HOGANS HEROES: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON focuses on a group of American soldiers, led by Colonel Hogan (Crane), who are confined in a Nazi prisoner of war camp called Stalag 13 during World War II. While trapped in Stalag 13, the inmates conduct an espionage and sabotage campaign right under the noses of their warders. Because the Germans, led by the bumbling Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Emmy Award®-winning actor Klemperer), are often gullible, the real strength of Hogans men are the elaborate ruses and sometimes dangerous lengths they will go to complete their mission.
A top 10 show in its first season (a top 20 show in its second), Hogan's Heroes, like Gilligan's Island, got little love from critics during its seven-year run, but it would come to be ranked among TV's guiltiest pleasures. Hogan's Heroes has gotten something of a bad rap. It is not a situation comedy set in a concentration camp. It is, instead, set in a P.O.W. camp, where Col. Hogan (Bob Crane, a former top radio jock, in his star-making role) and his men "trick the dumb Germans," to quote the late Crane's former wife, Sigrid Valdis, in her enlightening commentary on the episode, "Hogan Gives a Birthday Party." While Valdis reveals that the film Von Ryan's Express was a key inspiration for the series, the show seems to takes its cue from Billy Wilder's Stalag 17, with its blend of comedy (albeit more broad than darkly cynical) and espionage action. Though camp commandant Col. Klink (Werner Klemperer, who would win an Emmy for his career-defining role) was, in the words of one character, "a bubble-headed fool," Hogan's Heroes was not quite a burlesque of bad taste.
Seemingly in response to wide-ranging outrage over the show's misunderstood premise (a Mad magazine parody at the time was brutal), there are some bracing dramatic moments that cut through the comedy. In "Operation Briefcase," Hogan is recruited to assist an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Hogan disdainfully tells the German plotter, "It's the least you can do, considering you're the same bunch of guys who put him in business." In the episode "Will the Real Adolf Hitler Please Stand Up?" Hogan explodes at one of his men when he imitates Hitler. "Imitating that nut in Berlin," he fumes. "It's not all that funny." But somehow, Hogan's Heroes is, thanks to Crane and Klemperer ("You talk about two people born to play a part," remarks Valdis), not to mention John Banner as the jowl-cheeked buffoon, Sgt. Schultz, and the rest of the crack ensemble, including real-life concentration camp survivor Robert Clary as LeBeau, Richard Dawson as Newkirk, Ivan Dixon as "Kinch," and Valdis herself, who debuted this season as Klink's secretary, Hilda, she of the scene-stealing tight sweaters and low-cut peasant blouses, and whose chief dialogue consisted of "Col. Hogan to see the commandant." The extras are a retro blast. The most bizarre is a commercial in which Carol Channing is smuggled into the barracks to enjoy a Jello dessert with Hogan and company. --Donald Liebenson