keeps him from being executed by his own side. What Klink doesn't know is that U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Hogan (Bob Crane, The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz) and a crack team of his fellow POWs—Le Beau (Robert Clary, The Bold and the Beautiful), Newkirk (Richard Dawson, The Running Man), Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon, A Patch of Blue), and Carter (Larry Hovis, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.)—are an Underground unit, sacrificing their own freedom to help others flee Nazi Germany and to sabotage the German war effort around Hammelburg. No, I didn't forget the most memorable character: Sgt. Schultz (John Banner, Operation Eichmann), whose "Eagle Eyes" purposely are blind to the prisoners' capers.
Here's the lineup on this set, which features all 30 episodes from the 1966-67 season:
"Hogan Gives a Birthday Party," the second-season opener, is a pretty good example of what you get: As it opens, Sgt. Schultz reluctantly tells the POWs of a Nazi proclamation urging them to join a refinery crew. His speech gets the razzing you'd expect, but Col. Hogan has an idea, one he's bold enough to share with Schultz: "You've just given me the whole operation—have the Germans blow up their own refinery." The first step is to con Klink into setting up a test comparing German and American flying skills in a mockup plane. But there's a hitch. Col. Biederbender, the man who shot down Hogan's plane, arrives at camp to celebrate Hogan's birthday. When he hears of Klink's planned test, he senses Hogan's involvement and smells a plan to escape. That might derail most military planners, but not Col. Hogan, who decides to bomb the refinery with Biedenbender's plane and kidnap the colonel as well. That neatly sums up a Heroes plot: the scheme, the con, the hitch, and the bold gambit.
The humor here is representative as well, from Biedenbender's taunts ("It is your birthday. Smile!"), to Klink's unwittingly astute observations about the Nazis ("The aim of a research project is not to supply new facts," he tells Hogan as he shows him the mockup for a very biased flying test—with the controls in German), to black humor ("Look at the way we did on these tests. We need some flying time," Hogan tells his men as he outlines his caper), and to silliness courtesy of Sgt. Schultz, who winds up on the plane with the POWs and jumping to safety with them. If you're not familiar with the show, you'll be surprised at the undercurrent of danger running through—jokes often come loaded with gallows humor from characters who know they could die if plans don't pan out.
The Mad-style riffs on war movies and caper films, which tickled my funnybone when I was a kid, are still funny—for a while—but get old really fast if you watch a few in a row. What made Hogan's Heroes funny enough to stick in your head years later like a song lyric was the dark vision of human nature seen in the relationship between the manipulative good guy Hogan and his two German foils, Klink and Schultz, and the show's take on the corruption of power, as embodied by Gestapo agents and the Luftwaffe leadership. Although the dialogue's often clever, the cast gave the show its edge.
Hogan is the master manipulator, his mind working at all times and on many different levels. He strives to give Klink the impression that his sense of duty has sent him over to the German side, like Col. Nickerson in The Bridge Over the River Kwai, but he's always steering his adversary into unwittingly helping an Underground plot. While Klink senses that his American counterpart isn't as helpful as he seems, Hogan manages to assuage his concerns with a smooth tongue, playing to Klink's ego and fears. Bob Crane's look of innocence when dealing with German adversaries is classic, a perfect match for deadpan lines about planning a jitterbug contest or trivial indignation aimed at making the enemy underestimate him.
Hogan's manipulation of Klink works because it reflects the Kommandant's fears of his own side, with its hated Gestapo. When Hogan says of the Gestapo, "They have ways of getting things out of a man," Klink's more worried than Hogan is. The German superiors who come to Stalag 13 belittle him, and their plans always mean trouble for him—either execution as a traitor for failure, or a certain death at the Russian front. Klink's no good guy; he's strictly on his own side. In "The Schultz Brigade," he's facing death because he and two other camp Kommandants plotted to set up their boss, Gen. Burkhalter (Leon Askin, The Terror of Dr. Mabuse). If he gets a chance, as he does in "Colonel Klink's Secret Weapon," he'll make plans to trap Col. Hogan in a caper once and for all. In Werner Klemperer's hands, Klink becomes a study in moral cowardice and amorality. You don't like Klink, but you laugh because you get the feeling you've met him somewhere. Klemperer took home the series' two Emmy awards.
"I see nothing…nothingggg!" may be the line for which Schultz (John Banner) is best known, but after watching 30 episodes in a short time, Banner's portrayal leaves the impression that Schultz knows a lot more than he lets on. When Hogan says a line like, "C'mon, Schultz, hurry up. We've got to finish digging that tunnel by Thursday," his answers leave it ambiguous as to whether Schultz believes the Colonel. Banner's goggle-eyed expression conveys a sense that yes, Schultz believes him; and his thoughts are a mix of fear of the personal consequences and admiration for the audacious American. Often, Banner slips in a quick, sly smile to telegraph this mixed feeling. During their commentaries, Sigrid Valdis and Robert Clary joke with good reason about Banner stealing their scenes (while Valdis calls the other actors by their real names, she always calls Banner "Schultzie"). Banner turns an ambiguous character into a subversive one; one who sides with the prisoners against the Nazis, but fears for his life and those of his family members. Banner, an Austrian Jew who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp, then played Nazi villains in movies, makes Schultz his mocking revenge. According to IMDb, he told TV Guide, "I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of goodness in every generation."
The Heroes are caricatures of World War II movie heroes: Le Beau, the Frenchman with passions for ladies and for food, gets the most screen time in these episodes, thanks to unlikely excursions to Paris in "A Tiger Hunt in Paris" and "Art for Hogan's Sake." But the standout in many episodes is Larry Hovis as Carter, combining mad scientist looks with a naïve expression as he concocts explosives. Ivan Dixon may be all action as radioman Kinchloe, but he can zing with an impression as well. My favorite was aimed back at a pushy Hogan, when Kinch replies with "Jawohl, herr Kommandant" in a perfect Schultz voice. The sometimes cowardly Newkirk gets the spotlight in "The Swing Shift," when he gets picked up by the German draft board and tries to flunk a physical. Carter and Newkirk also serve as the team's chameleons, with comically effective disguises.
True, every episode has some really dumb gags (like Klink calling for water when he sees a fire and getting splashed), but there's always a memorable bit or two, usually mocking the Gestapo's authoritarian methods. Most of the best episodes in the 1966-67 ("The Schultz Brigade," "Don't Forget to Write," "Praise the Führer and Pass the Ammunition," "The Swing Shift," and "Colonel Klink's Secret Weapon") take satiric aim at Nazi corruption. Other standouts include "The General Swap," in which Hogan's superior officer is captured and believes the Underground leader to be a collaborator; "Hogan and the Lady Doctor," in which Hogan clashes with a stronger-willed female scientist; and "The Most Escape-Proof Camp I've Ever Escaped From," in which an escape artist's planned bolt endangers the lives of both Hogan and Klink.
The series has been digitally remastered, which means that most scenes come through as good as new, although much of the stock war footage is faded and grainy. The show's trademark action scenes are done with night-into-day lenses that give the scenes a bluish look, but don't obscure anything that's going on. It also gives you a good look at the sets—the tunnels and secret doorways have an obvious fake look. I noticed a couple of bad cuts, but they seemed to come with the original series. The sound's mono, but does the job just fine. At 25:30, each episode has recovered from the syndicator's knife, so each episode has fresh gags for those of us who saw the series in reruns.
Extras abound here, many salvaged by Bob Crane himself. The best of the film bits is a John Banner CBS promo for the show, with him stepping out of his Schultz character to play a comic airline clerk. The most absurd is an ad depicting Carol Channing slipping into Stalag 13 to tout the merits of Jello, with Col. Klink gushing about the dessert treat. Not worse than David Spade's Capital One spots, but bad. Did you know that Bob Crane was married to Fraulein Hilda (who's listed in the credits as Sigrid Valdis, but whose real name is Patricia Crane)? The actress talks about working with her late husband in the commentary, and shows two reels of them together, including their wedding at the studio. Robert Clary, also a concentration camp survivor, talks about his work in preserving Holocaust memories during his commentary. Clips from The Lucy Show and The Leslie Uggams Show are too truncated.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are more plot holes in a Hogan's Heroes caper than there are tunnels under the fictional Stalag 13. How did the prisoners get a network of tunnels? How come Klink's superiors never figure out what Hogan's up to? Were all the residents of Hammelburg in the Underground? How come there's never a routine bed check when Hogan and his men are out blowing up trains? Pondering this show logically, you'll only get a headache.
The blending of humor and drama here seems rather lumpy at times when viewed from a modern perspective, but this came before famous shows such as M*A*S*H, The Rockford Files, and Magnum, P.I. raised that bar. There's a laugh track (groan!), but not too much, since the show often puts action and somber moments first.
I can't think of another sitcom from the 1950s or 1960s that went as far in depicting corruption and fear, or another setting where it could have been shown on TV every week in those more innocent times. With our laughs, we got a comic, cautionary tale about evil and duplicity. Hear echoes of that political stump speech or advertising claim in the mock Nazi propaganda? Or of more modern business practices in Klink's amoral bob-and-weave? The setting gave it just enough distance to reassure advertisers, the way Hogan distracts Klink. The light touch made it stick in the mind like a pop tune, to recall whenever a political or business leader goes a little too far. Today, we've even got Geico commercials with satiric punch, leaving little room for a sneaky show like this.
Not guilty, but anyone attempting a remake should start packing for the Russian front. Dismissed.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentaries from Sigrid Valdis (Patricia Crane) and Robert Clary
Review content copyright © 2005 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.