Rated: TV-14 DLS
Film Length: 1,158 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Release Date: October 7, 2008
( out of )
“The Munsters” is a traditional family sit-com if the family members were Universal Studios monsters. Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne)is a 7-foot tall Frankenstein monster. Herman’s wife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo) is a vampire, as is her father Grandpa (Al Lewis). Herman and Lily’s son, Eddie (Butch Patrick) is a werewolf. Marilyn Munster (Beverly Owen, Pat Priest) is the black sheep of the family in that she is an attractive blonde a la Marilyn Monroe.
“The Munsters” premiered on CBS in 1964 at the same time as “The Addams Family” premiered on another network. Like “The Addams Family”, “The Munsters” ran for 2 seasons before being cancelled.
Much of the humor in “The Munsters” arises out of the irony of audience expectations. The only “normal” member of the family is considered to be ugly. The show also contains satire and social commentary, especially in early episodes in which other people in the neighborhood are concerned that the Munsters’ move into their town will harm property values. The Munsters are forced to deal with prejudice mirroring the civil rights movement of the mid 1960s. The opening credits in which Lily Munster greets her family is a parody of the opening credits of “The Donna Reed Show” in which the star sends her family off to work and to school.
Even though this show only ran for 2 years, it has been enormously popular in syndication markets in the years since it premiered. Some of that popularity is due to the screen chemistry of Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, and Yvonne De Carlo. Gwynne and Lewis had previously co-starred together on “Car 54, Where Are You?” prior to that show’s cancellation in 1963.
Many fans are unaware that Yvonne De Carlo was the second actress cast as Herman’s wife. In the original pilot episode, Herman’s wife was played by Joan Marshall. The part was recast after network executives deemed Marshall’s physical appearance to be too similar to Carolyn Jones’ portrayal of Morticia Adams.
( out of )
The video quality is excellent for a series shot primarily in black and white. The episodes are displayed in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, as are the special features, except for the 2 Munster movies. The video quality on the individual episodes is good. There is occasional dust and debris on these episodes. The original unaired pilot episode, included on this set, was shot in color. The color palette on the pilot episode is extremely vibrant and the same can be said for the 1966 movie “Munster, Go Home.” “The Munster’s Revenge”, released in 1981, has a more muted color scheme which is attributable to the times, since color was no longer a novelty to promote on network television by the 1980s. It appears that most of the restoration efforts were applied to the color pilot episode “My Fair Munster” and to the “Munster, Go Home” theatrical feature since the video quality on these is outstanding.
( ½ out of )
The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 sound on the series and on the special features. The sound quality is typical for a television show of that era and the studio has done an adequate job on these DVDs. I could discern a discrepancy in quality on one or two episodes that I can best describe as alternating between richness and hollowness in sound from one line of dialogue to the next, almost as though some lines had been re-dubbed after the fact. This is admittedly a rare occurrence, and sound quality is consistent for the most part.
( ½ out of )
The special features are somewhat spread out through the set, with most of them appearing on the final 2 discs. The special features include the following:
Color Pilot Episode “My Fair Munster” (13:51): This is the original pilot episode shot in color. Different actors play Eddie Munster and Herman’s wife (called Phoebe Munster here). It is fascinating to see how this series might have looked in color.
“Family Portrait” episode in color (25:28): This is a recently colorised version of the 13th episode from the first season, which featured Harvey Korman in a guest role. The color scheme and tones are excellent and are very consistent with original color footage shot at the same time in the original pilot episode and in the 1966 feature film “Munster, Go Home”. The fact that this series was shot in black and white was an economic decision rather than an aesthetic choice. Neither the network nor the studio was willing to put up the funds to shoot this series in color, which is why the original unaired pilot episode was shot in color but not the rest of the series. The colorisation efforts here are apparently to test the waters for releasing the entire series in color at some time in the future. I can say that many details are lost in black and white that stand out better in color. On the other hand, the black and white look of the series is artistically consistent with the monochromatic look of the original Universal monster movies. So long as the studio offers both choices in the future, and does not deprive fans of the option of seeing these episodes as they were originally shown, I would have no objection to seeing a series set released in color in the future.
America’s First Family of Fright (43:05): An excellent documentary by Kevin Burns on the history of this TV show.
Fred Gwynne: More Than A Munster (44:05): Biography of actor Fred Gwynne.
Yvonne De Carlo: Gilded Lily (44:05): Biography of actress Yvonne De Carlo. The Peter Graves narration leads me to believe that this documentary, and possibly the others on Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, may have aired as episodes of “Biography” on the A&E Network.
Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa (44:05): Biography of actor Al Lewis.
Munster, Go Home (1:36:19): This is the only special feature displayed in a 1:78.1 aspect ratio, consistent with its original theatrical presentation. This color feature film was produced at the end of the series to promote the show for syndication in overseas markets. Video quality on this film is exceptional, and the restoration efforts are apparent.
Munster’s Revenge (1:36:10): This TV-movie appeared in 1981 as a possible pilot to a revival of the Munsters. It reunited Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, and Yvonne De Carlo in their original roles. Sid Caesar also appears in this movie.
The documentary features are excellent, and Universal is to be commended for including both Munsters movies featuring the original cast on this set. I would have given the special features five stars out of a possible five, except for the obvious omissions. There is another pilot episode of “My Fair Munster” shot in black and white that was not included on this set. A clip from this version is included on the documentary “America’s First Family of Fright” and has Butch Patrick in a very different version of his makeup from that seen in the series. In addition, there are commercials and public service announcements featuring the original cast that might have been included in this set, as well as complete theatrical trailers for “Munster, Go Home”. Since all of this footage is available on a DVD currently available from another studio(!), it is curious that these extras were not included here. Perhaps Universal licenced that video footage to the other studio for its DVD but it does not make sense for this footage not to appear in this set as well.
( out of overall)
Universal is to be commended for correcting errors on the single season sets. Many consumers complained about the double-sided discs of the first and second season sets, and the studio produced this set entirely in single-sided discs. The inclusion of both movies in this set is also an excellent marketing decision. Consumers who supported the single season sets are not left out either, since the studio is releasing the 2 movies as a separate disc rather than forcing fans to double dip and buy the entire series a second time. Likewise, Universal is releasing separately a DVD of the color and black and white versions of the episode “Family Portrait” which is also beneficial to consumers who want to see the colorised episode without buying the entire series a second time. The documentary features are excellent, and I might have rated this set a full five stars out of five overall were it not for the obvious omissions mentioned in the special features. It is fortunate that those omitted features are available now on DVD separately, albeit not within this set. For the most part, however, this set is strongly recommended to fans of the series, and to anyone else who appreciates funny sitcoms or Universal monster movies, or both.