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Another Hero goes down in flames
on 14 January 2006
As a teenager, I loved watching HOGAN'S HEROES, a late 1960's sitcom starring Bob Crane. Ah, the innocence of youth.
AUTO FOCUS depicts the professional self-immolation of Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear). And caused by what? Drugs? Booze? Gambling? Twinkie over-indulgence? Nope, just sex. Lots and lots of it. (Come to think of it, isn't that every teenage boy's fevered fantasy?)
As the film opens, Bob is a talented, radio talk-show host on the Los Angeles airwaves. His (apparently) happy family includes a pretty wife and kids. They're devout Catholics, going to Mass every Sunday.
Bob's agent (Ron Liebman) lands him the starring role as Colonel Hogan in the WWII prisoner-of-war farce, HOGAN'S HEROES. It's during this period that Bob befriends John Carpenter (William Dafoe), an obsequious salesman who haunts the studio lot trying to interest stars in the emerging technology of home video taping/playback. Bob, an avid photographer, is hooked. John, a sexual satyr, introduces Crane to his world of promiscuous women. Bob's growing fame as Col. Hogan attracts even more. For Crane, a typical night on the town with pal John soon involves having sex with multiple partners, all the action recorded with still or video cameras for Bob's later enjoyment. Crane even begins a torrid affair with the Hilda character (Marla Bello) of HOGAN'S HEROES. (Remember Klink's secretary, Hilda? She was a Babe.) Needless to say, Bob's marriage fails. And then things get progressively worse.
Kinnear is wonderfully creepy and as the self-destructive Hero who jeopardizes everything he holds dear just because he can't keep it zipped. (As Crane asserts, "A day without sex is a day wasted.") Even then, he might have gotten away with it if he'd been the least bit discreet. But soon, the rest of the Hollywood entertainment Biz regarded him as nothing better than a porn star. And porn stars don't get "legitimate" gigs. Crane's only good luck was that this was pre-AIDS.
Dafoe's performance as the sleazy, pimping Carpenter is chillingly good. With a friend like that, who needs enemies?
Crane's sordid end in a Scottsdale hotel room remains one of Tinseltown's greatest enigmas.
The film contains full-frontal female nudity, and certain scenes miss an X rating by the narrowest of margins. It's probably not a movie you'd pop into the DVD player to show the extended family after next Thanksgiving's feast.
I'll never again watch a HOGAN'S HEROES rerun from the same perspective.