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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Hogan's Heroes - The Complete Fifth Season
Hogan's Heroes - The Complete Fifth Season
Paramount // Unrated // December 19, 2006
List Price: $38.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted December 13, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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When I was a kid, Hogan's Heroes was always a solid, go-to rerun when nothing else looked good. It wasn't something you thought of watching first (that would have been The Avengers or Mission Impossible or maybe even The Brady Bunch), but you could always count on it to give you some solid laughs and adventure if you caught it. That's probably because for six years, it just remade the same episode over and over and over again. It really is rather shocking to watch Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fifth Season, and not be able to tell, for sure, what season it truly is - it could be the first; it could be the last -- who knows? Repetition seems to have been the guiding motto for the show's production. And with that in mind, you can then understand why kids and pre-teens probably loved this show (it aired on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights during its broadcast run, the nights when most little kids got to stay up and watch shows with their parents). Kids love repetition. They love to watch the same shows, over and over again. They love to watch something that will progress and end exactly the same way, each and every time. It's security to them. And Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fifth Season certainly provides that.

Thematically, it's also designed to appeal to kids. After all, what is Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer) but a harmless version of the Big Bad Wolf, who huffs and puffs, but who we know can never blow the house in? Barely aided by the child-like Sergeant Shultz (who does more, actually, for the POWs, through purposeful ignorance and blackmail), Klink is the blustering, ineffectual parent to the juvenile, smart-ass, willful POWs who con and jive him every step of the way. Their barracks loaded with all the conveniences, including a high-tech tunnel that would be the envy of James Bond and Batman, the POWs, headed by charming ne'er-do-well Colonel Hogan (Bob Crane), constantly sneak out of their house at night while rubbing their parents' (Klink and Schultz) noses in it. Klink knows they're up to something; Schultz (John Banner) definitely knows they're up to something, despite his, "I know NOTHING!" protestations; but neither one can do a damn thing about it. And kids love that; they love a story that shows youthful kids getting one over on blowhard adults.

It's pure fantasy, too, of course. That helps with its timeless appeal to children. I had a grandfather who refused to watch Hogan's Heroes. He had been in WWII, and the very idea of the show disgusted him. That was certainly his right, and we never questioned that. But we also never thought, even at our young age, that the series in any way depicted a modicum of reality concerning WWII. Critics of the show (for that matter, most critics who review TV programs) never really give audiences enough credit for being savvy about what they're watching. Most viewers get it. It's TV; not a window out on the world. Despite the scattered loonies who still write to Lucy asking her when Ricky's going to let her sing with his band, the vast majority of TV audiences understand they're watching entertainments that have little or nothing to do with reality. Much of the initial criticism of Hogan's Heroes seems to have stemmed from a misconception that the show dealt with Nazi concentration camps, and not Luftwaffe POW camps (that's certainly a reference you see even today when people write about the show, marveling at the tasteless premise). Of course, the show steers way clear of the Holocaust, but still, it's relentlessly whitewashing the horrors that captured POWs faced in the stalags of Hitler's Germany. Interestingly enough, nobody ever mentions that one of the most popular WWII epics of all time, The Great Escape, does precisely the same kind of whitewashing; if you've ever read Paul Brickhill's original book, there's not a whole lot of wholesome, all-American Steve McQueen wisecracking in it.

But as with any piece of work designed as entertainment, its first and only real obligation is to entertain, not to tell the "truth" through art. Conceived as a piece of fantasy, Hogan's Heroes adroitly sidestepped the horrors of WWII by making the villains toothless windbags, and the heroes charming, jocular Rover Boys, full of vim and vigor (no starvation in these POW camps), ready to tweak the noses of their captors while blowing up their supply trains and stealing their code books (just as The Andy Griffith Show sidestepped the racial tensions of the 1960's American South by not having a single black person live in Mayberry -- and I don't hear anybody beefing about that). The realities of warfare never entered Stalag 13's confines. All Hogan and his crew had to do to get Schultz to look the other way while they snuck out of camp, was to mention the Russian Front, and Schultz started sputtering away, clearing out fast for a guy of his bulk. The show couldn't really depict the ruthlessness of a true German POW commandant either, so the producers went back to standard forms of farce, and came up with hapless Colonel Klink. Klink's lot was even worse than Schultz's; not only was he the butt of all of Hogan's jokes and innumerable office pop-ins (most stalag commandants would have shot Hogan dead after about the second personal put-down), but he was also at the mercy of superiors who were constantly belittling him, or putting him in harm's way. What father, sitting at home on a Friday night after a rotten week at the office or factory, couldn't sympathize, in some small way, with stupid, harmless Klink getting reamed out by disparaging General Burkhalter or icily cutting Gestapo officer Hochstetter? By showing every German officer as either blackmailed or blackmailing in some capacity, to stay out of harm's way, Hogan's Heroes reinforced their fantasy construct that the Nazi Germany shown on the tube every Friday night was not only controllable, but also downright fun for the confident, secure POWs.

Confidence. That certainly describes Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane. Now, of course, it's difficult to think of Crane in any context other than through the seamy revelations of his private life and death, but at the time of Hogan's Heroes, at least on the TV screen, he was the epitome of the wisecracking, amiable, psychologically secure American Male. He was totally in control at all times, living by his wits and his witticisms, while keeping the Germans running in circles as he essentially won WWII single-handedly. That kind of male role model - the youthful, secure, confident, sardonic yet optimistic, verbally and physically adept American Male - was almost extinct from our theatre screens (Easy Rider reigned at the movies during this fifth season of Hogan's Heroes), and rapidly disappearing from the tube. Viewed now, it's a characterization that hits you like a welcome breath of fresh air, after witnessing several decades of a seemingly endless parade of fidgety, scared, morose, neurotic male role models. It's a shame that the producers and writers didn't delve deeper into the other POWs who made up Stalag 13 (all of them extremely talented actors), but again, the whole point was silly farce, not character development, so....

What is a marvel is the myriad ways the writers and directors (many of whom would later work on another war comedy, M*A*S*H, came up with variations on the same exact plot: Hogan learns of a secret installation, or a code book, or a munitions train, where he must then escape out of the camp to secure said target, or blow it up, often with the indirect aid of Klink and Schultz. By this fifth season, Hogan's Heroes had slipped badly in the Nielsen ratings (it hadn't even been in the Top Thirty for the previous two seasons), so the handwriting was on the wall for the show. This next-to-last season, though, attempted nothing in the way of innovation to stem the ratings hemorrhage. On the one hand, you can fault the producers with being perhaps too unimaginative to change the format of the show. But on the other hand, it fits in with the show's determination to stay rigidly artificial. If things didn't change from season one to two, things weren't going to change from season five to six. The reality of the ratings, like the realities of the real WWII (and the current Vietnam conflict, as well), had no place in Stalag 13.

Here are the twenty-six, one-half hour, color episodes of Hogan's Heroes: The Fifth Season

DISC ONE:

Hogan Goes Hollywood
To transmit information home, Colonel Hogan plans to cast an American actor to star in a German propaganda film.

The Well
Hogan steals the Luftwaffe codebook, but can't use it after Newkirk accidentally drops it down a well.

The Klink Commandos
In order to steal key documents, Hogan and his men volunteer for a German suicide-squad train bound for the Russian front.

The Gasoline War
Hogan and his men plan to demolish a gas station that's just been built in the camp.

Unfair Exchange
Hogan kidnaps General Burkhalter's sister, with the intention of exchanging her for a captured Allied agent.

The Kommandant Dies at Dawn
Colonel Klink is set up for execution after the Gestapo finds him with underground information -- planted on him by Hogan.

Bombsight
A new weapon is about to be tested and Hogan schemes to get the blueprints to foil its detonation.

DISC TWO:

The Big Picture
When the Gestapo blackmails Klink, Hogan plans to steal the incriminating photo.

The Big Gamble
Hogan plots to keep a secret device, hidden on board a downed plane, from the Germans.

The Defector
A defecting field marshal tailed by Major Hochstetter to Stalag 13 needs Hogan's help to get to England.

The Empty Parachute
By planting an opened parachute in camp, Hogan tricks the Germans into looking for an Allied agent -- so he can find the missing briefcase that was handcuffed to a courier.

The Antique
Hogan convinces Klink to open a business selling "rare" cuckoo clocks, which Hogan plans to use for smuggling information.

Is There a Traitor in the House?
Hogan plans to filter information into London through the wires of a German propaganda radio broadcast.

At Last -- Schultz Knows Something
Hogan prods Sergeant Schultz to reveal the site of a secret atomic installation that Schultz has been assigned to guard.

DISC THREE:

How's the Weather?
Hogan throws an anniversary party for Klink, planning to use party balloons to forecast the weather.

Get Fit or Go Fight
Hogan convinces Klink to get back in shape so he won't be shipped to the Russian front.

Fat Hermann, Go Home
Things heat up as Hogan schemes to return a load of stolen paintings to London, just as Maryn convinces Schultz to impersonate Reich Marshal Goering.

The Softer They Fall
Kinch agrees to fight a German boxing champ to divert attention from a heist that Hogan is planning.

Gowns by Yvette
By having LeBeau design her gown, Hogan plans to use the wedding of Burkhalter's niece as a smokescreen to smuggle a defector out of Germany

One Army at a Time
When he's captured in German uniform, Carter convinces the Germans that he is one of them.

DISC FOUR:

Standing Room Only
Hogan tries to save Klink from the officer who wants to turn him in for his lousy bookkeeping skills.

Six Lessons from Madame LaGrange
With the help of a singer, Hogan schemes to prevent the Gestapo from arresting all the local Allied agents.

The Sergeant's Analyst
Schultz is headed for the Russian front because Burkhalter caught him goofing off.

The Merry Widow
To transport secret documents, Hogan sets up Klink with a female agent -- but when the wrong documents fall into Klink's hands, Schultz becomes the delivery boy.

Crittendon's Commandos
On a mission to capture Rommel, Colonel Crittendon and his commandos parachute into camp, but the Colonel is the only one to avoid capture.

Klink's Escape
Hogan gets Klink to believe he is about to bust a POW escape ring.

The DVDs:

The Video:
The full screen video image for the Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fifth Season disc set is remarkably clear. The 1960s was the true "Golden Age" of 35mm filmed TV shows, with Hollywood veterans behind the scenes who had perfected their crafts over decades of work in films. Colors are richly hued, with deep blacks and primary-colored blue skies and green pine forests (nicely recreated on the famous "40 Acres" lot -- Gomer Pyle's Marine barracks were right across Stalag 13's road, out of camera range).

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English mono tracks accurately represent the original sound presentations of Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fifth Season

The Extras:
Unfortunately, there are no extras for Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fifth Season. Dis......missed!

Final Thoughts:
It may seem trivial, but when viewers finally got a look at Hogan's Heroes, and saw that old Bing Crosby was the executive producer, I'm sure that went a long way towards telling America it's okay to laugh at Nazis. After all, if Der Bingle thinks it's funny....It may be the same show, over and over again. It may be that no one could be dumb enough not to figure out that the nexus of weekly sabotage actions was located at Stalag 13. And it may be that the premise was essentially tasteless. But Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fifth Season, like all its seasons, ignored the real history of WWII to create a fantasy land backdrop for a classic farce, ably acted by a cast of real pros. And it's still funny forty years later. I recommend Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fifth Season.


Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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