Sunday, November 20, 2011
No Escape from Stalag 13
Created by Bernard Fein and Albert S. Ruddy
Starring Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer, and John Banner
Hogan's Heroes is my holiday show: For the past few years now, I have watched it from Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year's right past Valentine's Day. Until 2008, I hadn't watched Hogan's Heroes since it aired when I was a child in the sixties. There was the brief period in the winter of '96-'97 when I had the show on at three in the morning while I was up with an unsleeping infant, but, as I was dropping off to sleep, I wasn't too focused on the broadcast. It was the death of Ivan Dixon (Kinch) that got me started watching Hogan's Heroes again.
Incidentally, with the death this past April of John Cedar (the young Corporal Langenscheidt--only a true Heroes fan would even know who he is), Richard Dawson (Newkirk), Robert Clary (LeBeau), and Cynthia Lynn (Helga) are the sole surviving cast members. I think the reason I watch Hogan's Heroes from November through February is thematic: It is perennially winter at Stalag 13. (Klink: "Hogan, look how the winter sun glistens on the barbed wire.") Oh, sure the deciduous trees are the green of summer, and palm trees sway in the background. But there's white powder on the ground and buildings, and we viewers suspend disbelief and accept that white powder as snow. Further evidence of the season are the Germans bundled in heavy coats, while the prisoners shiver in their lighter outer garments.
A few years back I saw a TV Guide list of the worst television shows ever, on which Hogan's Heroes clocked in at fifth place. That's absurd. I can only assume those behind Hogan's ranking on the "worst" list have never actually watched the show and mistakenly believe Hogan's Heroes to be set on a concentration camp. Like Billy Wilder's Stalag 17, a really good movie to which many comparisons can be made--perhaps another time--Hogan's Heroes is set on a prisoner-of-war camp. Big difference there.
It's hard for post-Vietnam viewers to accept even a prisoner-of-war camp as legitimate fodder for fun. But in that time between World War II and the Vietnam War, all men did a stint in the armed forces. Those men and all the vets of World War I, World War II and Korea were a large part of TV land in the sixties. Those guys liked watching buddy pictures about the military. Combat, 12 O'Clock High, McHale's Navy, and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. were watched by all those vets and their families. And, of course, the ultimate buddies-in-uniform program--though each of the buddies was in a different allied air force uniform, they were working together to defeat their common enemy--was Hogan's Heroes.
There's a lot of humor in this show, and some really talented actors. Some comedic elements worth noting: Carter's (Larry Hovis) impersonation of Hitler or any other high-ranking Nazi, Schultz's (John Banner) cowardice, Klink's (Werner Klemperer) incompetence, and Burkhalter's (Leon Askin) bullying bluster. To really have some fun with Hogan's Heroes, play a drinking game while watching. Every time Schultz says "I know nothing," or Klink claims that "there has never been an escape from Stalag 13," or one of the grouchy Germans mentions the weather on the Russian front, drink a shot. If you don't drink, substitute M&Ms for the whiskey.
If you'd like to order the complete series from Amazon, click on this link: Hogan's Heroes: The Komplete Series, Kommandant's Kollection. If you'd like to order just the first season, click here: Hogan's Heroes - The Complete First Season.