I loooove this show. I saw it again on fox not long ago and realised how funny it is! I wish they'd play it on free to air again. Good quality tv and so very funny. Brilliant , brilliant stuff. Makes me laugh every time and if it doesn't air again soon I'll buy the videos.
A prisoner of war camp is not the normal setting for a comedy. Likewise, war is not a typical backdrop for a sitcom. "Hogan's Heroes" was, in that regard, a trendsetter. Few comedies ever tried to be funny during war. Most failed (remember "Rollout"?). The two most notable exceptions were "M*A*S*H" and "Hogan's Heroes". What made both of these shows successful was the fact that they knew when to run the laugh track -- and when NOT to.
“Hogan’s Heroes” was not without controversy. For instance, the producers of the William Holden movie "Stalag 17" considered suing the creators of "Hogan", alleging that the plot for the series was lifted from the movie. More troubling, however, was some people thought (and still think) that the show was in a CONCENTRATION camp, NOT a P.O.W. camp. There is a vast difference between the two. Prisoners of war were covered by the Geneva Convention and no slaughter of the prisoners occurred, unlike what happened in the concentration camps. The show definitely did NOT make fun of the atrocities of World War II. In fact, Robert Clary (LeBeau) was a concentration camp survivor. Other cast members (including Werner Klemperer, Leon Askin, and Howard Caine) were Jewish; and, Klemperer, Askin, and John Banner (Schultz) had to flee when the Nazi invasions began.
Colonel Robert Hogan and his men were not prisoners of war as the Germans thought. They were ASSIGNED to Stalag 13 as an espionage and sabotage unit, working behind enemy lines. Their base of operation was a prisoner of war camp, beneath which they had more tunnels than a gopher convention. Colonel Wilhelm Klink, a 20-year colonel (who spent longer in rank than any colonel in the German army), ran the camp. His problem was that he was so vain and hungry for promotion that a simple stoke of his ego blinded him to what was happening in the camp. The guard, Sergeant Schultz, would “see nothing” after a candy bar was waved in his face.
The plots, in general, were predictable. Some (such as "Flight of the Valkyrie") were almost too unbelievable and therefore not enjoyable. Others, however, showed considerable imagination. "Will the Real Adolf Please Stand Up?", for instance, featured Carter impersonating Hitler in order to get information out of the camp; or, "Hogan's Double Life," where Hogan shows up at a party attended by a Gestapo officer who suspects him in order to make the man think there is a man in the German army who looks just like him. Even though the formula was the same (they had to outwit the Germans in order to accomplish their assignment), there was enough variety and comedy to keep the show enjoyable.
Some of the best moments of the series were saved for the recurring characters. At the top of the list was Howard Caine's fabulous portrayal of Major Hochstetter. He stormed in like a black tornado, threatening people with torture left and right, and shouting his trademark "WHO IS THIS MAN????" every time Hogan made a comment. (Interestingly, Caine's first appearance on "Hogan" was NOT as Major Hochstetter but as Major Keitel in "Happy Birthday, Adolf.")
The viewer knew Hogan was going to win every time. Part of the fun of watching the show was to see how they were going to defeat the Germans. It was predictable, but still enjoyable.
It was a very bold move (in light of the build-up in Vietnam that began as the series started) to set a comedy in the midst of a war and blend comedy with drama. Without “Hogan’s Heroes” paving the way for seriocomic situations, we might never have enjoyed the comedy-dramas (especially “M*A*S*H”) that came after it.
Brenda Scott Royce wrote an excellent, detailed book about the show ("Hogan's Heroes: Behind the Scenes at Stalag 13") that is recommended reading for any fan of the show.
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