It’s been one of those days today, which is why I wasn’t able to get this out sooner. Anyway, one of today’s prompts is
Mary and I don’t have cable, but we still get a lot of good television, both on the network stations and on the subchannels. One show we watch almost every night and that never gets old is Hogan’s Heroes, which ran on CBS from 1966 to 1971 and starred Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer, and John Banner. Crane plays Colonel Robert Hogan, USAAF, who is prisoner at Luft Stalag 13 somewhere in Germany during World War II. While a prisoner, he and the NCO’s who are imprisoned with him gather intelligence and pass it along to Allied Command in London, assist in helping prisoners who have escaped their stalags and Germans deserting the German Army to escape from Germany, carry out sabotage against The Third Reich, assist the German resistance, even take a few of the German officers prisoner and send them to London as POW’s (Hogan’s rationale: if the Germans can have POW’s, so can we). They carry all of this out under the nose of Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Klemperer), the commandant of the camp, a vain Luftwaffe officer who has risen to his level of incompetence and can’t understand how all his classmates are now generals and field marshalls while he’s still a colonel and a prison camp commandant. Klink’s senior enlisted man is Sergeant Hans Schultz (Banner), a decorated veteran of World War I who was perfectly happy running a toy factory until the German Army drafted him and forced him back into uniform, an obese, lazy, and unmotivated soldier who is easily misled and more easily bribed.
Bob Crane as Colonel Robert Hogan, USAAF (source: Wikipedia, Public Domain)
Col. Hogan might be my current favorite character on TV (I know, the show is fifty years old, but it’s still funny). Here’s why.
He’s loyal to his men. They’re willing to work for him, because he doesn’t ask them to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He’s an active part of every mission, whether he’s posing as a civilian or a German officer, or working as a commando. He might not be the person who plants the explosives under the bridge, but he knows who can and trusts him to get the job done, and while they might screw the job up, he doesn’t take his disappointment out on his men. Often, they’re harder on themselves than Hogan is. He shows genuine concern for them; he’s not just acting that way to get them to attempt the impossible. And he takes the heat for them when they get caught and thrown in the cooler.
He’s clever. He sees a situation and thinks “how can I work this to help someone escape, throw a monkey wrench into the Germans’ works, or embarrass the Gestapo/some German officer?” He realizes there are electronic listening devices in his quarters so the Germans can listen to what’s going on, and stages conversations to deliberately mislead them. He keeps Schultz busy while his men are busy putting the elaborate plans into action.
He’s devious. It’s rarely a straightforward mission with Hogan. He won’t just help prisoners escape, he does it by getting them into the trunk of a visiting German officer’s car. He and his men have built a rabbit’s warren of tunnels and escape hatches under the camp, and when it looks like the Gestapo will find them, his crew digs a tunnel that serves no purpose other than giving the Gestapo something to find. He and his men leave the camp almost at will and always make it back before anyone realizes they’re gone. When they run into Schultz in Hammelburg, Hogan convinces him that reporting them to Klink is more trouble than it’s worth.
He plays his captors like a violin. He knows Klink is a vain and incompetent camp Kommandant (despite never having a prisoner escape from Stalag 13) who can be manipulated easily and convinced that the ideas Hogan plants in his head are his. He knows Schultz is slow-witted and unmotivated and can be made to look the other way with one of LeBeau’s strudels or pumped for information by bribing him with a chocolate bar or two from the Red Cross packages. Both of them see him as a friend, despite the fact they’re enemies, and will confide in him. He, of course, uses anything they say against them.
He’s a ladies’ man. He’s carrying on with Klink’s secretaries, often obtaining information about what’s going on behind Klink’s office door in the process. He also has ongoing relationships with female underground agents, and has been known to seduce the girlfriends of German officers visiting Stalag 13. He has a tough time with the double agent Marya, though…
He’s cool. When things don’t work they way he wanted, he figures out a way to try again without becoming flustered. When in disguise as a German officer, he convinces other officers that he’s one of them. When his men get captured, he doesn’t panic, and comes up with plausible explanations for why they aren’t at roll call. He then gets Klink to get them back.
He understands his mission. It’s the job of every officer who has been taken as a prisoner of war to try and escape. Superior officers who don’t understand what he and his men are doing feel he’s a disgrace who is in cahoots with the Germans until they see what he’s doing while held as a prisoner. He could easily escape using the infrastructure he and his men have built and the contacts he’s made, but he knows that what he’s doing is a vital and important part of the Allied war effort, and he’s determined to see it through. Besides, he’s having too much fun.
A lot of people find Hogan’s Heroes objectionable, and I can understand why. There was nothing funny about being a German POW, and the Nazis were brutal in their prosecution of the war, treated their prisoners poorly, and killed millions of innocent people (including nearly every Jew in Europe, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally challenged and deformed, and others) with cyanide gas. Several members of the cast (Klemperer, Banner, Leon Askin (who played General Burkhalter), and Robert Clary (who played Cpl. LeBeau of the French Resistance)) were Jewish and had been held as prisoners by the Nazis or escaped Germany and occupied countries ahead of the SS. In movies from the Fifties and Sixties which dealt with WWII in the European theater (The Great Escape, Stalag 17, Escape From Colditz, etc.), the Nazis were portrayed as they were. The actors who played German soldiers in the show were assured that their characters would never win and that they would be made out to be buffoons. It’s a farce. Not everyone’s cup of tea, maybe, but a farce nonetheless.
Have you seen Hogan’s Heroes? Did you like it?