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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > TV > World War II > Hogan's Heroes - The Complete First Season

Hoganís Heroes Ė The Complete First Season

 

Picture: B-†††† Sound: C+†††† Extras: D†††† Episodes: B

 

 

It was a big hit TV series, but in recent years, Hoganís Heroes has become the latest victim of attacks by the Politically Correct Left for being insensitive.Of course, this was always considered a problematic show, even criticized in its time.A situation comedy set in a Nazi Prisoner Of War camp is tricky, but was the show a hit for all the wrong reasons?Paramountís release of The Complete First Season gives us a chance to look at the show and see that the case is just not that simple.

 

Jewish Americans were still very invisible on Network TV at the time, though two Holocaust survivors (Werner Klemperer and Robert Clary (see more on Clary in Unlikely Heroes, reviewed elsewhere on this site)) had prominent roles.The show did not glorify The Nazis, making them out to be buffoons, but undeniably skipped the dark reality of their torture and genocide.It must be remembered that the series was playing by TV rules of the time, and knowing as much as the audience understood that they would never see anything that realistic on TV under any circumstances, assumed audiences knew the reality and could separate it from a TV show.In the case of a situation comedy with an obvious laugh track, along with the fact that the show itself was a send-up of the Otto Premingerís 1953 motion picture classic Stalag 17, it was TV trying to be as memorable as the movies.It is the way TV finally overtook the old Hollywood studio system.The series was even shot at the famous Desilu Studios, the Lucille Ball company that once was RKO Radio Pictures.

 

That context does not totally eradicate what would now be considered insensitive to some extent, but we could ask if even Hogan and his men would reasonably know about Nazi Concentration Camps.There is at least a 50% chance they would not.The show has Bob Crane as the title leader of a group of trapped Allied soldiers who make sure Stalag 13 (lucky for them, unlucky for The Nazis) keeps a prefect record of no escapes so their inept Colonel Klink (Klemperer) stays in power so they can run their secret operation.This is to have a secret outpost to save Allied lives and pass top-secret equipment and information.If you were an Allied Soldier in this position, you would be morally bankrupt not to take advantage of it, though the show is not even this dire.

 

Again, this is a comedy, and I would argue one that was never derogatory of any of the characters, though The Nazis were buffoons.The sitcom trappings made Klink and Schultz too likable, but that is the convention and only because they are patsies can Hogan and company fool them.This is a dark premise and the intelligence of the teleplays actually are smart enough to play on this without denying the darkness of the situation, as much as a sitcom launched in 1965 would let them do it.This is quite a tightrope to walk, but remarkably, it works for what it is.The half-hour slotted episodes are:

 

1)     The Informer

2)     Hold That Tiger

3)     Kommandant Of The Year

4)     The Late General Inspector

5)     The Flight Of The Valkyrie

6)     The Prisonerís Prisoner

7)     German Bridge Is Falling Down

8)     Movies Are Your Best Escape

9)     Go Light On The Heavy Water

10) Top Hat, White Tie & Bomb Sights

11) Happiness Is A Warm Sergeant

12) The Scientist

13) Hoganís Hofbrau

14) Oil For The Lamps Of Hogan

15) Reservations Are Required

16) Anchors Aweigh, Men Of Stalag 13

17) Happy Birthday, Adolph

18) The Gold Rush

19) Hello, Zolle

20) It Takes A ThiefÖ Sometimes

21) The Great Impersonation

22) The Pizza Parlor

23) The 43rd, A Moving Story

24) How To Cook A German Goose With Radar

25) Psychic Kommandant

26) The Prince From The Phone Company

27) The Safecracker Suite

28) I Look Better In Basic Black

29) The Assassin

30) Cupid Comes To Stalag 13

31) The Flame Grows Higher

32) Request Permission To Escape

 

 

 

The problem with the show is that this becomes formulaic, but it never worked as any kind of even accidental ďpro-NaziĒ or revisionist propaganda, unless you are on prolonged substance abuse.The cast, also including John Banner as Schultz (ďI see nothing.I know nothing.Ē), Richard Dawson as head British Officer Newkirk, Ivan Dixon, Larry Hovis and Cynthia Lynn as Helga, also happens to have chemistry.There is also some deep, unspoken satisfaction watching the show that The Nazis were idiots and deserve to be thoroughly humiliated on this level, and that is something the big audiences had to be cheering for as they watched.John Sturgesí The Great Escape quietly works the same way, an action drama that remains a true classic in a Nazi P.O.W. camp.†† If we lived in a Nazi world with Pro-Nazi and Nazi Skinheads running things, Hoganís Heroes is a series that would be censored, destroyed, and would get people killed for owning a copy or any items associated with or related to the show.That is a success and small triumph that is easy to forget.Eliminating the laugh track would not change anything either to the detriment of the ugly history of WWII and The Holocaust.This show is a comedy and it knows it and that the underpinnings are still dark.The audience is never humiliated, something most sitcoms since the 1980s are far guiltier of, and all the characters have just enough dignity for the show to hold together.

 

As for other comedies on Nazis, the great Charlie Chaplin did say that he would not have made his incredible Great Dictator (1940) if he had known about The Holocaust, but was right to attack the Axis Powers and Hitler in particular, who (scary and bizarre as it is) stole some of his look in a sick way.As for films about The Holocaust that offer comedy like Jakob/Jacob The Liar (both the German original and U.S. remake) and Roberto Benigniís Life Is Beautiful, they are more problematic than Hoganís Heroes could ever be.The Liar films push the envelope that any prisoner in a ghetto or death camp could get away with what the title character does, though we known many did more realistically did, while the award-winning Benigni film takes place in Auschwitz.Godard voiced that if he thinks life is beautiful in Auschwitz, thatís his problem, but the good intents of that film cannot override the realities of genocide.Hoganís Heroes was smart enough never to go there, but because Benigniís film was considered ďacceptableĒ, you have a double standard.Hoganís Heroes never pretended to be more than a sitcom, while Benigni is looking for moral redemption where there is none and that trivializes The Holocaust more than a send-up of Stalag 17.

 

Of course, the same can be said for the hundreds of Holocaust films, especially since Steven Spielberg got it right with Schindlerís List in 1992.He knows there can be nothing feel-good about Auschwitz and the use of comedy under any circumstances is a bad idea, unless the audience knows in advance that it is a coined use.The wave of too many films on the subject have threatened to trivialize it as much as anything lately, but an occasional film like Roman Polanskiís The Pianist exposes their limits.†† The coined work of comedy applies as much to Benigni and it does for Hoganís Heroes.The show has been criticized by many lately, including by TV Guide Magazine, who supported the show in its time when it sold their publication, but the series is no more insensitive than any of the other comedies, because they all were critical hits and that is because people could separate the program from reality.By that standard, Hoganís Heroes could be appreciated again for the comedy it was, with no evil ideology to it.It is not great television, but does fall into the ďwe are trapped and may never get out of hereĒ type of series television that was simply designed to get people watching every week.This is going to be a sensitive subject no matter how you approach it, but if the show was bad or suspect, we would never hold back in going after it.

 

The 1.33 X 1 full frame image was shot on film and holds up very well for its age.The first episode is shot in black and white, but the rest of the series is in color, and this color looks really good.The series was shot by cinematographer Gordon Avil, A.S.C., who had to come up with an approach that would make the show look distinct for the new color televisions that had just arrived to the market.With rich reds, blues and browns in particular, he and the art directors succeeded.The show looks like no other before it and none that will ever be made again.Credit to Paul Schrader for getting the look right in his underseen and underrated film about the sad life of Crane, Auto Focus.That made watching the show more eerie than anything about The Nazis if you know his story.

 

The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sounds good for its age.The laugh tracks show their age, recycled form radio of the 1930s and 1940s, while the new music and dialogue fare better, even in this mix.The great Jerry Fielding did the famous theme song, while Fred Steiner did music for the later shows.This is cleaned up nicely and will make fans happy.There are no extras, but that would be something to consider for future sets.Now, to figure out how the show survived the limits of its own formula.

 

 

-†† Nicholas Sheffo


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