June 17, 2015

"Major Hochstetter, Gestapo"

HOCHSTETTER GETS THE DROP ON THE KILLER, IN MAJOR HOCHSTETTER, GESTAPO
How's that for a provocative title?  It is, or should be, the title of a book that I'm hoping one of you out there will write someday.  Now, I know what you're thinking - I'm a writer; why don't I write it myself?  Good point, which can be answered thus:  yes, I may be a writer, perhaps even a novelist, but I'm no good at crafting a mystery, which is what this would be.  I'll be happy to serve as consultant for you, though.  And I don't even ask for much of anything in return; this is another of my ideas which I pass along to you at no charge, which means it's worth exactly what you pay for it.

Before I get too far ahead, though, a little background.  I've always been interested in what Paul Harvey called "the rest of the story" - in other words, after the happy ending, what happens to the rest of the characters?  For example, we know the star of the show always gets the girl in the end, but what happens to his romantic rival - Peter Lawford in Easter Parade, for instance?  He's often quite charming himself, but through no fault of his own (except, perhaps, that he wasn't a big enough star), he loses out to Fred Astaire, the guy that should have gotten Judy Garland in the first place.  Only I wasn't ever interested in that story, since we knew how it was going to end from the start.  What I wanted to know was where Peter Lawford goes from there.  Does he rebound quickly and move on to the next girl?  Does he agonize over what might have been?  Does he join the French Foreign Legion?  You get the picture.

I did something like this awhile ago with Hogan's Heroes, wondering what had happened to Colonel Hogan, so perhaps it's not surprising I'd return to the show here.  This is a little different though, in that I'm taking the bad guy, who was played entirely for laughs, and making him not only a serious character in a serious story, but the protagonist as well.  Would it work?  I suppose to a certain extent that depends on how good a writer you are.

The title of this piece comes from the first line of the book.  It's the line that Hochstetter always uses when entering a room.  He flashes his credentials and pushes his way through the door, past whomever it was that had answered his knock.  (That is, if he even bothers to knock.)  It's the same line he's said how many times?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  And at first it was exciting, being part of the elite Nazi corps, but as time has gone on it has become his burden rather than his glory.  He has come to see the corruption inherent in the Nazi regime, the evil that it pursues, the lost cause that the war has become.  (This is how we make him a palatable protagonist.)  And yet he remains - after all, nobody ever retires from the Gestapo.  Besides, it has kept him out of active duty on either front.  And even when you're in the middle of a war, there's still a job to do, and that's where Hochstetter finds himself as the story opens.

He's been called in to investigate a murder that's occurred at a defense plant, one that is working on a secret weapons package.  (I don't know if the Gestapo even did this kind of thing, but why not?  For something that's top secret and concerned with the war effort, you might have the Gestapo investigate.)  Because Hochstetter is portrayed as a comic foil in the series, we don't want to change him that dramatically; therefore, we turn him into a character that's something like Columbo without the cleverness.  He's kind of clumsy, a little slow on the uptake, a plodder rather than a thoroughbred, given not to brilliant deductions but simply following where a case takes him until he arrives at the end.  And in this case, the facts will take him in a completely different direction than we he, or the reader, expects.

As you can see, this is a radical reinterpretation of the Hochstetter character.  However, if it's going to work, you still have to have some traces of the Hogan version.  For instance, early in the book, as he surveys the crime scene he should notice someone standing in the background, after which he goes over to one of the junior offices and, nodding at the stranger, says "What is this man doing here?"  It's his trademark line from Hogan, but here it merely serves as an affectionate nod to the character's established history: it is perfectly logical coming where it does, and he does not use it again.  Similarly, he may make an offhand comment about it being a relief to be off of the POW beat - again, an acknowledgement of Hogan without getting into too much detail.

Obviously, we shouldn't try to make this a heavy-duty novel; perhaps a neo-noir with a colorful cast of characters would suffice.  It should be more like a fun beach read than an existential drama.  If you want to try something bold, make it in an alternate universe, one in which the Germans won Would War II (perhaps the Americans never entered the war - I think that premise has been done before), and we're seeing what a post-war Hochstetter does in a police procedural.  Anyway, since it's unlikely we'd get permission to use the Hochstetter character in the first place, this may all be nothing more than an intellectual exercise.

A lot of people might look at this as glorified fan fiction, which is definitely not what I think it should be.  That's why the plotting has to have a real credibility, and why I'm offering it up here.  There has to be complexity, red herrings, the element of surprise, and something of an attention to detail of the resources available to an investigator in the 1940's, as opposed to today.  Maybe it's even a look at Hochstetter before the era of Hogan.  I don't know, and in the end it isn't up to me.  It's up to you, if you've got what it takes to pick up this idea and run with me.  I think it's a fun idea, one that has a lot of potential.  Tom Stoppard did something similar with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, after all, and that turned out pretty well.  And if you don't need me as a story consultant that's fine, too.  Just remember to list me in the acknowledgements section, and make sure you spell my name correctly.

