Universal // 1964 // 1986 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // October 30th, 2008
Lily Munster: "Herman tried to build a ship inside a bottle. We had to break the bottle to get him out."
Grandpa Munster: "Hmm. What smells so good?"
Herman Munster: "I cut myself shaving."
At a time when the sit-com was king, a loveable family of kind-hearted monsters moved into middle-class America, leaving their timeless mark for generations to come.
Herman (Fred Gwynne), Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), Grandpa (Al Lewis), Marilyn (Pat Priest/Beverley Owen) and Eddie Munster (Butch Patrick) are as normal as any other middle-class American family, experiencing the same triumphs and challenges. Oh, but did I mention that four out of five of them are monsters?
This release includes all 70 episodes of The Munsters, divided into season one and season two sets that sit together inside a larger box. The episodes are spread across 10 discs as follows:
Season One, Disc One:
"My Fair Munster"
"A Walk On The Mild Side"
Bonus Episode: Unaired Pilot
Season One, Disc Two:
"Tin Can Man"
"Herman The Great"
"Knock Wood, Here Comes Charlie"
"The Midnight Ride Of Herman Munster"
"The Sleeping Cutie"
Bonus Episode: "Family Portrait" (in Full Color)
Season One, Disc Three:
"Grandpa Leaves Home"
"Grandpa's Call Of The Wild"
"If A Martian Answers, Hang Up"
"Bats Of A Feather"
Season One, Disc Four:
"Don't Bank On Herman"
"Dance With Me, Herman"
"Follow That Munster"
"Love Locked Out"
"Come Back, Little Googie"
"Far Out Munsters"
"Munsters On The Move"
Season One, Disc Five:
"Movie Star Munster"
"Herman The Rookie"
"Country Club Munsters"
"Love Comes To Mockingbird Heights"
"Lily Munster, Girl Model"
"Munster The Magnificent"
Season One, Disc Six:
"Herman's Happy Valley"
"Hot Rod Herman"
"Yes, Galen, There Is A Herman"
Season Two, Disc One:
"Herman's Child Psychology"
"Herman, The Master Spy"
"Herman Munster, Shutterbug"
"Herman, Coach Of The Year"
"Happy 100th Anniversary"
"Lily's Star Boarder"
Season Two, Disc Two:
"John Doe Munster"
"A Man For Marilyn"
"Herman's Driving Test"
"Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?"
"The Treasure Of Mockingbird Heights"
"Herman's Peace Offensive"
"Herman Picks A Winner"
Season Two, Disc Three:
"Just Another Pretty Face"
"Big Heap Herman"
"The Most Beautiful Ghoul In The World"
"Grandpa's Lost Wife"
"The Fregosi Emerald"
"Cyrano De Munster"
Season Two, Disc Four:
"A Visit From Johann"
"Herman, The Tire-Kicker"
"A House Divided"
"Herman's Sorority Caper"
"A Visit From The Teacher"
The situation comedy has been a tried and true staple of North American television since the 1940s, when popular radio personalities like Jack Benny, and Burns and Allen, and film comedians like Abbott and Costello, adapted their acts for the new TV medium. By the 1960s, the sitcom really came into its own, with now-legendary shows like I Love Lucy paving the way. Desi Arnaz is often credited as one of the pioneers of the sit-com, and was the first to use multi-camera coverage and record all episodes for possible future use.
As a fan of comedic TV and entertainment trivia junkie for most of my life now, it has always amazed me that many of the most experimental and innovative sit-com concepts come from the 1960s. The '60s gave us the first animated primetime sitcom as The Flintstones brought their stone age antics into North American homes for six seasons and 166 episodes. Shows like My Favorite Martian, I Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched incorporated more fantastical elements to liven up more traditional sitcom fare. It was an interesting twist, as it gave viewers an off-the-wall look at traditional middle-class life and everyday situations through the eyes of fantastical characters. This unique approach carried on into the '80s and '90s with shows like Mork and Mindy and Third Rock From the Sun but the real hey-day for these unique concepts seems to have really been anchored in the '60s.
For whatever reason, the '60s also saw a revival in the popularity of classic Universal monsters like Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein. So in line with the popularity of off-the-wall sit-com concepts and the revival of public interest in monsters, TV studios began giving serious thought to concepts that would marry the two. Although ABC was first out of the gate with The Addams Family, their live-action version of American cartoonist Charles Addams' characters that appeared in The New Yorker magazine, CBS was hot on their heels with The Munsters. A 15 minute unaired pilot episode, included in the extra features on this release, was used to pitch the show to CBS executives and the show was added to the primetime roster in September 1964. Luckily, since Universal produced The Munsters TV series, the production was free from any pesky legal issues that could have precluded them from using the copyrighted, and internationally recognizable Universal monster designs.
