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PBS documentary reveals secret history from WWII

Date: 6/27/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

I'm trying to work through the pile of DVDs on my desk and here is a look at three new titles.

Secrets of the Dead: Bugging Hitler's Soldiers

This entry in the PBS series is something that any student of World War II should view.

The British developed a technique of interrogation that proved to produce information that undoubtedly helped save the nation during the war. When a German general was captured he wasn't confined to a prison cell. Instead prisoners were housed in a manor house that was essentially a very high calls dormitory.

They were given the latest books, newspapers and magazines, allowed to listen to the radio and even brought to London on field trips. The goal was to lull the generals into a sense that they could be themselves and speak freely. What they didn't know was the British had bugged every inch of the house and German-speaking Brits listened to every word they said.

When the general said anything about the war effort, their words were recorded, transcribed and sent up the chain of command.

The existence of the program was so secret that historians only became aware of it fairy recently when transcripts of the conversation were accidentally delivered to a researcher.

Part of the reason for the secrecy was the British wished to reserve the technique for potential future use.

Although the actions set during the war are re-created by actors, every word they say in the documentary comes from the transcripts of the actual conversations. Snippets of the original recordings are also heard.

Interestingly enough, the documentary also brings up whether or not this effort was ethical and if the prisoners had a right to privacy the recording violated.

Filled with revelations that will intrigue most history buffs, "Bugging Hitler's Soldiers" is intriguing.

Misfits: Season Two

Do you remember "Heroes," the television series about ordinary people suddenly developing super powers? Remember how strong it started out but then collapsed under its own narrative weight?

"Misfits" is essentially a British remake; only the group of young people who develop a super power from thunderstorm are all serving community service for various crimes.

Several of them are not particularly pleasant characters and the story is punctuated with sex, nudity and profanity.

I wasn't impressed by the first episode, but by the time I got through the third show I could see the series was going into some interesting directions.

The group is clearly unsure how to use their powers and is more concerned about getting through their community service. When a masked figure appears to help them cope with their transformation, the story becomes richer.

I will readily note the profanity and sexual content are pretty gratuitous and in fact much of it could be easily jettisoned. That could easily put some people off from enjoying this science fiction series with some great twists and turns.

It's worth discovering.

Beetlejuice: the Complete Series

Shout Factory has released a 12-disc set collecting the entire "Beetlejuice" animated series that ran from 1989 to 1991. While I admire the effort, I have to say the series itself might disappoint people who don't have nostalgia for it.

Based loosely on the hit movie of the same name, the producers of the cartoon took considerable liberties with the film's characters and plotline. In the movie, Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) is a horny con man of a ghost with unwholesome intentions for Lydia, the teenage girl played by Winona Ryder. The ghosts of a couple who had lived in her home protect Lydia from his advances.

In the cartoon series, Beetlejuice is a prankster who has a strictly platonic relationship with Lydia who goes from her world of the living to the Netherworld with ease. It's quite a change for any fan of the feature film.

That's not to say the cartoon doesn't have its charms. Lydia is sort of a mainstream version of a Goth girl who apparently doesn't mind the gross humor that comes with the territory. The cartoons captured at least a little of the film's tone.

I have to admit I've never been a fan of any Saturday morning cartoon that was an adaptation of a live action film.

My problem with the series is there is little set-up to explain what you're seeing and in high definition the animation itself is a little sloppy. The bad old days of low definition television gave some advantages to a show such as this one.

I was also surprised there were no extras to the set of any kind.

If you're an ardent fan of this series, you need to buy it. If you're not, you can avoid it and rest easily that you've not missed too much.