From the looks of things, Judge Dennis Prince thinks being a POW can be terrific fun. Ah, the magic of television.
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 Second Season (published November 9th, 2005) are also available.
In a display of bad taste rivaled only by "Springtime for Hitler" within Mel Brooks' The Producers, the CBS network proudly aired Hogan's Heroes for six seasons. Broadcast from 1965 through 1968, the show epitomized the wacky nature of television comedies of the day, the sort of over-the-top knee-slapping entertainment American viewers seemed to lap up in earnest. Of course, the show, prior to initial airing, was swirled in controversy about its "dumbing down" of the facts about WWII and the documented atrocities of the German Third Reich. But is it a show to be taken too seriously, especially when it never takes itself seriously at all?
The war tribunal is in session.
Facts of the Case
At the Luftwaffe Stalag 13, a group of allied prisoners of war maintains their busy covert operations under the guide and tutelage of the breezy yet bold Col. Robert Hogan (Bob Crane). Like the proverbial fox in the henhouse, Hogan and his men practically run the Stalag and orchestrate an endless list of anti-German operations to thwart the Third Reich's efforts to gain advantage in the conflict. The camp kommandant, Col. Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer), and his affably incompetent first sergeant, Schultz (John Banner), are easily distracted, misdirected, and manipulated by Hogan. Recognizing his saving grace is the fact that no prisoners have ever been documented as having escaped Stalag 13, Klink easily yields to Hogan's varied requests and demands to maintain that "spotless" record. Hogan utilizes this Achilles heel of Klink's to regularly gain easy passage of his men as well as other allied operatives in and out of Stalag 13, literally under the noses of Klink, Schultz, and the frequently-visiting Gestapo agents.
The premise of Hogan's Heroes is simple but sweet: the Americans and their allies can effortlessly outwit the bumbling Germans. For this fact, the show seemed ripe for retort from many factions, most notably those attempting to locate MIA soldiers, many still unaccounted for during the show's run. It seemed in bad taste to make the POW's plight a source of frivolity, regardless who was portrayed as having an upper hand. Interestingly enough, with the scripts making frequent use of slurs like "Gerrys" and "Krauts," it's surely implausible such a show would be green-lighted in today's culturally hyper-sensitive society.
But, if you can discard this—if you can—you'll see a show that delivers many truly funny moments thanks to a cast that is spot on in their delivery. Much the same way McHale's Navy or Gomer Pyle, USMC portrayed rampant incompetence in various U.S. military factions, so did Hogan's Heroes, with the sights being turned on the common enemy, instead. The various show scripts are template driven in that each episode begins with a new covert mission for Hogan and his men to carry out while Klink and his superiors nearly manage to unknowingly thwart the allied effort. With plenty of fast talking, misdirection, and seemingly unlimited access to German uniforms and other such disguises, Hogan and his heroes complete their tasks while simultaneously ensuring their unwitting accomplice, Klink, isn't assigned to the Russian front. Knowing you won't see much deviation from this formula (some call it the limiting element of the show), the cast is able to make the entire outing fun and worthy of tuning in to thanks to their well-realized characterizations and impressive comedic timing. Credit Werner Klemperer for almost effortlessly—so it may appear—shouldering the comedic load with his perfect depiction of Klink, while Bob Crane smugly manages the "straight man" role with deftness and wry derision. And while the show may seem dated and even uncomfortable for its previously mentioned cultural transgressions, it comes off as more enjoyable today given enough time has passed since WWII and the reign of Der Fuhrer.
Fans of the show have enjoyed boxed-set releases of the first and second seasons of the show and now can enjoy the third season in this five-disc edition. Here, you'll find the following episodes, presented in their original full length versions:
Each episode is presented in 1.33:1 full frame format as originally televised and each looks remarkably crisp some three-plus decades later. It's amazing how well the texture of Schultz's woolen coat is rendered here as well as the natural cracking and creasing of Hogan's leather bomber jacket. This detail is well matched by the excellent contrast control, although black levels are a bit pallid. The color is presented in a very stable—albeit muted—fashion. The only drawback is this well-managed detail also brings along numerous instances of source print damage, these episodes certainly not having been put through the "restoration ringer." Still, what you'll see here looks better than the much of the classic TV-on-DVD releases out there. The audio is presented in an expected Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix and it suits the image well enough. Naturally, the audio is a bit confined in the front channel and, at times, it gets a bit vacuous sounding, yet the element are well balanced and the dialogue is never muddled.
As for extras, this third-season set is a step down from the generous content that adorned the Season Two release. You'll find a handful of episodes that include episode-centric photo galleries as well as an overall season gallery. The only jewel here is the appearance of Werner Klemperer on The Pat Sajak Show, circa 1989. It's a bittersweet conversation with the admirable actor as he discusses the show, reveals how his father and family had fled Nazi Germany to settle in America, and laments that the monocle he wore while portraying Klink had been recently stolen.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"I zee nnussing. I hear nnnussinggg…"
Seemingly, Schultz's perpetual preference for looking the other way was contagious as viewers and the TV ratings folks likewise overlooked the rampant indiscretions committed each week on Hogan's Heroes. It was the impetus for the bulk of the humor delivered in the show yet, again, would likely never find broadcast time these days.
Klink: Hogan, I think you would have made an excellent prison kommandant.
When taken as a relic of vintage 1960s television fare, Hogan's Heroes delivers not only some genuine laughs but also documents American attitudes and acceptances in television programming. It was a farce, to be sure, and if regarded as such (as it most certainly had been during its original run), the show is an enjoyable romp delivered by an easily endearing cast.
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Scales of Justice
• Werner Klemperer on The Pat Sajak Show
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