Hogan's Heroes: the Komplete Series, Kommandant's Kollection
This mammoth DVD set of the complete run, seasons 1 through 6, of Hogan's Heroes supplants an earlier combined issue of the six seasons, but with some important differences that may well leave some fans frustrated and others just plain angry. Paramount Home Video has done a beautiful job with the content, which encompasses all of the previously available special features in the individual season packages, and the earlier 27-disc set combining them all -- and they've added a 28th disc containing a set containing a brace of brand new special features. And that's all well and good for those of us who didn't buy the previous complete set, or too many of the separate season packages; but for fans who did purchase any of those earlier issues, this set could seem like the next thing to a bait-and-switch ploy at its worst on the part of Paramount Home Video. But even if one happens to have avoided that pitfall, and this set is wholly new to one's collection, it will still likely represent a study in frustration. On the plus side, the full-screen (1.33-to-1) transfers here are identical to those on the earlier individual season packages, and those were extremely bright, sharp, and crisp. Hogan's Heroes was apparently very well preserved, as the first major hit series on CBS to premiere in color (although the pilot episode, which is presented here in two different versions, was shot in black-and-white). Each episode has been beautifully transferred, and the soundtrack has also been mastered at a healthy volume level. And the audio quality allows one to appreciate one aspect of the production that now comes through, which originally had a subliminal purely impact -- the subtlety of the arrangement used for Jerry Fielding's main title music for the series. From the second episode onward, the opening bars of the title theme feature an electric bass, almost certainly a Fender (and one of the earliest prominent uses of that instrument on television), which is replaced in the next bar and for the rest of the march by a tuba, in the manner of a German-band; the transition from distinctly modernist trappings (circa 1965) over the serious shots of the men at roll-call to pure, goofy, period fun (over shots of some of the zanier conceits of the series) was one of the most subtle aspects of the show in selling it, week after week to viewers for six years, and only became apparent to this reviewer with these DVD issues. All of that is still here, and the 28th disc also adds significantly to the bonus features. The producers have dug up the unedited version of the pilot episode, which runs well over 30 minutes -- not only does the latter include some pretty funny stuff that was ultimately left on the cutting room floor for the syndicated version, but there's also an introduction, set in the CBS costume department, in which Fred MacMurray, Alan Hale, and Bob Denver, all stepping in and out of character, combine efforts to introduce the new season at CBS, with veteran character actor Dave Willock assisting. The uncut pilot is cleverer than the version that has been shown in the decades since, and it's easy to see how creator Albert Ruddy and producer Edward H. Feldman overcame any lingering doubts about a comedy set in the prisoner-of-war camp with this episode. The other major new features are an extended interview with series co-star Richard Dawson, in which he offers some interesting recollections -- he had to re-dub most of his dialogue in the pilot episode into a Cockney accent, because CBS president Mike Dann was convinced that no one could understand the Liverpool scouse accent he'd used; and he was also asked to read for the part of Colonel Hogan, which was a disaster. Parts of his interviews are welcome and informative, but one heartily wishes that his contribution could have been made a decade earlier, because Dawson is very clearly not in the best of health, nor is his memory all that it should be, and the point of some stories seems lost, at least to us -- it's also a little puzzling that while he talks at moderate length about star Bob Crane, and co-stars Robert Clary, Werner Klemperer, Larry Hovis (to excess about the latter's penchant for practical jokes), and John Banner, and even mentions series regular Leon Askin, he apparently had nothing to say about the cast's two African-American players, Ivan Dixon and Kenneth Washington. Series creator Albert Ruddy explains its origins and evolution, as well as matters such as defending it against a lawsuit by the authors of the play Stalag 17. And the cast's appearance on The Hollywood Palace, with host Bing Crosby (who owned the company that produced Hogan's Heroes), is entertaining; there's also a digital transfer of Mad Magazine's parady the series, and a couple of on-air promos; and a season one episode as adapted for German audiences. The set is all so enjoyable, that it's a shame to have to go into the other major flaw in the set. Apparently, some genius at the Paramount Home Video art department didn't think that regular jewel case-type packaging was good enough. Instead, the package relies on pockets to hold the DVDs -- the problem with this design is that a third of the discs were not put into their receptacles, and so rolled out onto our table and our floor when opened, and the bonus DVD was heavily scratched coming out of the new package, though it did play properly after a couple of passes. So those ordering this set on line should be cautioned about what to expect.