Shout! Factory // 1957 // 6120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // June 23rd, 2010
Gee Wally, that's swell.
Okay, is there anybody in this country who doesn't know this show? Inspired by the real life experiences of creators Joe Connelly and Bob Moshers own children, Leave It to Beaver was an iconic situation comedy that ran six seasons from 1957 until 1963. It has the distinction of being the first series constructed to show the world from a young boy's point of view. It also perfectly captured an era that slid away soon after the series aired, a time when America held on to an idea of what the "typical" family should be and look like. Men wore ties to dinner, mom wore pearls, and the kids were innocent and free from video games and the Internet. It's pure, simple nostalgia, and you watch it in wonder as you realize how much the world has changed in half a century.
The stories were always warm, wise, and mild. "The Beaver" (Jerry Mathers, The New Leave It to Beaver) would somehow get into a predicament, although never anything too serious or dire. Episodes included Beaver getting a mysterious note from his teacher in school, falling into a soup bowl on a billboard, or ordering an alligator in the mail. They were typical middle class boy things that were easy to solve with the guidance of his father (Hugh Beaumont, The Loretta Young Show) who dished out moral advice at the climax of each program. Mom (Barbara Billingsley, Muppet Babies) and brother Wally (Tony Dow, Mr. Novak) were always around as well offering support or a well-placed hug.
Oddly enough during the show's initial run it wasn't a runaway success, it never even really cracked the Neilson rating's top thirty shows. After the first year on CBS, the network canceled it due to it not competing well with Rin Tin Tin. ABC picked the show up and promptly scheduled it in the same time slot as I Love Lucy. Ratings weren't much better up against the redhead. It wasn't until the show hit syndication that Leave It to Beaver hit its stride with audiences. Reruns in the afternoon made sure that generations of kids would know the Beaver, Ward, Wally, and the always bratty Eddie Haskell. It was a show that lived on and played better as it aged, and now remains as a gentle portrait of life in Eisenhower era America.
Shout! Factory is offering collectors a chance to own the whole series of 234 episodes well ahead of the individual season releases. As of the date of this review, only the first three seasons are out with the fourth hitting store shelves in September of 2010. It's a great opportunity to jump ahead in your collection, and fans would be wise to do so. This is a handsome looking set that is also a shelf space saver thanks to some good packaging design.
Technically things are just swell. The transfers are well done and look clear with nice black levels. The entire series was shot in black and white with mono sound, and that's what we get. Don't expect surround sound or high definition resolution; the show was just never made for that. This is as good as it gets when it comes to this era of television. The best news is that these are the full twenty-six minute episodes and not the twenty-three minute syndication versions.
The box set is just nifty, and well designed to boot. Each season is put on six single sided discs housed in a standard size DVD case with some artful stacking and arranging. There is an episode guide that comes with each year which makes it easy to find favorite shows. Also included as a bonus feature on the first disc of each set is an episode of Stu's Show which is an internet-based podcast dedicated to classic television. You get the audio interviews with cast members, and these appear over the episodes as they run. In addition to these audio clips we get a single DVD in its own slipcase that has extras on it.
The bonus disc contains:
* Rare Pilot "It's a Small World" which features only Jerry Mathers and Barbara Billingsley, who both made it to the show. Strange to see character actor Casey Adams playing the dad with Paul Sullivan portraying Wally. This was previously seen on the season one release.
* "Leave It To Beaver" -- U.S. Treasury Film captures a very rough looking promotional episode that encouraged viewers to invest in treasury bonds. It's a contrived extra episode commissioned by the government, an interesting artifact for fans.
* Featurette "Forever the Beaver -- The Cleavers Look Back," which has 2005 interviews with Barbara Billingsley, Jerry Mathers, and Tony Dow. Also includes footage of Brian Levant who helped create The New Leave It To Beaver. This runs almost an hour and a half, and covers a ton of the history of the show and what it was like to work on it.
* Featurette "Ken Osmond and Frank Bank Remember" is a chance to see Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell) and Frank Bank (Lumpy) in a recent interview produced for this complete set. It's a little cheesy, but nice to see these guys get their chance to sit in the spotlight.
* Featurette "The Drum Major of the Toy Parade" sits down with composer Dave Kahn who wrote the theme song.
* Original Promos are ABC network spots that advertised the show. They are in very rough shape, almost unwatchable because of terrible damage.
As great a deal as it is getting all of these episodes in one shot, it seems some of the features are missing. It's not a huge problem, but the subtitles are absent from all the seasons. The individual season releases had both English and Spanish translations. Also missing are the on-screen episode summaries included in the first year set. In the grand scheme of things these are minor quibbles, but there you are.
Leave It to Beaver will always be an iconic moment in pop culture history, TV's most recognized family and the first show that shifted the focus from parents to their children. This is certainly the best way to see the show since the transfers are beautiful and the episodes are uncut. This is better than catching a late night rerun or TVLand airings.
Almost fifty years later on the Universal Studios tour, the Cleaver house is one of the most popular attractions that people ask to see. Of course progress marches on, and ironically the women of Desperate Housewives now film on the same set that made up the block of the Beaver and his friends. From one iconic family to the next, time brings us from innocence to complete amoral dysfunction.
Guilty of making all of us nostalgic for a time when families were perfect, and father really did know best.
Review content copyright © 2010 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 6120 Minutes
Release Year: 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Pilot Episode
* Episode Guide
* Board Game