5 comments:

  1. Intrigued by this idea, since this is the classic TV character whose name is closest to my own (a dubious distinction, indeed).

    Like you I have often lamented the absence of a "final" episode for Hogan's Heroes. How wonderful would it have been to have the allies 'liberate' Stalag 13, or for Hogan and his men to make one final escape through the tunnels, taking Schultz with them, before the bombing started. Werner Klemperer was such a good actor - I'd love to see him walking alone through all of the abandoned tunnels, seeing the extent of his prisoners' activities, and realizing what a fool he had been.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My idea for a "Hogan's Heroes" finale runs along the lines of the boundary between the American (or, more historically, British) and Soviet occupation zones in Germany running straight down the middle of Stalag 13. Think of the Cold War foreshadowing....

    By the way, one of the things I appreciate most about David Hofstede's book, "What Were They Thinking?", is the fact that it makes no mention whatsoever of "Hogan's Heroes", seemingly a staple of books on bad TV, and a series that I feel has gotten a bum rap over the years.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It was never even considered, Mark. I think it's a wonderful show.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hmmmmm ...

    See, in the Hogan's Heroes that I remember, Major Hochstetter was the one recurring Nazi character who was not a comic foil - indeed, he was the one Nazi that Hogan and his men were usually worried about.

    Think about it: Col. Klink was a career officer, whose service probably dated back to the previous war; most likely, he would have regarded the Stalag 13 assignment as a demotion of a sort, but when you're a career man, you go where they send you - command was sufficient.
    Gen Burkhalter was another kind of careerist - the fat cat who's found a sinecure and wants to hold on to it. Every army that ever was has had such men.
    Sgt. Schultz: overage, overweight, unfit for active battle service. For him, guard at a POW camp is a safe haven of a kind; dealing with the prisoners (in several senses of that word) would be a key to surviving.
    None of these characters (excepting perhaps Burkhalter) could be said to be ideological or political in any real sense.
    Not so with Hochstetter: the Gestapo, along with the SS, functioned as enforcers in Hitler's Reich. This is where the hardline Nazi ideologues wanted to be - and Hochstetter, as played by actor Howard Caine, was the hardest of any of the recurring HH German characters.
    I remember reading an interview Howard Caine gave, shortly before his death. He spoke about his fellow actors Werner Klemperer, John Banner, and Leon Askin, who, like Caine, were all Jewish. He said that the four men had an agreement that they would never play their characters as anything but fools or villains. Klemperer and Banner leaned to the former, Askin and Caine to the latter.
    As the seasons wore on, Caine in particular insisted that Hochstetter be one character who would be a genuine menace to the POWs - which may be one reason why the character appeared infrequently.
    It seems to me that the traits that you ascribe to Hochstetter would be a better fit for Klink.
    A hardliner like Hochstetter would tend to hold on to his ideology longer and tighter than a career man like Klink, who was more or less apolitical to start with (remember the running gag of how Klink always had to be reminded to say "Heil Hitler"?).

    As to the theoretical Hogan's finale:
    When the Allies arrive to liberate Stalag 13, Hogan begins his biggest con job on Klink, ever:
    He convinces Klink that they've been allies all along - that Klink had aided Hogan's gang in bringing down the evil Reich, that he would come to be regarded as a hero himself by the newly liberated German people - an appeal not to Klink's fear but to his military vanity.
    Schultz would of course back Hogan up all the way, for his own sake - now he would "know everything!"
    So, instead of becoming POWs themselves, Klink and Schultz become minor figures with the postwar occupation forces.
    Hochstetter - he's a POW, maybe gets a war crimes trial.
    Burkhalter - he tries to make a deal of his own with the occupation forces - and ends up working under Klink and Schultz.
    Think that would work?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I’d often thought that on the “Hogan’s Heroes” finale, yes, the war is over and Stalag 13 is liberated. But for one final job the Heroes smuggle Schultz out as a prisoner and at the last minute, as Hogan is about to show Klink all the tunnels, their set-up, etc… he doesn’t. Instead he smuggles Klink out as well. Why? While enemies of course, Hogan just doesn’t have the animosity towards Klink to humiliate him like that. He’s the better man and instead instructs the prisoners to destroy the tunnels. They did their job during the war, they don’t need to rub anyone’s face in it.

    By the way, I’d always felt that the “UNOFFICIAL” finale (kind of) was the (very bad) film, “The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063805/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_20) . The cold war comedy(?) many of the cast (Crane, Banner, Klemperer and Askin) made between seasons of HH.

    If you haven’t seen it (and as fans of “Hogan’s Heroes” I’d be shocked if you haven’t) it’s kind of fun to see these actors play somewhat similar to their TV characters. And hearing Klemperer yell “Schultz” is fun, considering he’s yelling at Elke Sommer who plays Paula Schultz.

    ReplyDelete

And now for something completely different.