MGM // 1964 // 507 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // August 3rd, 2005
A horse is a horse, of course, of course.
Well, it all started on January 5, 1961 when this big city architect and his swell-looking wife bought a country ranch, complete with a perky Palomino in the stable out back. It seems the former owners didn't have much use for the horse, yet this new fella -Wilbur Post is his name -- seems to be enchanted with it despite his wife's protests. When alone with the horse -- Mister Ed's his name -- Wilbur reminisces aloud how, as a boy, he so dearly wished for a pony of his own. Soon, though, he cuts short his idle reminiscence.
"Ah, but it's been a long time since I was boy," Wilbur admits out loud.
"It's been a long time since I was a pony," answers Mister Ed.
Wilbur (Alan Young, The Alan Young Show) and Mister Ed (Bamboo Harvester with voiceover by Allen "Rocky" Lane, both uncredited) have been together for three years now, somehow having managed to keep the secret of Ed's ability to speak and thoughtfully reason (well, some of the time) from Wilbur's wife, Carol (Connie Hines, Thunder in Carolina) and their nosy new neighbors, Gordon and Winnie Kirkwood (Leon Ames, Son of Flubber and Florence MacMichael, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit). Credit Ed with spotting trouble on the way, quick to clam up just as Wilbur is routinely caught in mid-conversation with the horse as Carol or somebody else walks up. And despite the presence of his beautiful if not benign young wife, Wilbur prefers spending most of his waking hours with Ed, though often in attempts to console or corral the otherwise impetuous Palomino. Yet, with three years gone by, theirs is something of a love-hate relationship, each testing the other's patience on a regular basis but usually finding mutual understanding and admiration in the end.
Well, sure it's a silly show yet it has emerged as one of the most immediately recognizable early television sitcoms of our day. Alan Young's vocalization of the theme song is just the sort of jingle that gets stuck in your head immediately upon hearing it, reluctant to leave your near-term memory. Coming at a time where TV comedy was absorbed in everything farcical (see Gilligan's Island, McHale's Navy, and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.), this fanciful premise of a talking horse was actually a good length or two ahead of its competition; it had a two- and three-year head start on the others. And while it might seem the show would suffer from its own self-imposed limits -- a man, a talking horse, a handful of static supporting characters, and an unchanging location -- Mister Ed continued its canter in the primetime TV lineup for six years and became the first show ever to be syndicated.
At its heart, it's a sweet show: non-offensive, non-judgmental, and rarely (if ever) off color (it was a black-and-white show, after all). Still, it was never a personal favorite of mine simply because the novelty seemed to wear off quickly. The endless gags of "Wilbur, who are you talking to?" could only carry a laugh so far and the confines of the stable humor didn't leave much room for creative exploration (although Ed did take occasional breaks from the over-extended tack room antics to drive a car, fly an airplane, and foil a bank robbery). After a time, it became more of a stage where animal tricks were performed, Ed deftly soothing a baby, sorting the mail, and making change at his sidewalk juice stand. Really, by this point in the show's run, it became more fascinating to see this well-trained horse lumber around the sets without making a shambles of the place or get spooked and bolt right into the faux scenery. It's clear, also, how well Alan Young and Bamboo Harvester bonded such that Young was able to hit his mark, deliver his sometimes-boisterous lines, and flap and flail about without ever distracting his sixteen-hand co-star. Young himself previously commented, "To me, he was another actor."
Although the show enjoys a still-vibrant fan following that makes it easy for a studio to release season-by-season DVD boxed sets, MGM Home Entertainment shows little horse sense (again) by releasing this second "best of" collection. The twenty episodes found on this second volume are culled from years 1964 and 1965 (Seasons Four through Six), yet show no rhyme nor reason for why they were selected while others were passed over. Here's what you'll find in this two-disc set, in the order presented on each disc, with each original episode number and air date noted:
Disc One -- Side A:
* Ed Gets the Mumps (#91, 1/5/64)
* Ed Visits a Gypsy (#97, 3/1/64)
* Ed, the Chauffeur (#100, 4/12/64)
* Ed, the Donkey (#96, 2/23/64)
* Mae West Meets Mister Ed (#99, 3/27/64)
* Mister Ed Writes Dear Abby (#107, 10/18/64)
* Like Father, Like Horse (#115, 2/10/65)
Disc One -- Side B:
* Ed, the Pilot (#110, 1/6/65)
* Ed, the Stowaway (#116, 2/17/65)
* Animal Jury (#111, 1/13/65)
* Ed's Juice Stand (#114, 2/3/65)
Disc Two -- Side A:
* Ed's Contact Lenses (#121, 3/24/65)
* The Bank Robbery (#124, 4/14/65)
* My Horse, the Mailman (#125, 4/28/65)
* Robin Hood Ed (#127, 5/21/65)
* Ed, the Artist (#128, 5/19/65)
* Ed-a-Go-Go (#132, 9/19/65)
* Ed Sniffs Out a Cold Clue (#133, 9/26/65)
* Spies Strike Back (#134, 10/3/65)
If you've been striking your hoof trying to figure out the math for the episode layout across two discs and only three sides, take a break; it doesn't make sense, not to man nor beast. Each episode, however, is presented in the original 1.33:1 full frame format. The picture is remarkably clear yet perpetually suffers from extreme edge enhancement that afflicts the transfers with endless aliasing and distracting moiré effect. The contrast looks good, though, far beyond the murky re-runs currently found on cable's TVLand network. The audio is presented in a serviceable if lackluster Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix that neither impresses nor significantly disappoints. The real unwelcome kick in the pants here is the complete lack of extras, as was the case with the first DVD collection. Alan Young is still quite active and is noted to be very generous in sharing insight and anecdotes about the show (read his book, Mister Ed and Me, out of print but readily available at Amazon.com and elsewhere online). Certainly there is also some cache of outtakes, deleted sequences, and behind-the-scenes material that Ed enthusiasts would lap up with glee. Alas, nothing.
Even though Mister Ed doesn't fully charm me, I realize there are plenty of fans out there who are smitten with the sometimes smart-alecky horse and his faithful sidekick, Wilbur. Recognizing that, I have to admit that the show is refreshing in its purity and its adherence to straight-ahead humor that avoids innuendo and insolence such that we've come to unwittingly accept these days. Younger viewers might enjoy this show (once the get over the lack of vibrant color) and it's safe to let them navigate the collection of 30-minute episodes unattended.
While I can't necessarily recommend you pony up the retail price of $29.98 for this volume of "best of" picks, I can back this horse for any fan of the show and its silly sensibility. But -- and I don't mean to be a nag -- I think fans deserve complete season collections.
I'm not about to turn this into any sort of kangaroo court by charging a man and his horse with a crime; they're harmless and a bit amusing, too. MGM Home Entertainment, however, must explain its random acts of episode selection on this second "best of" set else be assigned road-apple duty at this year's Augusta Horse & Carriage parade.
Review content copyright © 2005 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 507 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated