The Munsters: The Complete First Season
Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: 16 Hours and 6 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1)
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Audio: Episodes: English – Monaural
August 24th, 2004
The Munsters, which has been entertaining viewers for four decades now, was produced (and in some cases written) by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, sort of as a humorous take on another classic television program, Leave It to Beaver, which they also produced. When the series debuted in 1964, it was one of the two competing horror-themed episodic comedies that hit the airwaves that year. In all likelihood, you already know that the other was The Addams Family, and interestingly, each show was only able to survive for two years, both ending their respective runs on network television in September of 1966.
It is worth noting, however, that The Munster family starred in an incredible 70 episodes during the two years they were on the air (almost an episode a week)! More importantly, despite the fact that some premises were repeated (eavesdropping on part of a conversation resulting in miscommunications), the stellar work by the entire cast, particularly the incomparable Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, always made it worthwhile to tune in. And how about that catchy theme song by Jack Marshall? When I was a kid, and I heard that theme begin, I would make a beeline for the TV, and usually not get up until the end credits had rolled…
This being the Home Theater Forum, it is a distinct possibility that some of you will know a lot more about this series than I do (even though I do like it quite a bit), but in case you are completely unfamiliar with the series here is a very brief description of each person/monster/thing in the Munster family, which resided at the creepy, decrepit house at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, in Mockingbird Heights:
The head of the household, Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne), who bears a very strong resemblance to the Frankenstein monster of classic horror films, is incredibly tall and strong, and equally goofy and naïve! Herman holds down a job in a funeral parlor to help support the family, which also provides a premise for several of the show’s episodes.
Herman’s wife, Lily Munster (Yvonne De Carlo), who appears to be a sexy female vampire, minds the house, and is responsible for raising Eddie, keeping an eye on Grandpa, and looking after her niece, Marilyn (more on them in a minute).
The child of the proud parents Herman and Lily, named Eddie (Butch Patrick), is sort of a boy-werewolf, which is an odd product considering that his parents are a Frankenstein monster and a female vampire. Eddie attends school like a normal human child, and his misadventures there also serve as the basis for several of the series’ episodes.
Lily’s niece, Marilyn Munster (Beverly Owen / Pat Priest), has the “misfortune” of being a good-looking blonde college student, doing her best to fit in with the family members that were kind enough to take her in and raise her as their own. Despite her beauty, Marilyn has trouble keeping a boyfriend, but who wouldn’t, with a crazy family like the Munsters!
Last, but certainly not least, is Lily’s father, “Grandpa” Munster (Al Lewis), purportedly the original Count Dracula. Over his many centuries of afterlife, Grandpa has developed an affinity for dabbling in the black arts and creating potions (not that they work, mind you).
The show also featured some very inventive motor vehicles, which played a prominent role in several episodes. In particular, they were the called the “Munster Koach” (Herman’s ride) and “Dragula” (Grandpa’s coffin on wheels). An interesting bit of trivia is that these two vehicles were designed by George Barris, the genius who designed the Batmobile for Batman: The Original Series.
Anyway, over the course of the series, this family of odd-looking but decent and honest folks faces the challenges of trying to blend into a society that generally reacts to them with fear and apprehension, not to mention overcoming the myriad of miscommunications that they have with each other! Thankfully, none of the episodes are mean-spirited, so despite subtly dealing treating with the difficulties experienced by those who are different from the “status quo” face, they always entertain viewers in a very wholesome, light-hearted manner!
NOTE: Although The Munsters had the plug pulled on them after two years (despite still being popular at the time), they would reappear in a feature film entitled Munster, Go Home! (1966), and again in the 1980s and 1990s, with yet more film updates, and even a god-awful series called The Munsters Today that ran during the late 1980s.
The following is a brief description of each of the 38 episodes from the first season of The Munsters!
DISC ONE (Side A):
--- “Bonus Unaired Pilot”
This is the nearly 15-minute pilot (in color) used to pitch the series to the brass at CBS. It does not have a complete story arc, and it was never aired, but some of the footage was used in the “My Fair Munster” episode. It is important to note that this pilot also features different actors in the roles of Lily (aka Phoebe) and Eddie.
--- “Munster Masquerade” – Air Date 9/24/1964
In “Munster Masquerade”, Marilyn’s boyfriend invites the entire Munster clan to a masquerade party. During the party, Herman ends up taking home the prize for Best Costume, when he removes the suit of armor he is wearing, to reveal his realistic looking Frankenstein “costume” underneath. After receiving the award, however, Herman is not too sure whether he should be insulted or happy for winning the contest.
--- “My Fair Munster” – Air Date 10/1/1964
Saddened by Marilyn’s inability to sustain a relationship with young men, Grandpa conjures up a potion that will cause other people to be overcome by affection for the potion’s taker. He then slips it into the bowl of oatmeal Marilyn is going to eat, but trouble starts when she runs off without eating her breakfast!
Not wanting to be wasteful, Lily puts the Marilyn’s oatmeal back into the pot and innocently serves it (and the potion) to everyone else in the family! After this unintended mistake, various members of the Munster family are forced to fend off the unwanted romantic interest shown by neighbors and strangers. Yes friends, even when Grandpa’s potions work, they have undesirable effects!
--- “A Walk On The Mild Side” – Air Date 10/8/1964
To help deal with a bad case of insomnia, Herman begins going on late-night strolls through a nearby park. However, when the police residents of the community to beware of the frightening monster that roams about at night, Lily becomes concerned for Herman’s safety. What Lily does not realize is that the “monster” is none other than her beloved Herman!
--- “Rock-A-Bye Munster” – Air Date 10/15/1964
Eavesdropping can be dangerous, especially if you only catch part of a conversation! Just ask Herman and Grandpa, who overhear part of a conversation between Lily and Marilyn, and get the idea that Lily is with child again! While the misinformed duo plan for the arrival of another baby Munster, Lily prepares to temporarily take in Dr. Dudley’s son, Elmer, who will be staying with the Munsters while his parents are on vacation.
--- “Pike’s Pique” – Air Date 10/22/1964
In “Pike’s Pique” the sanctity of the Munster home is disrupted, when the gas company wants to run a pipeline underneath their property. Unfortunately, at the desired depth, the pipe will run straight into Grandpa’s downstairs lab! As the project proceeds, gas company employees spot “monsters” down below, so they think the Munsters are trying to trick on them into abandoning the project. As a result of this development, the manager of the gas company decides to pay a visit to the jobsite himself.
--- “Low-Cal Munster” – Air Date 10/29/1964
In this episode, we see that Herman is really excited about an upcoming reunion with his old army buddies, but his enthusiasm is suddenly dampened when Lily informs him that she does not want him to attend. When Herman’s old uniform proves to be too tight, Lily offers him a deal – he can go to the reunion if he can shed enough pounds to get into his uniform on! Herman agrees to this deal, and goes on a crash diet to win the bet.
DISC ONE (Side B):
--- “Tin Can Man” – Air Date 11/5/1964
In “Tin Can Man”, Eddie is in danger of being expelled from his school, and only an excellent showing in an upcoming science fair can rescue him. In desperation, Eddie enlists Grandpa’s help in creating a robot, but things get messed up when Herman is mistaken for their robot.
--- “Herman the Great” – Air Date 11/12/1964
As this very funny installment opens, Herman shows off his superhuman strength to his son Eddie’s friend, who just happens to be the son of a wrestling promoter. After the boy tells his father about Herman’s feats of strength, he wastes no time in transforming Herman into a professional wrestler called “The Masked Marvel”!
--- “Knock Wood, Here Comes Charlie” – Air Date 11/19/1964
Charlie, Herman’s con artist brother, comes to town, bragging about the merits of his latest invention, which he claims can transform ordinary seawater into uranium. As usual, Herman is suspicious of his sibling, and thinks that Charlie’s visit is merely a rouse to try and get his hands on Lily’s inheritance.
--- “Autumn Croakus” – Air Date 11/26/1964
Living the bachelor life after having 167 wives takes is finally taking a toll on Grandpa, and he has become quite lonely. To find some suitable companionship, Grandpa enlists the aid of a “marriage agency”, which sends over a beautiful woman who seems to be an ideal match for him…at least initially. Indeed, the woman’s true intentions are soon revealed - she is a con artist known as the “Black Widow”, who marries men and then collects their life insurance policies when they mysteriously die!
--- “The Midnight Ride of Herman Munster” –Air Date 12/3/1964
In this installment, Herman gets into yet another pickle when he dozes off asleep in the back seat of his car with the engine running! Seeing a ready getaway vehicle (but not Herman inside), a team of bank robbers steals the car, with the slumbering Herman inside it. Thus, they unknowingly take Herman with them to their hideout. When the sleeping giant wakes up, there is plenty of confusion, as he is mistaken for a criminal named Big Louie, and later winds up becoming a participant in the robbers’ next job.
--- “The Sleeping Cutie” – Air Date 12/10/1964
Once again, one of the Munsters is suffering from amnesia, but this time it is Marilyn and not Herman. Always ready to help, Grandpa comes to Marilyn’s aid, but instead of giving her a remedy for insomnia, he accidentally gives her a “sleeping beauty” potion! Although the potion does put her to sleep, it also has the unfortunate effect of not allowing her to wake until a prince kisses her. As such, Lily and Herman are forced to take out a newspaper advertisement for a prince, to help waken their snoozing niece.
--- “Family Portrait” –Air Date 12/17/1964
When Event Magazine chooses the Munsters to be representatives of the “average American family”, Grandpa becomes angry at being dubbed “average” and takes off. Unfortunately for the rest of the gang, his action puts their photo spread in jeopardy – along with the prize money that was to accompany it.
NOTE: This is the final episode featuring Beverly Owen as Marilyn. Pat Priest would play the character for the remainder of the series.
DISC TWO (Side A):
--- “Grandpa Leaves Home” – Air Date 12/24/1964
Feeling as if he is unwanted, and a burden on the family, Grandpa elects to move out of the Munster home at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Believing his departure to be an effort to gain attention, Lily and Herman play along with his disappearance, but when Grandpa does not return as they had hoped, an intensive search ensues! Eventually, they find Grandpa up to his “old tricks”…
--- “Herman’s Rival” – Air Date 12/31/1964
In this Munsters adventure, Herman loans some money to Lily’s brother, The Wolf Man. When Lily finds out that the money is gone, she comes to believe Herman has squandered their savings on a bad investment, so she secretly takes a job in a palm reading tearoom to earn some extra cash. Misperception proves to be the order of the day, when Herman suspects that his wife is sneaking out of the house to meet another man!
--- “Grandpa’s Call Of The Wild” – Air Date 1/7/1965
A Munster family camping trip runs into trouble when Grandpa hears wolves howling in the woods, reminisces about the past, and then turns up missing at daybreak! Putting two and two together, Lily theorizes that her father has transformed himself into a wolf, in order to relive the days of his youth.
Shortly thereafter, a news report announces that a rare Transylvanian wolf has been captured, thus confirming her suspicions. After hearing this news, Lily springs into action to rescue her imprisoned father!
--- “All Star Munster” – Air Date 1/14/1965
When Lily forgets to pay Marilyn’s tuition, Herman must pay a visit to her college to straighten things out. But Herman being Herman, he gets lost and wanders into the gym, and is mistaken for a star basketball player being recruited by the school’s athletic department. During a subsequent tryout, Herman’s physical prowess impresses the coaches so much that they offer him an opportunity to suit up for the school team!
--- “If A Martian Answers, Hang Up” – Air Date 1/21/1965
While down in Grandpa’s lab, Herman begins fiddling around with a ham radio, and makes contact with what he believes to be Martians. Meanwhile, the kids on the other end of the line make the same false assumption, thinking they have made contact with a Martian.
--- “Eddie’s Nickname” – Air Date 1/28/1965
When the other children at Eddie’s school begin calling him “shorty”, Eddie threatens to drop out. This harassment causes the ever-helpful Grandpa to take matters into his own hands and stir up a potion that will make Eddie grow six inches in a single night. As usual, however, Grandpa’s potion does not work as intended, and Eddie grows a beard and mustache, which causes him even more distress.
Strange, you would think the rest of the family would now that Grandpa’s potions never work by now…
--- “Bats Of A Feather” – Air Date 2/4/1965
With school Pet Fair fast approaching, Eddie wants to bring something really cool to share with his classmates. Unfortunately, Eddie’s fire-breathing monster Spot is shy, and refuses to go along, so Eddie decides to bring Igor the bat instead. This also proves to be a problem when Igor also turns up missing, and Grandpa decides to fill in for Igor without telling Eddie. Things end up coming to a head when young Eddie volunteers what he believes to be “Igor” to a friend whose father wants to send the creature into space on an important scientific mission!
DISC TWO (Side B):
--- “Don’t Bank On Herman” – Air Date 2/11/1965
While at the bank to conduct business, Herman and Grandpa are mistaken for bank robbers and handed a large sum of cash! Feeling uncomfortable about the mix-up, the two “crooks” make a late-night trip to the bank, in hopes of returning the money unnoticed. Unfortunately, honesty turns out to be a bad policy for Herman when he and Grandpa get locked inside the vault!
--- “Dance With Me, Herman” – Air Date 2/18/1965
In this episode, Herman is planning to take the lovely Marilyn to an important school dance, but wants to take dancing lessons in order to prepare for her big night. As such, Herman goes to Happy Havemeyer’s Dancing School, where the professor suckers him into signing a 10-year contract for lessons! Meanwhile, a bewildered Herman believes that he has been selected to be an instructor for the school.
--- “Follow That Munster” – Air Date 2/25/1965
Herman wants to be a detective, so he practices the art of stealth by sneaking out of the house every night as part of his training. Meanwhile, Lily believes that Herman’s weird behavior suggests he is having an affair, so she contacts a detective agency to have him followed – the very same agency that Herman is receiving training from! Unbeknownst to either party, Herman is hired to follow himself!
--- “Love Locked Out” – Air Date 3/4/1965
When a party thrown by his colleagues runs late, and Herman doesn’t arrive home until the wee hours of the morning, Lily becomes mighty upset with her fella. Indeed, when he finally makes his way home, Herman finds that Lily has locked the door to their bedroom. Later on, as they continue butting heads over the issue without a resolution, Herman and Lily decide to seek the advice of a marriage counselor.
--- “Come Back, Little Googie” – Air Date 3/11/1965
In this episode, Grandpa is up to his old tricks again, playing with magic potions and what not! This time, he believes that he has turned Eddie’s friend Googie into a monkey. But what Grandpa does not know is that Googie is merely having some fun with him, by hiding out to make him worry!
--- “Far Out Munsters” – Air Date 3/18/1965
The Standells, a popular rock group (really a one-hit wonder) in town for a show, want to escape the mob of teenagers that want their attention, so they rent the Munsters’ home in Mockingbird heights, which they believe will offer them some privacy. The benefit of this situation for the Munsters is extra income, but it also requires them to relocate to a hotel. Of course, this proves to be a tough adjustment, since the family is not used to living in a “normal” environment. Unable to adapt, the family decides to move back home, only to find themselves in the middle of a wild party!
--- “Munsters On The Move” – Air Date 3/25/1965
In this episode, Herman is excited about finally receiving a promotion at work, and plans to move the family up to Buffalo, New York. Unfortunately for Herman, Eddie is having trouble coming to terms with this situation, and refuses to leave Mockingbird Heights. Even worse, in anticipation of having to move, Grandpa has already sold the house off!!! As such, if the Munsters are to stay, they will be forced to employ extreme measures to get their home back.
DISC THREE (Side A):
--- “Movie Star Munster” – Air Date 4/1/1965
In “Movie Star Munster” a couple of con men looking for their latest victim run across Herman, and decide he is the perfect candidate for the job. Moving on with their scheme, the con artists pass themselves off as movie producers, and pretend to be very interested acquiring Herman’s acting services. After a brief conversation, they are able to trick Herman (surprise, surprise ) into signing an insurance policy, by pretending it is a film contract. Meanwhile, despite being tricked so easily, an oblivious ego is bursting at the seams from all the attention showered on him by the “movie producers”, and sure he will be the next big thing in Hollywood.
--- “Herman The Rookie” – Air Date 4/8/1965
As this episode begins, Herman is playing a little baseball, and smacks a ball, which flies several city blocks before bouncing of the skull of Leo Durocher, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although you would think Leo would be headed to the hospital, he goes looking for the person who hit the ball – not in anger, but because the Dodgers are in desperate need of a power hitter. After his search turns up the hulking Herman Munster, he convinces him to try out for the ball club.
--- “Country Club Munsters” – Air Date 4/15/1965
As “Country Club Munsters” begins, the Munster family wins a membership to the exclusive Mockingbird Heights Country Club! Being the snobs they are, however, the current members want to observe the Munsters, to determine if they meet the club’s exacting standards. Problems arise when Lily and Grandpa are invited to a fashion show, which calls attention to their unique look and demeanor, and when Herman’s super-human strength proves to be too much for the golf course. Will the existing members rescind the Munsters’ membership, or will the Munsters decide that the uptight club members do not meet their own set of standards!
--- “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” – Air Date 4/22/1965
This episode finds the Munsters in money trouble yet again, but money trouble of a different kind. You see, Uncle Gilbert has sent the family a whopping 180,000 dollars, all the way from Transylvania. So, what is the trouble, you ask? Well, it all begins when the bank’s assistant manager arrives to accept the deposit, and instantly falls head-over-heels in love with Marilyn (at least that is how it appears on the surface). What the Munsters don’t know, however, is that the bank officer does not have his mind on romance, but on the family’s recent deposit!
--- “Mummy Munster” – Air Date 4/29/1965
When the clumsy Herman decides to spend the day with Marilyn at a museum, he finds himself on the inside of an Egyptian sarcophagus, with no way out! To make matters worse, a sleeping pill Herman had taken earlier begins working, and he falls asleep inside the sarcophagus. Later on, the museum curators open the ancient coffin up, and upon finding a sleeping Herman inside, they mistake him for a mummy!
--- “Lily Munster – Girl Model” - Air Date 5/5/1965
Feeling unsatisfied with merely keeping house, Lily begins job hunting, and lands a gig as a model. Her new job creates tension at home, however, as Herman becomes jealous of the attention he is sure his lovely bride will receive from all of the men in the modeling industry. To combat this, Herman asks Grandpa to turn him into a suave playboy, and has Grandpa transform himself into a buxom blonde, all in a foolish attempt to make Lily jealous!
--- “Munster The Magnificent” – Air Date 5/13/1965
With the school talent show approaching, an excited Eddie signs his dad up as a performer, but what Eddie does not know is that Herman has no specific talent to speak of! Still, not wanting to let his son down, Herman again seeks help from Grandpa, who creates a pair of magic shoes that will help him become a graceful dancer. Unfortunately, Eddie has signed his dad up as the world’s greatest magician!
DISC THREE (Side B):
--- “Herman’s Happy Valley” – Air Date 5/20/1965
Herman is in great spirits when he becomes the new owner of a full 10 acres in Happy Holiday Valley, which he has purchased through an ad in a periodical. Of course, it turns out that the land is nothing but a barren wasteland, located in an abandoned town. Of course, since the Munsters are not like most folks, this suits them fine! Problems arise, however, when the con men that sold them the land accept a better offer, and attempt to buy it back from Herman.
--- “Hot Rod Herman” – Air Date 5/27/1965
Believing Herman to be the best race driver in the world, Eddie enters Herman and his car, the “Munster Koach”, into a drag race. But despite modifying his car and dressing the part, Herman loses the competition – and his prized car. Once again, Grandpa is called to rescue a member of the family, this time with his “Dragula”, a souped-up coffin on wheels!
--- “Herman’s Raise” – Air Date 6/3/1965
This episode marks yet another instance in which money troubles (indirectly or directly) bring about problems for the Munster family. This time out, Herman follows Lily’s request to ask his boss, Mr. Gateman, for a raise. Instead of giving him a raise, Mr. Gateman tells Herman he is fired! Now afraid to tell Lily that he is on the unemployment rolls, Herman pretends to go to work, when he is really out looking for a new job.
--- “Yes, Galen, There Is A Herman (a.k.a.) My Friend Herman” – Air Date 6/10/1965
When a young boy named Galen gets his head stuck between bars, Herman rescues the boy by bending the bars with his superhuman strength. Afterwards, the two become friends, but Galen’s parents do not believe the wild tale of events their son is telling. Basically, they think Herman is a figment of the boy’s overactive imagination, and convinced he is lying, they send Galen to see a psychiatrist.
And thus, the first season of The Munsters comes to a close…
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
The first season of The Munsters is presented by Universal home video in its original broadcast aspect ratio (1.33:1), and in its original black-and-white (except for the “unaired pilot”, which was filmed in color). Overall, I would have to say that despite a few minor quibbles, the results of their effort to bring this quirky comedy series to DVD are quite impressive.
While I did not have any serious problems with this set’s image quality, there were a few instances of very minor annoyances that I would like to briefly discuss. First of all, contrast is sometimes a bit on the heavy side. Although this is not a persistent problem, during some episodes it can be a little tough to make out detail in scenes with poor illumination (the nightclub scene in “Grandpa Leaves Home” comes to mind), and it also seems to lessen the image’s sense of depth. There is also a light coating of grain visible throughout, which is most visible in bright whites. Unfortunately this shows up in facial close –ups of the characters.
All things considered though, other than those two relatively minor issues, The Munsters has never looked better! Specifically, the image is much cleaner than one might expect from a 40-year-old television program, with only a moderate amount of specks or debris visible. Grayscale is also very good, as it brings out the different shades of makeup used on the characters, particularly Herman and Lily. Further, fine detail is acceptable, to say the least, usually extending into the background of the shot.
As the pilot episode is in color, it also deserves a little of our attention. While it is interesting to see The Munsters in color, it is probably a good thing that the network chose black-and-white for this series. Quite frankly, the coloration of The Munsters looked rather bizarre, especially as it related to the color green, which has a bluish caste to it. Other than that though, the pilot looks just as good as the rest of the episodes in the set.
So, what is the verdict? Well, I would not say it is completely problem-free, but it is above and beyond what I had been expecting! Munsters fans will likely be extremely pleased with how their favorite TV family looks!!!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The sounds of The Munsters are brought to life via a monaural (2.0) soundtrack that is remarkably clear and robust. More specifically, dialogue is presented very nicely, and it is never a chore to hear what the various members of the Munster clan are talking about (or fighting over). Similarly, micro-dynamic audio details, ambient noises, and sound effects are reproduced in an pleasing, accurate manner, and Jack Marshall’s score sounds fantastic – just listen to that glorious surf-guitar sound!
During the episodes I sampled (22 in all), I noticed no significant problems or abnormalities with the audio tracks – except for the irritating laugh track that is! I really can’t imagine these episodes sounding much better than this!!!
Bonus Unaired Pilot Episode
As described above, this color unaired pilot episode (roughly 15 minutes in length) was used to pitch the show to the CBS television network. It does not follow the story arc through to conclusion, and also features different actors playing the roles of Lily/Phoebe (Joan Marshall) and Eddie (Happy Derman). It was an interesting addition to the set, but it would have been nice if a Munsters “expert” could have been tapped to provide some commentary, or even an introduction, for it.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
I was always rather fond of The Munsters before this set arrived, and ingesting a heavy dose of Fred Gwynne, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Al Lewis over a couple of nights gave me an even greater appreciation of the magic they were able to conjure up during the show’s brief two-year run! I almost cannot believe how they were able to generate so many quality episodes in only two years!!!
Bottom line, it is an absolute joy to finally have a complete season of The Munsters on DVD! That being said, I am somewhat disappointed that Universal did not include any added value features other than the unaired pilot, especially since several cast-members are still alive and active with the show’s fans. Fortunately, the better-than-expected audio and video quality make up for this!
Hopefully, we will get a better selection of extras with Season Two...but in the interim, the A/V quality of this set makes it a no-brainer for fans! Recommended!!!