MGM // 1961 // 544 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // March 24th, 2004
A horse is a horse, of course, of course.
Architect Wilbur Post (Alan Young, Tom Thumb, The Time Machine) and his wife Carol (Connie Hines) have moved into their dream home, previously owned by Roger Addison (Larry Keating, The Incredible Mr. Limpet), their cantankerous next door neighbor. To their surprise, the couple finds that the house comes with a barn located in the back. Even more surprising is Wilbur and Carol's discovery of the horse that comes with the barn. As Carol arranges to sell the aged palomino, Wilbur learns the biggest surprise of all -- this horse can talk!
And so begins the saga of Mister Ed, an admittedly silly premise that is so well executed and funny that it manages to transcend expectations, which are often low. Many viewers will be surprised to discover that the show originally began life under a different title and premise. In late 1960, legendary comedian George Burns (The Sunshine Boys) produced a pilot titled The Wonderful World of Wilbur Pope, starring Alan Young. Though the pilot never sold, Filmways was sufficiently impressed to greenlight a new show starring Young -- the Mister Ed we know and love. Burns stayed behind the scenes as an unbilled producer while Arthur Lubin took over as producer and often director. Knew his way around talking animal comedies; his biggest claim to fame was Francis the Talking Mule, a hit franchise for Universal.
Fans frequently asked: how did Mister Ed "talk"? Many theories have floated around over the years, ranging from electrocution (completely false) to peanut butter (started by Young after tiring of being asked the question over and over again). The trick was accomplished by using nylon mesh and piano wire, but I actually prefer to think that Ed really talks. Call me crazy, but even at 24 years of age, I'm really a kid at heart.
On to the show itself: I admit that this may be corny to some, but to me, Mister Ed is a wonderful comedy. The laughs all derive from the characters and stories, rather than from constructed, cardboard jokes. The premises are actually quite clever and witty for a family-oriented sitcom centered on a talking horse. The acting is also quite good. Alan Young has long been an entertaining and solid actor, with work ranging from musicals (Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a pretty good 1955 sequel to the Howard Hawks classic) to animation (he provides the voice of Scrooge McDuck on Ducktales and all related spin-offs). His clean-cut look and simple acting style are perfect for the antics of that scheming horse. Connie Hines isn't really given much to do, especially since this show came long before women's TV roles were redefined as something more than eye candy. Larry Keating takes the role of the curmudgeonly next door neighbor and works wonders with it. Roger is mean, yet he possesses a certain charm that's hard to ignore. Sadly, Keating died of leukemia midway through the third season, and the show was never the same. For the fourth season, Leon Ames was brought in to play Wilbur's former military instructor. Unfortunately, Ames played the role in the scheming bully vein without any comic grace or charm. For years, the identity of Mister Ed's voice remained a secret. Western veteran Allan "Rocky" Lane gave Ed his voice, but refused screen credit because he felt providing the voice of an animal was beneath his abilities as an actor. By the time he changed his mind and wanted a screen credit, the producers decided to retain the enigma.
Twenty-one of the most memorable episodes from Mister Ed first three seasons have been compiled in this two-disc set. On a scale of zero to five carrots:
* "The First Meeting"
The Posts purchase a home and discover that it comes with a certain talking horse.
* "Ed the Songwriter"
Music publisher Paul Fenton (Jack Albertson) decides he wants to purchase a song written and sung by Mister Ed.
* "Psychoanalyst Show"
Mister Ed has a fear of heights and it's up to Wilbur to help him overcome his fear. The answer: a psychiatrist (Richard Deacon).
* "Wilbur Sells Ed"
Ed falls head over horseshoes in love with a foreign filly, which happens to be owned by a millionaire client of Wilbur's.
* "The Horsetronaut"
Mister Ed thinks Wilbur no longer loves him after a client demands that he move from his office. So Ed signs up to become the first horse in outer space.
* "Ed's Ancestors"
Ed discovers that his ancestors were all criminals so he punishes himself with fifteen years of hard labor.
* "Mister Ed's Blues"
Paul Fenton (Jack Albertson) returns, asking Wilbur to cook up another hit song. Wanting a blues song, Wilbur discovers that Ed hates that genre.
* "Zsa Zsa"
Zsa Zsa Gabor moves in next door to the Addisons and Posts while on a break from filming. She decides to purchase Mister Ed after he helps her overcome her fear of horses.
* "Ed the Beneficiary"
Carol mistakenly thinks Wilbur is dying after discovering his revised will, which now includes a certain talking palomino.
* "Ed's Bed"
Ed decides he enjoys Wilbur taking care of him hand and hoof, so he feigns illness repeatedly. Oh, and he wants a bed, pronto.
* "Horse Wash"
Carol's father is in town to close a real estate deal, and Wilbur wants to be the architect for the project.
* "Ed the Beachcomber"
Desperate to sell his property, Roger Addison decides to evict the beachcombers that have invaded said property. Ed joins them after reading an anti-horse editorial.
* "George Burns Meets Mister Ed"
George Burns is holding a talent search, with a grand prize of $25,000. Wilbur could use the money, so he schemes to have Ed appear on the program.
* "Clint Eastwood Meets Mister Ed"
A new stallion in town is stealing Mister Ed's girlfriends. Ed decides to do something about it with a scheme. That is, until he discovers his target is Clint Eastwood. (Creator Lubin had given Eastwood his start in the 1950s with roles in several Universal International pictures. Turner Classic Movies often runs one of them -- Escapade in Japan, released in 1957.)
* "Horse Sense"
Roger Addison wants to turn Ed's favorite bridle path into a golf course. Ed takes matters into his own hooves with a letter to the local editor.
* "Wilbur the Masher"
Wilbur is accused of being a pervert after a woman mistakes Ed's romantic passes -- intended for her filly Flossie -- as flirting.
* "Ed, the Emancipator"
Wilbur and Carol purchase a cockatoo for Kay Addison's birthday. Ed decides to teach the bird to say some not-so-nice things about Roger Addison.
* "The Price of Apples"
Ed is addicted to Roger Addison's apples. After learning that Roger will charge them $5 per apple, Wilbur decides to help Ed quit cold turkey.
* "Doctor Ed"
Roger Addison borrows Wilbur's spare TV set, denying Ed a chance to catch his favorite medical shows.
* "Ed, the Zebra"
Ed decides to join the zoo as a zebra when he refuses to allow Wilbur to take a funny picture of him.
* "Wilbur Post, Honorary Horse"
Roger Addison and Ed both want Wilbur to work on some special projects. Wilbur decides to tackle Addison's office building before writing Ed's horse book, but Ed won't play second fiddle to a human.
MGM has done a fine job of bringing this classic television show to DVD. The full frame transfer has its share of grain, dirt, and assorted blemishes. Yet, when compared to the foggy prints TV Land airs, these presentations offer a clarity and focus that is amazing for the show's age. Longtime fans will be amazed at how good these episodes look. (Newcomers raised on newer TV programming will think they look pretty bad. A matter of taste, I suppose.)
Audio is a simple Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix. It's your standard mono track, good by television standards and not much else. The theme song comes through strongly, as does as most of the dialogue. However, the track lacks the kick that the best mono mixes can offer (look at the recent Chappelle's Show release). It'll do nicely for now, but I hope some improvements are made in time for the second volume, if it sees the light of day.
MGM has not provided a single extra for this package. That's a shame, especially since star Young is still alive and more than willing to talk about his work on the show.
With a price tag of $29.99, this set is affordable enough to merit a purchase. Some may complain that the show isn't being offered in season box sets, but I think we're lucky that they've issued some episodes on DVD at all. Besides, the first three seasons are the program's best.
I just can't do it, Wilbur. I can't find that horse guilty! Case adjourned on account of a bale of hay.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 544 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alan Young's Official Site
* Mister Ed Online
* The Mister Ed Fun Page