We were surprised to see Judge Dennis Prince get a bit misty when he recalled the effects of the Tincture of Tenderness.
Three drops of the Essence of Terror,
Once heralded as truly terrifying, Universal Studios iconic monsters, Dracula and the Frankenstein monster ultimately became the subjects of comedic romps and kid-friendly features. Although they had genuinely frightened theater audiences during the 1930s and 1940s, these unnatural incarnations became the televised content of silly situations in the 1960s. In 1964, both The Addams Family and The Munsters arrived via the cathode ray tube to delight television audiences/ Leveraging off of their success, long time animator and producer, Hal Seeger weighed in with his own like-minded offering, 1965's ABC Saturday morning series, The Milton the Monster Show.
Using an ensemble approach, Seeger brought Milton the Monster to life in a half-hour format. Each show featured three six-minute adventures, one with Milton himself and another two featuring adventures from other characters like heroic insect Fearless Fly, clumsy cowboy-turned-private investigator Flukey Luke, unwitting hobo-turned-millionaire Stuffy Durma, sly and scheming boy fox Muggy-Doo, and bratty and abrasive girl Arctic fowl Penny Penguin. To provide continuity to the show's theme, Seeger also developed a Milton wrap-around at the start and end, plus Milton-themed bumpers that would signal an oncoming commercial message or the start of another cartoon. It made for typical Saturday morning fare, but it's the sort that maintains its appeal today since it never panders or preaches to viewers, young or old.
Following the opening titles, Fearless Fly would appear to lead off the fun. The heroic fly gained his power from his special glasses, which generate "millions of megatons of energy through the sensitive muscles in his head." Careful not to reveal his secret identity, Fearless Fly hides out in a matchbox and removes his costume and glasses, thereby becoming meek and mild Hiram Fly. His nemesis is an Asian megalomaniac, Dr. Goo Fee, who seeks to kill Fearless Fly with the help of his dimwitted assistant Gung Ho. When not thwarting the doctor's inane antics, Fearless-as-Hiram hangs out in a sugar bowl with fly friends Dorey and Horsey.
Next up, you could expect to see a follow-on cartoon featuring Muggy-Doo, Flukey Luke, Stuffy Durma, or Penny Penguin. Muggy Doo is a wiseacre fox always causing trouble among the humans in the big city. Flukey Luke and his Indian sidekick, Two Feathers, spend their time as New York City detectives undermining mob boss Spider Webb. Stuffy Durma is a railroad hobo who inherits $10 million and unwittingly gives up his unfettered and uncouth lifestyle at the insistence of his hired assistant, Bradley Brinkley. Lastly, Penny Penguin is an obnoxious girl penguin who maintains that her misbehavior is the fault of ill-adjusted parents.
As for the star of the show, Milton is the product of a creation gone awry. Atop the foreboding Horror Hill, Professor Weirdo and his assistant, Count Kook, accidentally include too much sensitivity into their monster makings, resulting in a flat-headed hulk that is one part Herman Munster and another Gomer Pyle. As their singsong narrative explains:
And now for the Tincture of Tenderness,
Milton can blow smoke from his stack-like head yet is rarely riled. His monster siblings—more creations from Prof. Weirdo—are Heebie the walking corpse and Jeebie the one-eyed, one-toothed, fur-covered whatchamacallit. Most adventures have the Prof. and Count looking for ways to rid themselves of the too-tender Milton, that is when the Prof. isn't vying for monster-making secrets from his contemporary, Professor Fruitcake.
Don't expect Looney Tunes-like animation here, although the quality is competent and on par with the likes of Hanna-Barbera productions. Voice talent Bob McFadden (Cool McCool) is put to excellent work here, providing the majority of characterizations. He's joined by fellow voice artists of the day including Dayton Allen, Larry Best, and Beverly Arnold.
Collectively, the various characters of the show offer pleasant distractions with definite 1960s nostalgic charm. By today's standards, there is probably plenty of politically incorrect content to be offended by, but only if you're looking for it. The depiction of Goo Fee and Gung Ho are typically unbecoming Asian stereotypes of decades gone by, and Stuffy Durma could be construed as an insensitive portrait of homelessness, but that would be a definite stretch. Interestingly, the depiction of Flukey Luke's compatriot, the Indian Two Feathers, veers away from contention due to his oddity of speaking with an Irish accent (!). Non-recurring characters in the series can also be out of step with today's culturally hypersensitive mindset but, if taken for what it is—a cartoon that actually has plenty of clever writing and wit—then it's just a bit of fun that has plenty of playfulness injected throughout.
A perennial favorite that charmed kid viewers during its prevalent syndication through the late 1960s and into the 1970s, The Milton the Monster Show makes a long overdue bow on DVD thanks to the fine folks at Shout! Factory. This four-disc set comprises the entire catalog of 26 episodes, each running about 22 minutes each. Presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame format, the quality here is much better than expected. The source prints are remarkably clean; they exhibit a certain amount of damage and dirt, but nothing that is ever of a distracting nature. The color is tuned up, obviously, but it works well to provide vibrant warmth to the proceedings. Edge enhancement, unfortunately, is frequently evident, resulting in plenty of occurrences of aliasing. Still, this doesn't render the image quality unacceptable. Perhaps it's better than if the episodes were delivered in a less-welcome blurred quality reminiscent of the crap-vision VHS days gone by. The audio is offered in a very clean and clear Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that's very consistent, never swerving into alternating fits of hiss or warble. Most importantly, the episodes are presented in their entirety, including complete wrap-arounds and all of the in-between bumpers. (Enthusiasts only wish the original sponsor spots could somehow be included with shows of this sort.) All in all, this is a very competent mastering that the Shout! production team should be proud of. But there are extras, too, beginning with some incredibly rare live action segments of an adapted Flukey Luke show, filmed in black and white with Luke appearing as an oversized dog. There are some excellent home movies of Hal Seeger appearing at the N.Y.C. Toy Fair to promote his characters, and, finally, a bonus cartoon, Wilbur the Wanted, telling of a wrongly convicted dog on the lam trying to expose the rabbit that framed him.
At the end of the day, the Shout! team has delivered another pop culture gem. Those who recall Milton and his friends will enjoy a thoroughly enjoyable romp back to Horror Hill. This set is highly recommended!
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