Although similar in many ways, the main distinction between The Munsters and The Addams Family was that while the Addams Family characters saw themselves as different from and often superior to their "normal" neighbors, The Munsters saw themselves as the same as their neighbors, with nothing unusual or shocking about themselves or their lifestyle. CBS should be congratulated for airing a show that indirectly addressed such important social issues as racial prejudice and fear of the unknown, pleasantly wrapped in a non-threatening and endearing package.
While viewer appetites for monster-themed sit-com fare started off strong in the early '60s, it wasn't long before new concepts like the campy and colorful Batman series took the wind out of The Munsters' sails, landing the series on the cancellation list, driving a stake into the heart of fans around the world. As is the case with many series since the '60s, The Munsters gained real cult status as the show entered syndication and fans still gather at conventions to celebrate one of the most unique and endearing series in TV history.
Although the unaired pilot episode was shot in color, the additional $10,000 expense to shoot the show in color versus black and white on a weekly basis wasn't in the budget, so the majority of the content include in this release is in the original black and white. Psycho, The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Creature From the Black Lagoon are three of my all-time favorite films, so I have no prejudices about black and white presentations, and given the nature of the show, black and white really does add to the overall flavor and appeal. There is a moderate amount of grain throughout the black and white material, and some minimal dirt and damage, but there's nothing so serious that it harms the overall viewing experience. Both the Munster, Go Home! and The Munsters' Revenge feature-length movies and the other featurettes are included in their original color, and I have no complaints with the picture quality.
Originally recorded in mono, the majority of the audio content is reproduced in mono here as well. I was amazed to find that even the original episode sound mixes have stood the test of time well, boasting clear dialogue, music and laugh track mixes (if the laugh tracks seem familiar, that's because you've heard them on both The Flintstones and Gilligan's Island). As can be expected from more recent productions, the featurettes deliver well-balanced and crisp audio as well. You won't find either reference quality audio or video here, but fans of the series will likely not expect that level of quality either.
Although there isn't a huge volume or variety of extra features, Universal had shown care in the choices they've made here, included on the two full discs that round out the set. The unaired pilot episode is a welcome treat, as viewers get to see the earliest incarnation of the show before some slight casting, theme music, and opening credit sequence changes cast the look and feel of the show in stone, and the season one episode "Family Portrait" is also included in color on disc two of the first season. The two feature-length productions Munster, Go Home! and The Munsters' Revenge returned to 1313 Mockingbird Lane (the Munsters' home address), with some slight cast changes and in glorious blue/grey-skinned full color. While little more than longer episodes of the series and not otherwise memorable, the color adds a welcome new dimension after watching the series' 70 monochromatic weekly episodes.
Sure to be a treat for true-blue Munsters fans, the "America's First Family of Fright!" featurette delves deeply into the show's history, from early concept development and casting to the merchandising and legacy of the show. The "Fred Gwynne: More Than a Munster," "Yvonne De Carlo: Gilded Lily," and "Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa" featurettes deliver in-depth looks at the lives and careers of the three actors who anchored the show and were arguably responsible for much of its broad appeal and longevity.
The real tragedy has nothing to do with this release specifically, but with the fact that Munsters mania reached such a fever pitch so quickly and burned out before its time.
Despite some attempts to reboot or modernize the concept, most notably the series The Munsters Today which ran for 72 episodes between 1988 until 1991, the original series is still the best. Available for just over $50 on Amazon, The Munsters: The Complete Series really is a monstrous (sorry!) value for the money. With all 70 episodes of the show's run, as well as two feature film releases, bonus episodes, and a wealth of extra footage included, fans of Universal monsters, sit-coms or The Munsters really can't go wrong buying this set.
Wisely timed to release just before Halloween season, The Munsters: The Complete Series is a treat of the highest order, with a few tricks thrown in for good measure. Villagers...put those torches and pitchforks down and let my Munsters go!
Review content copyright © 2008 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1986 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Unaired pilot episode
* Munster, Go Home feature film
* The Munsters' Revenge feature film
* "America's First Family of Fright!"
* "Fred Gwynne: More Than a Munster"
* "Yvonne De Carlo: Gilded Lily"
* "Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa"