Paul Schrader's "Auto Focus" captures the life and times of Bob Crane, aka Colonel Hogan, all-around nice guy and sex addict.
11:00 PM, Oct 31, 2002 • By VICTORINO MATUS
After "Hogan's Heroes" ended in 1971, Crane's agent had trouble finding work for him. As a result, Crane ended up on the dinner theater circuit, which wasn't a bad gig--earning him anywhere between $110,000 and $250,000 per year. But much of his salary, he complained, went to divorce settlements, including a bitter one after the breakup of his second marriage to former "Hogan's Heroes" costar Patricia Crane (she played Klink's secretary).
His obsession with big breasted women also began to take control of him, overruling the internal censor that we all have which keeps us part of polite society. After one dinner theater performance, he turned to a fellow actress on stage and said, "Did you see her? Did you see that big-titted whore out there?"
"Auto Focus" posits that in the end, Crane wanted badly to change. But then one night he was bludgeoned to death. Two blows to the side of the head with a blunt instrument that was never found. (Schrader takes the liberty of suggesting the weapon was a missing camera tripod.) The film also strongly implies that the murderer was his friend Carpenter--in something of a homosexual homicidal rage. Indeed, in 1992, Carpenter was charged with killing Crane but later acquitted. Some, including Robert Crane Jr., consider step-mom Patti "a prime suspect." (Experts, however, believe that only a man could have done the level of damage to Crane's skull while keeping the blood spatter on the ceiling to a minimum. You can find the complete autopsy report here.)
For those interested in figuring out the unsolved murder, "Auto Focus" is unsatisfying. Instead it concentrates on the downward spiral of a seemingly nice guy who loved his kids and his wife but had an uncontrollable sex addiction he brushed off as "art" and as "normal."
Crane often said, "I don't drink. I don't smoke. Two out of three ain't bad." But he was clearly in need of counseling. In the end he spliced reruns of "Hogan's Heroes" with copies of his naughty home movies to merge his two fetishes, celebrity and pornography.
The performances in "Auto Focus" are compelling. Kinnear's Crane comes off not only as a sex addict but also as a tortured soul, prone to depression, and terribly lonely--thereby creating his constant need for women. Dafoe's Carpenter is at times sleazy, creepy, needy, and vulnerable. (As a side note, character actor Kurt Fuller plays a terrific Werner Klemperer, having mastered the almost musical tone of Klink's famous yell: "Hogan!" Michael Rodgers is an adequate Richard Dawson--who in real life originally tried for the role of Hogan himself and became Crane's rival swordsman on the set.)
People may see "Auto Focus" to satisfy their curiosity about the life and times of Bob Crane. But in Paul Schrader's lurid rendering of him, you come out of the theater wishing you simply knew him as that charming, grinning, dashing Colonel Hogan.
Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.