Grade:  B+

TV comedy

Not rated (would be PG)

When Hogan’s Heroes first aired in 1965, it quickly became a hit. Though the show never finished higher than the 9th place it earned its first season, it fared better than most sitcoms that ran multiple years. While other shows suffered from tired or rehashed plots or felt the need to add new characters, situations, or sites to hold audiences’ attention, the writers for Hogan’s Heroes never seemed to run out of creative new ways for ranking POW officer Col. Hogan (Bob Crane) to get the best of his captors and sabotage the Nazi war effort.  Hogan’s Heroes was a success in every country but one:  Germany.

But in 2002, TV Guide released a list of the worst TV shows of all-time, and guess which show was No. 5 on the “bad” list? Yep. Hogan’s Heroes. So how can a smartly written show that was thrice nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series and earned two supporting actor Emmys end up on the same list as the consummately bad My Mother the Car and The Brady Bunch Hour? For the same reason that CBS chief William S. Paley balked at the series concept when it was first proposed. He thought the idea of Nazis as comic characters was reprehensible. Hogan’s Heroes aired three years before Mel Brooks gave us that hilarious “Springtime for Hitler” bit in The Producers. But more pointedly, Paley didn’t know the difference or draw the distinction between concentration camps and POW camps.

Paley couldn’t shake the image of emaciated human beings and crematoriums. But there was a distinction. POWs were mostly aviators shot down behind enemy lines, and they were kept in camps operated by the German air force, the Luftwaffe—not the SS, who ran the Jewish concentration camps. And as it turned out, all four actors who played the main German characters were all Jewish and more than happy to make the Nazis look ridiculous.

Political correctness aside, Hogan’s Heroes was popular then, and it’s obviously popular now, or else CBS/Paramount wouldn’t have produced this complete series Blu-ray. It’s still hovering close to 8 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database, and I would submit that even if you haven’t heard of this show, the cast and smart writing are going to be enough to win you over.

For six seasons Hogan’s Heroes aired during the Vietnam War years, adding a little pro-Allies humor to the public consciousness. Crane was a natural as the affable but devious Col. Hogan who led a group of prisoners of war at a camp famous for never having had any successful escapes. Col. Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer) held that record only because of Hogan’s help. It’s in the prisoners’ best interest to have the Germans thinking the Kommandant is the toughest in all Germany (though he’s really an incompetent,easily manipulated pushover), because it allows them to use Stalag 13 for a base of operations that would boggle the Germans’ minds, if they only knew.

Lift up a bunk and a staircase drops down to the second level. Lift up the dog house inside the “vicious” guard dog compound and there’s access to another series of tunnel operations. Sections of barbed wire fence raise and lower with the convenience of blinds, and a tree trunk outside the camp opens to admit people with the regularity of a revolving door. Hogan and his men have bugged Klink’s office and listen in on a radio that’s disguised as a coffee pot—the same device they use to communicate with an Allied submarine that picks up prisoners they help to escape. Think of Stalag 13 as a WWII version of the Underground Railway. Hogan’s voluntary POWs helped other prisoners, defectors, and the local oppressed evade capture and safely get out of Germany. As it turned out, they weren’t really prisoners, because they could leave any time. They were stationed there.

The two most lovable characters weren’t even part of Hogan’s team. Just as Don Diego/Zorro had the portly and comic Sergeant Garcia to “fraternize” with, Hogan gets along so famously with Sergeant Schultz (John Banner) that they could be brothers-in-law. Schultz’s trademark “I see Nuth-thing, NUTH-THING!” became a catch-phrase as popular as Fonzie’s “He-ey!” or Jimmie Walker’s “Dy-no-MITE!” It was also his code to live by: See nothing, report nothing, and just get through the war in one piece without being sent to the Russian front. That was his strategy, and so every week that Hogan and the gang would commit outrageous acts, Schultz would develop a deaf ear or a blind eye.

Klink, meanwhile, was a man who was promoted far beyond his natural intellect or ability. Compared to the scar-faced General Burkhalter (Leon Askin) or Gestapo Major Hochstetter (Howard Caine), the monocle-wearing Klink was as much of a pussycat and ally-in-spirit as Sergeant Schultz. Having those two incompetents caught up in a world beyond their control was a stroke of genius, because it made the show acceptable.

Over the years, loonies came and went—none more so than the “what, what?” by-the-book Colonel Crittendon (Bernard Fox), who didn’t quite get the point of the operation. Romantic interests included Klink’s secretaries Helga (Cynthia Lynn) and then Hilda (Sigrid Valdis), as well as spies and underground leaders like Marya (Nita Talbot) and Tiger (Arlene Martel). Even Klink had a love interest, though it was over his dead body: Burkhalter’s sister, Frau Linkmeyer (Kathleen Freeman). But from 1942 until the end of the war, Hogan’s heroes kept doing their part and enjoying life as best they could in the process.

The complete series Blu-ray collection features all 168 episodes on 22 discs that are housed in plastic Blu-ray cases according to season, with a protective slipcase holding them together. Those who bought the DVD complete collection will find the packaging alone to be reason to upgrade, but the picture quality is also more consistently sharp.

Fans weren’t all that thrilled with the bonus features on the DVD complete series release, but CBS home video added a few more bonus features to this set, among them radio segments, Air Force recruitment spots, some funny promos, and even a home wedding video shot near the set. The video quality is marginally better, while the sound remains not very dynamic. As with other boxed sets, the Blu-ray collection does take up less shelf space than the DVDs—but only by an inch and a half. The real reason to buy this set as an upgrade is the slight upgrade in video quality; the reason to buy this set if you don’t already have it is that as novelty sitcoms go, this one was darned good.

Hogan’s Heroes was also unique because the plots weren’t just hooks to hang the jokes on. Binge-watching all the episodes, you realize that the writers worked with a formula but successfully varied it week after week. Each episode involved a convoluted scheme to sabotage the Nazis that was as much fun to watch as the ensemble characters.

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  4281 min., Black-and-white (Episode 1) and Color (remaining episodes)

Studio/Distributor:  CBS/Paramount

Aspect ratio:  1.33:1 (4:3)

Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA Mono

Bonus features:  B

Amazon link


Not rated (would be PG)

Language:  1/10—Hell, damn, and German words like “dummkopf”

Sex:  2/10—Some less-than-passionate kissing, sexual innuendos, and flirtations

Violence:  3/10—Shooting, bombs exploding, tanks crashing buildings, but mostly done for comic or summary narrative effect

Adult situations:  2/10—Some smoking and drinking, especially in scenes in the town

Takeaway:  Though McHale’s Navy got there first, Hogan’s Heroes was the better show and also superior to other military sitcoms that came out of the sixties—shows like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. or F Troop.