I'm not sure I was all that anxious to revisit the sixth and final season of Hogan's Heroes when it arrived at my door. I had already written a lengthy examination of the series for Season Five (please click here if you would like to read that review), and one of the main points of that piece was the curious nature of the show's sameness. Often times, unless you're a real Hogan's Heroes fan - and there are a lot of them - it's difficult to distinguish one season from the next. The episodes are incredibly similar, with a basic plot theme of Hogan and his commandos executing daring, and frequently ridiculous, sabotage and espionage activities right under the noses of their German captors at Stalag 13. Week after week, season after season, this was the basic set-up for each episode of Hogan's Heroes.
Now, that's really not a knock against the show's producers and writers; on the contrary, as I stated in that first review, I have nothing but admiration for the ingenious ways that the creators of Hogan's Heroes continued to keep the ball rolling for six seasons when they were severely limited by the show's premise. That being said, Hogan's Heroes was a great show to watch when I was a kid, and I enjoyed revisiting it a few months ago, but another go-around? I wasn't so sure; after all, what was going to change?
And then it struck me as I watched this final season: Hogan's Heroes may be the perfect embodiment of what light, fun, escapist TV should be -- regardless of what some people claim about its subject matter. "Perfect" not because it's a superior product to genuine art like The Honeymooners or All in the Family; it's a funny, speedy show, and amusing for what it is - but "art?" No, I'm talking about its format; it's structure. It's that very sameness that starts to work in its favor. Hogan's Heroes is safe; it's unchanging. The plots will always be the same, season to season. Hogan and his men will always put one over on criminally gullible Schultz and Klink; their sabotage efforts will always succeed; and the true realities of WWII will never enter the gates of Stalag 13. Season after season, Hogan's Heroes stays eternal; I for one am glad they never did a final wrap-up episode (much like Gilligan's Island) because regardless of whether you're catching a season one episode or one from this last sixth season, you already know the score. You're going to get what you want out of Hogan's Heroes: compact little spy dramas set within humorous screenplays, as cleanly and professionally executed as one of Hogan's operations, with an excellent cast of farceurs who knew their business the first day on the set, and the last.
Of course, there are those who cringe at such a suggestion that would award recognition to anything so commercial and "cookie-cutter" as Hogan's Heroes, but I disagree. We watch TV for all sorts of different reasons, and putting down something just because it's escapist or formulaic smacks of snobbery (or maybe just plain grumpiness). It also ignores the fact that we bestow those elusive, sometimes meaningless terms such as "art" and "junk" most indiscriminately. Fifty years ago, a second-bill Touch of Evil or Thunder Road were considered strictly exploitation fare, while "prestige" pictures like The Inn of the Sixth Happiness or Marjorie Morningstar were considered "important. Which ones are considered "art" now? I don't want to make too much out of Hogan's Heroes; it is what it is. What I admire about it is its consistency. And that's a virtue for entertainment TV.
That being said, there was one major change in this final season of Hogan's Heroes: the loss of Ivan Dixon as Sergeant James "Kinch" Kinchloe, to be replaced by another black actor, Kenneth Washington, as Sergeant Richard Baker. It's an odd break for the series' steady continuity, not aided by the fact that the producers never address Kinch's absence. Last season he was there; now, he's replaced by a rather anonymous character. It was a lame - and not to mention insulting - attempt by the producers to smooth over Dixon's departure. Too bad, too; Dixon lent a certain solidity to his scenes, offsetting the more rambunctious supporting characters. Still, the rest of the actors are all still surprisingly nimble with their line readings (although Crane does look at times rather preoccupied), with Klemperer a stand-out, still managing to wring out big laughs with his familiar character. There's a marvelous scene in Klink's Masterpiece where Klink comes upon the men putting together a torn-up secret map. Told it's a jigsaw puzzle by Hogan, Klink studies it for minutes, with the audience sure that Kink has finally figured out one of Hogan's schemes. Instead, Klink quietly picks up a piece of the map, and says, "That belong here." and places it in its correct position -- it's a brilliant line reading by Klemperer.
Watching Hogan's Heroes: The Sixth and Final Season, an almost endearing quality came through the usual antics at Stalag 13. The series, which had been steadily dropping in the ratings since its second year, was nowhere to be found in the Nielsen Top Thirty in 1970-1971, so it's probably safe to assume the actors knew this might be their last go around. Watching their interactions during the episodes (such as The Gestapo Takeover), a reliance on each other - Hogan and Klink - comes through, a teaming up against the harsher realities of the outside world, is evident. It becomes almost sad, in a way. Neither, in the context of the story, can exist without the other. Hogan wouldn't be able to pull off his jobs with a competent Commandant at the helm of Stalag 13, and Klink would more than likely be shot or sent to the Russian front for his incompetency, which is masked by Hogan's efforts. I despise the word "co-dependent," but it almost fits here for the men of Stalag 13, made more poignant knowing this is the final season of the show, and particularly when you take into account the rocky waters of Crane's subsequent career after Hogan's Heroes, and his tragic, seedy death. It lends just a suggestion, but an inescapable one, of melancholy to this final season of Hogan's Heroes.
Here are the 24, one-half hour episodes of four-disc box set Hogan's Heroes: The Sixth and Final Season, as described on their slimcases:
Cuisine a la Stalag 13
Lady Chitterly's Lover (Part 1)
Lady Chitterly's Lover (Part 2)
The Gestapo Takeover
Eight O'Clock and All is Well
The Big Record
The Big Broadcast
Easy Come, Easy Go
The Meister Spy
That's No Lady, That's My Spy
To Russia Without Love
Klink for the Defense
The Kamikazes Are Coming
Hogan's Double Life
Look at the Pretty Snowflakes
Rockets or Romance
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.