LEAVE IT TO BEAVER COMPLETE SERIES SET Studio: Shout! Factory Year: 2010 Rated: Unrated Film Length: 102 hours Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Subtitles: None Release Date: June 29, 2010 The Series If you have never seen Leave It To Beaver, you should first know that any summary of the program will inevitably fail to do justice to the quality and entertainment value of this series that was produced from 1957 through 1963. I say this ahead of the series summary so that any neophytes who have not yet discovered this series will be aware that Leave It To Beaver had some of the most original characters, great actors, and scripts with a sharper satirical bite than most television series that aired then, or since. These facts tend to get lost in the shuffle when it is revealed that many of the storylines are morality plays. This series is timeless because the faults and foibles of the characters, and their experiences, are universal to every generation. Leave It To Beaver is the story of Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver (Jerry Mathers) and his friends and family. Other than his nickname, Beaver is a fairly ordinary American boy with an extraordinary talent for attracting challenging situations and friends who more often lead him into temptation than out of it. Beaver’s older brother Wally (Tony Dow) is a good influence but also finds himself drawn unwittingly into Beaver’s unusual situations. Their father Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beamont) is an office executive who, like many TV fathers then and since, is considerably more fair and understanding than we would expect. Their mother June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) is the quintessential ideal mother who always has time for her family and tends to their needs. The family cast of characters might make this series pretty square were it not for the unique cast of characters circling around Beaver and Wally. Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) is one of the most original television characters ever created. Eddie is a friend of Wally’s and he is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. Eddie is unerringly polite and obsequious to adults when in reality he is an instigator of mischief whenever outside of parental supervision. Much humor arises out of the situations when Eddie offers excessive flattery to Ward and June Cleaver, to such extreme that after awhile the adults seem to see through Eddie’s charade. Beaver calls Eddie a "creep" for good reason, although even Eddie is not entirely without virtue. Wally’s other friend Lumpy Rutherford (Frank Bank) is sometimes a bully and often a buffoon, and a lesser instigator than Eddie. Beaver’s close friend in the early seasons is Larry Mondello (Robert Stevens) who is in many respects a younger version of Lumpy. After Larry left the town of Mayfield, Beaver began hanging around with Gilbert Bates (Stephen Talbot) who is a younger version of Eddie Haskell and an instigator of many of Beaver’s troubles. Leave It To Beaver was created by Joe Connolly and Bob Mosher. Connolly and Mosher wrote many of the episodes of the series and later went on to create The Munsters (1964-1966) together. Leave It To Beaver would probably have been dull and mundane were it not for its mildly satirical bent which was first manifested in the original pilot episode, when the series was initially called "It’s A Small World". (This original pilot episode was never aired but is included in this collection.) A classmate falsely tells Beaver that he can collect milk bottle lids and exchange them for a new bicycle in a contest sponsored by a local milk company. Beaver collects the requisite number of lids and presents them to the milk company. The milk company executives have never heard of this contest but all are afraid to admit they know nothing so the buck gets passed from one to the other until the low man on the totem pole is ordered to go to a bicycle shop and buy a new bicycle for Beaver in redemption for the non-existent contest. This kind of humorous satire was the exception rather than the norm for most television series in the 1950s. Leave It To Beaver aired on CBS-TV from 1957 through 1958 and then moved over to ABC-TV where it aired from 1958 through 1963. The series was filmed at the Republic Studios for its first 2 seasons and then was filmed at Universal Studios from 1959 until its cancellation in 1963. Since ending production in 1963, Leave It To Beaver has been a perennial in syndication. Thankfully, Shout! Factory has restored all of the episodes uncut from 35mm film masters, which means that those of us who grew up watching the shortened syndicated versions of these episodes can finally see them complete and uncut. This set consists of all 234 episodes on 36 discs, with most of the special features located on disc 37. Each season of 39 episodes is included on 6 discs. Each season has a separate plastic clamshell case and the special features disc has its own case which is narrower than the season sets. All 7 cases slide into a sturdy illustrated cardboard sleeve enclosing all of the discs and cases. Each season also includes a separate illustrated booklet with listing of episodes, plot summaries, and airdates. The booklets and DVD inserts are very well designed to be pleasing to the eye, and the same can be said for the cardboard case enclosing the clamshell cases. Universal has previously released Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. Those releases were on dual sided discs which have difficulty playing back in certain name brand players. All of the discs in this set, including the first and second seasons, are on single-sided discs. Shout! Factory has also recently released a Season 3 set for those consumers who do not want to purchase the complete series set. Video The screen aspect ratio is in the original 1.33:1 format. Film grain is present in many of the episodes since the original 35mm masters were transferred and digitally restored for this collection. The first 2 seasons are noticeably grainier than the remaining seasons, but never at the expense of brightness and contrast which are excellent in all of the episodes. I am not aware if different film stock was used after the series moved to Universal, but the picture quality seems consistently better beginning in its 3rd season. Different lighting techniques and actor makeup seem apparent beginning