Monuments Men: A Salute to Hogan’s Heroes?
George Clooney’s new WWII flick The Monuments Men claims to be “based on a true story.” But it also seems to be based on a truly terrible sitcom: Hogan’s Heroes. Both tell the tale of a ragtag band of Allied misfits who continually foil the Third Reich with so-crazy-they-just-might-work schemes. Granted, in The Monuments Men, they’re intellectuals charged with protecting priceless works of art from getting stolen or destroyed, while on Hogan’s Heroes, they’re POW’s who needle their Nazi captors with less high-minded high jinks. Yet aside from that, it appears only the names have been changed. To wit(lessness):
The Monuments Men are led by Frank Stokes, a dashing, devil-may-care rogue played by legendary Hollywood ladies man George Clooney (when he discovers a Michelangelo statue of the Madonna and lays his hand on her breast, you know she’s not going to stay a virgin for long). Hogan’s Heroes were led by Robert Hogan, a dashing, devil-may-care rogue played by legendary Hollywood ladies man Bob Crane (whose sexploits may have led to his murder, as documented in Paul Schrader’s haunting 2002 biopic Auto Focus).
The Monuments Men‘s international forces include a saucy Frenchman, Jean Claude Clemont (The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin, who beat The Descendants‘ Clooney for the Best Actor Oscar in 2012) and a cheeky Englishman, Donald Jeffries (played by Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville). Hogan’s Heroes‘ international forces include a saucy Frenchman, Louie LeBeau (Robert Clary, a real-life concentration camp survivor and the only member of the cast who’s still living) and a cheeky Englishman, Peter Newkirk (future Family Feud kissing bandit Richard Dawson).
Among Hogan’s Heroes was an African-American—first, it was James “Kinch” Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon), but he was later replaced by Richard Baker (Kenneth Washington). While there are no Black Monuments Men, Walter Garfield is played by John Goodman (Clooney’s former Roseanne costar), who co-opted African-American music as a bluesman, Mighty Mack McTeer, in Blues Brothers 2000, and a jazzman, Roland Turner, in the Coen Bros’ recent Inside Llewyn Davis.
Hogan’s Heroes’ most explosive comic moments come from Andrew J. Carter (Larry Hovis), an ordnance expert who nearly blows himself and his comrades to smithereens by mixing the wrong chemicals. Monuments Men‘s only explosive comic moments comes from art expert James Granger (Matt Damon), who steps on a landmine and nearly blows himself and his comrades to smithereens.
Hogan’s Heroes’ Helga (Cynthia Lynn) and Hilda (Sigrid Valdis) were commandant Klink’s secretaries, who appeared to be loyal to the Axis but assisted the allied prisoners, in part because they had romantic feelings for Hogan (in real life, Valdis became Crane’s second wife). Monuments Men‘s Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) is assumed to be a Collaborationist, because she works for museum commander Stahl, but assists the allied curators, in part because she has romantic feelings for Carter.
That covers all of Hogan’s Heroes, but there are two more Monuments Men, and the actors who portray them are both veterans of wartime-scheme flicks: Bob Balaban costarred as a Polish ghetto dweller who helped Robin Williams’ titular short-wave radio rebel defy the Nazis in 1999’s Jakob the Liar. Then there’s Bill Murray, who embodied FDR (the President who authorized the Monuments Men’s mission) in Hyde Park on Hudson and the ultimate military schemer, John Winger, in Stripes.
If only Monuments Men had the anarchic spirit of Stripes, or, hell, even Hogan’s Heroes. Instead, it’s maudlin and ponderous. In the end, it’s like that landmine that Damon steps on: a dud.