in the 1959-1960 season, and the respective ages of the film stock may play a role as well. Shadow detail is surprisingly good without any apparent black crush. I should emphasize that the picture quality of the first 2 seasons is excellent, even if those seasons have inferior video quality to the remainder of the series. You need only compare the unrestored U.S. Treasury Film from the special features disc to any first season episode to appreciate how much attention and detail went into restoration of these episodes. The U.S. Treasury Film looks about as fuzzy and deteriorated as we are accustomed to seeing in most TV series from the 1950s, and the episodes on this set look in comparison like they were filmed yesterday, if filmed yesterday on black and white film stock. There are some minor film scratches and blemishes still apparent, but these are few and far between, and the fact that they can be seen at all is a testament to the excellent contrast and brightness of these transfers. Shout! Factory made great efforts to ensure that the episodes included here are all complete and uncut. No shortened, syndicated versions are included on this set, which means that those of us who came of age watching Leave It To Beaver on WTBS or TVLand can finally see these episodes in their entirety. All of the episodes have a running time of approximately 25 minutes which is consistent with the full running times of half hour episodes from that era. I was initially concerned that footage was missing from certain first season episodes. Many of the early episodes began with original footage narrated by Hugh Beaumont which segued into the opening credits. Several of the first season episodes begin simply with the opening credits. When the episode proper begins, however, those episodes have the footage and narration following the opening credits rather than preceding them, and the running times of those episodes are consistent with the episodes having the footage before the opening credits, so there is apparently no footage missing. Since the footage is apparently in this order on the masters, it is entirely possible that the networks originally aired the footage in this order, although I cannot verify this firsthand. Audio The mono audio track is excellent given the age of these shows. There is none of the hiss and popping that are typical of other TV shows from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Dialogue and music cues are always properly audible. I would not reasonably expect the audio to sound better than it sounds on this set. Special Features This set includes a wealth of special features. To start with, Disc 1 of each respective season contains an episode of Stu’s Show from Shokus Radio featuring interviews with the cast of Leave It To Beaver. Each show is approximately 2 hours in length: Stu’s Show from March 5, 2008, featuring Ken Osmond (Eddie) and Frank Bank (Lumpy) on Disc 1 of Season 1. Stu’s Show from March 5, 2008, featuring Ken Osmond (Eddie) and Frank Bank (Lumpy) on Disc 1 of Season 2. Stu’s Show from November 5, 2008, featuring Jerry Mathers (Beaver) and Frank Bank (Lumpy) on Disc 1 of Season 3. Stu’s Show from December 3, 2009, featuring Tony Dow (Wally) on Disc 1 of Season 4. Stu’s Show from March 4, 2009, featuring Tony Dow (Wally), Ken Osmond (Eddie), and Frank Bank (Lumpy) on Disc 1 of Season 5. Stu’s Show from January 13, 2010, featuring Tony Dow (Wally) on Disc 1 of Season 6. Disc 1 of each respective season set also includes the Shout! Factory Trailer Collection (3:35) at the beginning of each disc, consisting of trailers for the following series on DVD: Father Knows Best Seasons 1-4, The Patty Duke Show Seasons 1 and 2, Mr. Ed Seasons , and Hiya Kids, A 50s Saturday Morning. The Bonus Features disc, included only with this complete series set, includes all of the following: "It’s A Small World" (25:06): This is the original unaired pilot for the series which was then called "It’s A Small World." Jerry Mathers was already cast as the Beaver and Barbara Billingsley plays his mom, but different actors were cast for the roles of Wally and Ward Cleaver. The video and audio quality are excellent on this pilot episode. It is fascinating to see different actors playing Wally and Ward. Promotional Film for the U.S. Treasury (15:19): This film is very much like other episodes in the series, albeit shorter and never included in the syndication package. Beaver learns a lesson about saving money in what is essentially a commercial for U.S. Treasury Bonds. Video and audio quality are below average for this set, since this film is shown unrestored. Its inclusion in this set is definitely welcome, indeed essential to a complete collection of this series. Forever The Beaver: The Cleavers Look Back (1:14:17): This retrospective documentary was filmed in 2005 and features the surviving cast members in interviews. At the time of this review, all of the major cast members, except for Hugh Beaumont, are still with us. Ken Osmond and Frank Bank Remember (29:53): The actors who played Eddie Haskell and Lumpy Rutherford reminisce about their experiences growing up while the series was in production. The Drum Major of the Toy Parade (3:16): This short featurette includes a short interview with music composer Dave Kahn regarding the unknown lyrics to the theme song. Original Promos (2:00): This consists of 2 unrestored network promos from the ABC-TV years. The bonus disc also includes trailers for the following series also being released on DVD from Shout! Factory: Father Knows Best (0:53), Hiya Kids, A 50s Saturday Morning (0:57), McHale’s Navy (1:03), and The Patty Duke Show (0:56). The Bonus Features Disc also includes a foldout full size and playable gameboard for the original Leave It To Beaver boardgame. The game instructions are also printed on the foldout. Conclusion Leave It To Beaver is one of those timeless TV shows with a style of humor and content that is relatable to every generation. Shout! Factory has done it again with an exemplary release of a beloved television series. The restoration efforts made in preserving every episode of this series complete and uncut make this set a contender in the Best of the Year DVD release category. Although not perfect, the video and audio are about as close to perfection as we could ask for, and the abundance of special features make this complete series set one that can not be passed up by any true fan of this series.