I just want to say a few things about The Pirate...
During the 1940's and 50's Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was known as the most glamorous studio in Hollywood. This was mostly because of their track-record in showmanship of musical comedy romances, in addition to the stars, directors, writers, and producers such as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mario Lanza, Kathryn Grayson, Cyd Charrise, Vincent Minnelli, Arthur Freed, et cetera... The original idea of a film based on a 1942 play by S. N. Behrman went back to when MGM bought the rights to The Pirate in the early 40's.
The studio had high hopes for the prospect of doing a film version of The Pirate. Despite this, the film had a difficult production and went through several drafts from different writers before Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett came aboard. Like the play, the film would be about a travelling entertainer pretending to be a pirate. In one of the early drafts, however, the writer changed the concept completely and had a pirate pretending to be a travelling entertainer. It’s an interesting concept when you think about it, but not quite what they had it mind.
Arthur Freed, a renowned producer of Hollywood's biggest musicals of the time, (Singing in the Rain, On the Town, etc.) was set to produce with Vincent Minnelli as director. Minnelli's wife at the time, Judy Garland, was envisioned to be star in it along with Gene Kelly. This was not the first time the two were to be together on screen as they were the leads in Kelly's first movie, For Me and My Gal in 1942. Minnelli wanted the film to be as stylized as possible; something the movie would be criticized for later. In addition to Freed, Kelly, Minnelli, and Judy, we have a good supporting cast that includes Walter Slezack, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, and George Zucco and songs by Cole Porter including the legendary "Be a Clown." As I said, production did have quite a bit of trouble. Both Kelly and Judy were taking drugs, but it was Judy who would really suffer from it. In addition to the other turmoil, Judy Garland's marriage to director Vincent Minnelli was falling apart leave a cold atmosphere to enter the set from time to time. As I have already related to you, The Pirate is about a travelling entertainer pretending to be Judy Garland's childhood hero, the legendary pirate "Macoco".I received this film in the "Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory" collection (along with Words and Music, The Belle of New York and so on) as a Christmas present and watched this movie in early morning hours, awaiting a film I had long heard about in documentaries and such. And frankly, I was stunned!
The Pirate is a story of cunning, romance, adventure, and screwball comedy. Each number, though they weren't as many as in many other musicals, were special and memorable: Numbers like the exciting "Mac the Black," the haunting "Love of My Life," a mesmerizing "You Can Do No Wrong," as well "Nina", and the classic and stunning "Be a Clown". Cole Porter's score and songs are memorable, exiting, and a treat for any film goer who loves a and appritaites dancing, music, and so on. For those who really appreciate dancing, Kelly (and Garland, too) is amazing in several numbers of such magnificent proportions, yet each with a different feel, telling parts of the story. Kelly and Garland really shine in this one! Garland's singing is wonderful and Kelly's dance is terrific. They are great together and their acting is also very good a joy to watch in this stylish, big musical extravaganza of romance, wit, and adventure.
Unfortunately, the film was not a success upon release, being too "stylish" or "ahead of its time" - which is a shame because it really is a wonderful musical and is perhaps not appreciated enough. Along with a fine supporting cast, the superb Nicholas Brothers, terrific tunes by Cole Porter, stylish dance routines and direction by Vincent Minnelli, and of course Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, this one is a real winner!
Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
I hope you won't think me too corny when I talk about time. Time is a very interesting and fickle rascal that you have got to deal with, whether you like it or not. When I was about five I looked upon the nineties as a next door neighbor. But time moved on, and at this point it is no longer that next door neighbor I looked upon with such fondness.
The nineties was, in a sense, a time of reinvention for film studios in Hollywood. After an unhappy slump in the eighties Disney pulled out and in to what is today known as the Disney Renaissance in which they produced such successful and wildly recognised films as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, and others.
The eighties having been such a dramatic outcome of decades that lead up to that change, the nineties was a modern reincarnation of the 50's. Part 3 of the Back to the Future trilogy was far less the eighties movie than the first in 1985 five years earlier. And perhaps not even of the fifties but at least an attempt to get back on the right track (especially after a long string of ultra violent movies coming out in the summer of 1990). Home Alone when I first saw it, was kind of a recent movie from about a little over ten years ago. By now it is a classic.
In the most recent of years films and technology have progressed that Home Alone (1990) could not possibly have been produced in these years. From the camera work and direction, to the comedy and actors, and the credit sequences and music this film is indeed a product of its time and an excellent film at that. Chris Columbus's direction is done with care and precision, the performances go from brash to innocent and the music truly makes it memorable.
Unfortunately I find that its sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) is largely overlooked having received negative reviews upon its theatrical release. It still remains within Home Alone's shadow of enduring success. It takes place about one or two years after the events of the previous film and doesn't rely too much on its predecessor. And I suppose those who saw the first Home Alone film will get a bigger kick out of the whole story. Basically, Kevin gets lost in an unholy rush to their flight in the airport. Well, at least he made it to the van this time around! Instead of going to the ever so blissful and "sunny" Miami with the rest of his enormous family (including good old uncle Frank's clan of tacktless monsters) he accidentally hops on a flight to New York. Using his father's credit card he decides he might as well enjoy himself and checks into the grandest hotel he can get to. The Wet Bandits (Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci) join the fun, having recently escaped from jail with plans to rob a charitable toy store.
Macaulay Culkin returns as Kevin in this hilarious and innovative sequel to the original Holiday favorite. It's almost a remake but not quite. They put together a similar story but with an added basaise, even more fun. Everything's bumped up a level and done with such care. Chris Columbus' direction is a again pure, crisp, and every moment in the film counts. The transition into a second round of turmoil and violent craze was powerful and heartfelt enough for them to get away with it. In further evaluation, the sequence in which Kevin once again battles his two nemeses takes us away from the content reality and cleverness of the last film. At times it is now pure cartoon violence. At times so crazy, it becomes almost unwatchable and you know that our poor villains could not have survived it. Some friends and family members, I watched it with this Christmas said that it was perhaps better than the first sequel except for that one sequence of cartoon violence and that it looked like they had just thrown a bunch of gags together to beat the last sequence. I don't know if all that is true or not. I think that Home Alone 2 is fresh and original and deserves recognition. I don't know if it gets with this new generation -born 2005 plus. But the sequel is a great addition to the series as well and should also be looked upon as the great film it is. The sequence is very violent, but there are moments of cleverness and funny moments in it and the sequence wraps itself up very nicely.
The film should be seen by ages 8 and up, but I think that with the predecessor you can go a little earlier. It is a great film!
With a terrific cast of Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O' Hara, John Heard, Tim Curry, and the returning cast of "McAlisters".
If you are a fan of the original, I suggest you take a chance with this film; I don't think you'll regret it.
Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Fred Gwynne became known, even to this day, as the actor who originally played Herman Munster, a lovable, childish "monster" on the television series, The Munsters (1964-1966). When the series failed to renew itself in a crowd-pleasing way however, it was cancelled and Fred Gwynne ended up looking for a job. As any actor getting out of a highly successful television series, Fred Gwynne was to suffer cruel, indignant type-casting. But to get to the point, Gwynne was cast in a role that though probably largely unknown today, shows that he was more than a Munster.
Part of the reason Gwynne's portrayal of Herman Munster in the television series was so incredibly successful and memorable was because his character, along with many other characters in the series, was so tempting and "easy" to imitate. Yet, it takes a good actor to play a character as silly, innocent, and childish as the great Herman Munster; and as the case with most great character actors, they don't get one darn bit of credit. If you have seen Fred Gwynne in The Munsters by the time you see him in The Littlest Angel, his performance is so pleasing you will be utterly shocked.
The Littlest Angel is a 1969 TV film produced as a part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology series. It follows the giddy adventures of a playful, outgoing, and mischievous eight-year old shepherd named Michael. Michael is living in the country side with his parents near Bethlehem but dies when he accidently falls off a cliff when chasing a dove. Michael then journeys to Heaven were he learns from a host of other both welcoming and all-business-like angels that he too is to be an angel. A typical boy who knows what he wants, Michael insists he is a shepherd and only wants to go back to his life on earth. Convinced he's not wanted, he seeks a way to fit in to life in Heaven. With a little help from Patience, his guardian angel, Michael truly does find himself when Jesus is to be born one night and all of Heaven are to prepare gifts for the holy child; Michael must decide what to give. A truly classic story!
Johnny Whitaker (TV’s Family Affair, Tom Sawyer) plays Michael and Fred Gwynne plays Patience. Please note that this is not about a little boy dying but rather a charming coming of age story about a little boy ultimately finding himself.
This 90-minute musical television film is more like a play aka musical than anything; or perhaps you could say a television play which is what it really is. The special effects are often flawed and the sets are often simple but blend in perfectly allowing you to focus more on the actors. This only adds to the charm of this wondrous family delight and would not do any other way.
You can almost imagine the curtain coming up to the opening number, the set change. The end of act one and the beginning of act two –which, I suppose, could vary as our imaginations do, but probably right after Michaels first flying lesson. Right from the start I couldn't help thinking "this is very well done".
The songs are uplifting but vary from humorous to heartfelt and emotionally satisfying. The numbers are big and done with care. Furthermore, this film has one of the best casts ensemble I have ever seen. This includes, of course, Johnny Whitaker, Fred Gwynne, John McGiver, E. G. Marshall, Tony Randall, Connie Stevens, James Coco, George Rose, Cab Calloway, George Blackwell, and Evelyn Russell. The cast ensemble together creates such a performance and such entertainment that would please perhaps even the darkest and coldest of souls, warming you up to such a pleasurable content.
John McGiver played the Patience’s "boss" with such great skill, James Coco is memorable as the father as Evelyn Russel is the mother, George Blackwell will be fondly remembered as the driver, and Cab Calloway brings a divine charismatic air to his own supporting role as Gabriel as George Rose does with his rather brief but steady appearance. E. G. Marshall was perfect for the role of god and Tony Randall gave one of the funniest, cleverest cameos I have ever seen. He played Democratis, also a new comer to Heaven who crosses paths with Michael. His character is definitely one of the most memorable and his song is a comic delight. Connie Stevens also gave a great performance as the flying instructor aka wing maker and her number was just dandy. I couldn't go about not mentioning Johnny Whitaker because his performance really drove the whole thing while everyone else made up the rest of the truly delicious cake. His performance as Michael is really the kind that you can take with you. His acting was excellent and his singing really superb.
Fred Gwynne was never really given a chance to show off his charisma when doing the Munsters. But after seeing this I can only conclude that he was a truly superb actor. In the Littlest Angel he brings both a touching and comic appeal to his role as Patience, the Guardian Angel. He sings and/or joins a number of songs quiet well - all with Michael. In one he tries to account for Heaven's loss of blue and green, in another he tries to cheer a saddened Michael up and in perhaps the most memorable he sings of what life was like when he was on Earth. He certainly had a lot of charisma.
While each one of the actors must have had some stage experience or other, the camera and editing were that of a live production but photographed the actors well.
If I were to make out a list of ten or twenty greatest musicals then this would definitely be on it. The Littlest Angel is my Number One Holiday Film Of the Year. With vivid friendly characters, a clever story, a good steady script, a marvelous cast, uplifting songs and numbers this is a holiday winner!
Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Happy Holidays 2011: A Holiday Book and Movie Review Special by Robert Steven Mack (intitially published in students newspaper)
I was filled with a pleased satisfaction upon getting this article assignment; not only was I to write about holiday films and books, but it gave me an opportunity to revisit my old favorites. Starting Saturday, I pulled out a stack full of movies relating to my article and got to work. What a marvelous day! And I have to say, before getting down to business that I fail to understand why some people have branded Christmas a “bad” holiday just because of the over-commercialization it gets every year. How can it be a bad holiday when it brings happiness and joy to so many people? And while I admit that most of the books and films I selected will deal strictly with Christmas, many also represent the underlying common goal between mankind; peace, love, happiness, and the belief in the universal goodness of mankind and discretely show that it doesn’t matter what holiday you celebrate-whether Jewish or Christian or Muslim-what matters is the thought behind it.
While appreciating the newer films can be a good thing, we mustn’t forget the classics from which we can learn most from; I shall start with them. The Answer, a part of an old 1950’s anthology TV series, starred David Niven as an intelligent but down-on-his-luck playwright who meets a successful Hollywood writer returning home for the holidays to puzzle his life through. This mesmerizing story finishes with a thought-provoking exit of the two new-found friends having just discovered the true meaning of peace on earth; so simple and yet so powerful a story when watched. Another, Beyond Tomorrow is a soft epic telling of three successful but isolated business partners looking for company to share a Christmas dinner. So they throw their wallets out the window hoping someone honest will return the wallets giving them an excuse to invite someone in for dinner. The “honest” is made up of a modest young man from the west with a voice of sparkling gold and a young woman working at the nearby children’s hospital. Soon after uniting their two young friends, the three men, now full of life, suffer a fatal accident only to return as spirits when the handsome young cowboy is snatched by showbiz for his voice leaving him in a snobbish world while the three men try to restore him to the world and people he belongs with. This is a witty but heartfelt Christmas classic to be cherished and loved for all its timeless wisdom.
The classic musical-comedies White Christmas (1954) and Holiday Inn (1942) bring fun and music to the holiday season with witty plotlines, twists, and romance. Other holiday comedy classics are The Lemon Drop Kid (with Bob Hope) and Christmas in Connecticut (with Barbara Stanwyck) both of with I have yet to see, but have heard great things about. Another light-hearted comedy about the true meaning of Christmas, called Miracle on 34th Street, to this day remains one of the most cherished and witty classics of them all! It deals with the conquering commercialism of Christmas and how one white- bearded man, claiming to be Santa, is hired by a department store to play “himself.” Mr. Kringle’s unusual sales approach causes legal battles and business rivalry throughout the city.
In Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart plays a good-natured small town dreamer and civic-minded friend whose oppression from a greedy Scrooge-like banker causes him to think that the whole town would be better of if he had never been born. That is until an angel shows up in Stewart’s time of need to show him what the town would really be like if he were never born. This classic story is a haunting heartfelt blissful tale of Christmas and the power of friends and giving.
The next films are a way to celebrate the holiday season regardless to what holiday you celebrate. Santa Claus Captures the Martians (1964), a low budget sci-fiction family comedy from the ‘60’s will be equally enjoyable and fun to watch for Jews and Muslims as it will be to Christians-as it can be slightly made fun of. It contains somewhat cheesy effects as well as sets that look like they are made from painted card-board, but still have a fun plot.
Books, on the other hand, have been harder for me to select, so again I stuck with the classics. For those who like to read, Charles Dickens’s classic novella, A Christmas Carol is about a cold, greedy type called Ebenezer Scrooge who one night, on Christmas Eve is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come to change his view of Christmas and life. Dicken’s writing is crisp and whimsical and if you liked that, it was followed by the lesser known books: The Chimes, The Holy Tree, The Cricket on the Hearth, Household Words, and All Year Round. Each is available in a bookstore near you-though probably in a collection of Charles Dickens Christmas stories. The book had been adapted into countless films including the 1984 film with George C. Scott, a much older 1939 film and a ’35 film called Scrooge. A musical and surprisingly not bad presentation starring the Muppets (Muppet Christmas Carol), and the recent 2009 CGI animated 3-D film that added a much darker tone to the classic story than ever before. If you would like an idealistic approach to religion you may find Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Number the Stars to your liking. And of course, the book The Polar Express has long remained a favorite and perhaps even more so with the 2004 film based on the book which, like Miracle on 34th Street, deals with overcoming narrow-mindedness and prejudice. I suppose the best way to turn for a fun family comedy just right for the season would be Home Alone and its sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Both movies are hilarious but at times quite painful.
Specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Year Without Santa Clause, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are cheerful and yet often quite meaningful celebrations of the true meaning of Christmas: the celebration of diversity, joy, peace, love, and happiness and no holiday season should be without them!.
In theaters now is a rather silly looking film called Arthur Christmas. But in fact, it provides a fresh up-to-date approach to an old legend. It’s a fun Christmas comedy about Santa that will pep you up for the holiday spirit.
These films along with many others will bring holiday cheers into your heart.
Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)
Monday, December 19, 2011
When you think of The Munsters, perhaps you envision a black-and-white still of the old show with flat-headed Herman from the top up dressed in his odd usual attire, situated somewhere in the big spooky cob-webbed covered homestead: a nightmare for the health inspector and perhaps surrounded by ghoulish creatures. But, otherwise this is a rather on the ordinary side looking family talking regular talk, solving everyday munster problems.
The iconic TV show certainly left an impression in TV history. It is a show that would certainly come up in any old television festival, talk show, or otherwise; Halloween or not. It is also certain this review would most certainly not bring much without ever mentioning the show or going through the history of the whole Munster franchise and how it came about. I shall do both.
To begin, public interest in the classic horror films of the 30's had been renewed once Universal had bought all the rights and started to show the wildly popular films on TV. Films dealing with Dracula and Frankenstein were among audiences’ favorites. As a result, and to capitalize on the films’ bustling popularity, a number of television sitcoms came out satirizing and spoofing the films that captured the attention of the young and old. Among these shows were Bewitched, My Favorite Martian, and The Addams Family all premiering at around the same time. ABC had Bewitched and The Addams Family. Although distinctly different, they were definitely based around similar concepts, CBS had My Favorite Martian, and NBC knew that unless they wanted to be left behind in this gruesome rat race, they had better come up with something to soothe the public’s need in this supernatural sitcom craze. This would definitely be the beginning of an era. In reaction to ABC's The Addams Family, Leave it to Beaver creators Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher came up with new series to do just the trick. This series was The Munsters(1964-1966).
The Munsters would combine the ideals from monster movies and concepts of Frankenstein and Dracula while adding the hilarious mix of the typical 60's family show. Basically, The Munsters is about a strange family of good-natured weirdoes thinking themselves as the average, all-American family. There's Herman, a 150 year old devoted husband and father, but whose vain childish innocence causes a surplus of problems all the while trying to keep his calm role as head of the family. Lily is a charming and caring vampire and the mother of one. Grandpa is a retired vampire and an unlucky mad scientist who often reminiscences of his past glory in the old country. Well, everyone has to have a hobby! Eddie is their son, a werewolf in grade school, who mustn’t forget to keep the lid closed at night. And last, but hopefully not least we have Cousin Marylyn, the unfortunate black sheep of the family.
In truth, the concept of a family of wacky monsters goes back to the 1940's when an idea was pitched to Universal for a series of cartoons that would feature the comical monsters. It never went through. Car 54 co-stars Al Lewis and 6ft 5 Fred Gwynne, were brought in for a 16 minute test film along with Beverly Owen, Joan Marshall, and Happy Derman. They would portray respectively Herman, Grandpa, Marylyn, Phoebe (the latter to be called Lily), and little Eddie. It would be shot in color with theme music from an old Doris Day movie, The Thrill of it All. It was intended to show the network what a family of comical Munsters would look like on the tiny screen. Changes were eventually made.
Derman and Marshall as Eddie and Phoebe were replaced by a friendlier Butch Patrick and glamorous movie star Yvonne De Carlo as the loving woman of the house, now titled Lily. The producers, seeing the show’s potential recognized that color was not yet the thing for the Munsters and changed it to a more gothic looking black and white. Perhaps though, the biggest change of all is the dead-pale, somber expression of many of the characters compared to the fun comical silliness that would later emerge. While Gwynne, Lewis, and Owen would stay for the series, Beverly Owen would leave after just 13 episodes due to personal problems and would be successfully replaced in the following episode by Pat Priest.
Once the changes were made a series was commissioned. It immediately became popular with television audiences and quickly went on to become one of the most highly rated shows of the season. The fact that the show was successful was already a big enough surprise to those who had originally thought the show ill-fated and a joke, had another surprise coming. Munster Mania! This included merchandise of all kinds: clocks, board games, action figures, comic books. And when the actors weren’t busy in front of the camera or spending countless hours putting heavy make-up on, they were busy touring the country making public appearances just to satisfy the Munster-crazed America they had created.
It's no fib either that behind the superb crisp comic timing of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, was probably the result of a close life-long friendship that had started when they co-starred on their previous program Car 54, Where Are You?. Together, they socialized off camera and came-up with ideas for the show. And as they were all very close backstage, they would each have mixed feelings for what was about to come. For hot things, don't take long to cool down.
By the end of the first season, the still popular show's writers had trouble coming up with fresh new material to film. With public appearances still as frequent as ever the first season ended with 39 episodes filmed. With a new season ready to cook, the writers, determined to keep the show fresh, enhanced the episodes and series itself with crazier plots, wackier comedy, and even more public appearances than ever. The show's head men were determined to keep the public’s interest. Unfortunately, The Munsters now in its second season was slated directly against Batman, the next "big thing." Not even public appearances or wacky plots seemed to regain the public’s interest it had lost.
Unfortunately, it seemed that Batman was today and The Munsters, a thing of past, was no longer welcome in the rapidly changing society. But they would make one last gamble. Prompted in 1966 by the success of the Batman feature, the producers decided to shoot and release a low budget Munster comedy in order to renew interest in the Munsters, a plan that didn't seem likely to miss.
The film would be shot in six weeks in a Technicolor presentation as that would have been a sure boost for attraction. It would be called Munster, Go Home! And would feature most of the original television cast except for 30 year old Pat Priest; instead of television's Tammy, Debbie Watson, would be brought in for the film as Pat Priest was not invited. Co-starring would be Hermione Gringold and gap-toothed Terry Thomas. The cast is said to have relished every minute of the one-and-a-half month shooting schedule as the series was canceled before the film was released.
From past experiences, I can recall revival films and attempts at series reboots that were either good but not up to the fresh quality of the original series or something on a completely different line an attempt to try something new. It rarely works. Such examples of reunions and reboots are Get Smart and Gilligan’s Island. The faults of these are that in dealing with an already established series from a different time point in an effort to recreate that series or in some cases to create something totally new that bears little resemblance to the series people have grown fond of. When undertaking such a task, you must take the concept and all its ideals to a new level while adjusting it to the time or media it plays in. Munster Go Home did just that.
Munsters, Go HOme!It starts in much of the way a film would do; more subdued than the actual television series, probably too tense the audience is up to in order to grab hold of the viewers and not let them go. Basically the storyline is that Herman inherits a mansion and a title, that of an Earl, from his late rich uncle from England. Subsequently, he moves his entire family over to the English manor to claim their fortune.
Besides Herman's hopeless seasickness, the Munster clan has bigger problems at large, such as homicidal relatives, Terry Thomas and Hermione Gringold, living with them in Munster Hall, out to get Herman and his earldom. While his relatives cook up kooky scams to do away with Herman and the members of his family, Herman is persuaded to take part in the upcoming derby to supposedly protect the family name.
The storyline was fresh and witty, the comedy was clever with a dash of the usual Munster silliness, and the characters well-developed and most certainly in the right direction. In fact, in a certain sense, I'd say Munsters, Go Home was wittier than the TV series itself. The Munsters seems just right for film, and this one does seem to be the ideal companion. From the beginning, Munster, Go Home seems to be about an otherwise average all-American family-from where Herman comes home in the beginning of the film: scaring the driver away, walking through the front door announcing he has come home from work and joins the family; reads the letter of inheritance and with his family, sets off for England by boat. That there-the beginning scene alone, is an example of the quiet brilliance of this movie. It’s basically a breezy family comedy with the added ingredient of the "spooky" part along with some light romance and mystery intrigue that is right up there with films like Doris Day's The Thrill of it All, James Stewart's Mr. Hobbs takes a vacation, and Disney's That Darn Cat and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. If at all those types of light comedies appeal to you, then I can guarantee success with this film.
The romance factor in the film is Marylyn, now played (in case you've forgotten) by Debbie Watson, as she falls in love with a car enthusiastic son of a wealthy English upper whose past history with the Munster family from England have not been too good.
In a sense, this film has all that a good movie needs: good comedy, a good flair or amount of romance, and a dash of adventure and intrigue along with a wacky, all sense gone array-at least for the Munster family scrapbook. A climatic finish and a tag scene that wraps the film up decently.
You may ask why replace Pat Priest with another, especially when she had been playing the role for almost two TV seasons? While Pat Priest did a good job of filling in the role for the TV series, the film would have to have a cast member who would portray the character better developed. Pat Priest was perfect, in terms of playing Marylyn, for television. Yet, arguably, she could not have done it on film. Her character’s comedy was written out for her and so there was no need to develop the character further. The film needed someone who could freshly develop the character with still the same feel. Debbie Watson had more the charisma for the job, and her character is subtly more developed. While you don't notice a huge change or difference, it just feels more natural to see her in the role. She was perfectly cast!
All in all, the movie weighed down perfectly. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis's crisp comic timing, a little romance, Butch Patrick as the perfect Eddie, Yvonne De Carlo working so well in the movie with all her co-stars. Although there is considerably less chemistry then there was in the series between Marylyn and the actors from the TV show, probably because Watson hadn't worked as close with the others as Pat Priest had-a little mystery to layer the film. She was a perfect pick.
Unfortunately, somehow their gamble did not pay off. The film was a failure and the Munster reign had truly come to an end. And because of the known failure of the film, television shows also inspired by the success of the Batman film cancelled their own films that they were planning for release. (Nonetheless, The Flintstones did release their own film, A Man Called Flintstone (1966), but that hardly counts since it was done after its television run.) One of these was Get Smart.
The actors had gone their separate ways each struggling with their own amount of typecasting, some more than others. Fred Gwynne would try out a television series, would sing for the TV film The Littlest Angel, play various roles in films and move his talents to the stage. Butch Patrick would continue to act in films including the lead role in The Phantom Tollbooth (1970). And the others would try to get their careers on the move again...with mixed success. But as all people know, it won't take long before the Munsters return.
In 1973, the Munsters were back on television. The first reincarnation was an animated telefilm titled the MiniMunsters that aired on October 27, 1973 as a part of the ABC Saturday Morning Superstar Movie. Al Lewis would voice Grandpa, but the rest of the cast would be different. The Munsters disappeared again as the original cast would continue on with their lives trying to keep up with the rapidly changing world.
Then, in 1981, Fred Gwynne (56), Al Lewis (58), and Yvonne De Carlo (59) would be brought together for the last time in an attempt to launch a new series about the Munsters with another telefilm, The Munster's Revenge. The roles of Eddie and Marylyn were played by K. C. Marshal and Jo McDonald, respectively.
The actors are older now, and after getting used to the original Eddie and Marylyn players, it doesn't feel quite right to have other actors fill their shoes. In addition to the following factors I just listed, you have trouble, in the beginning, getting relaxed in the reincarnated humor in this different time period. However, with a decent moving plot, a fast and funny storyline, and some terrific supporting players including Sid Caesar in one of the most hilarious displays of comedic timing and genius I have ever seen, you soon get used to the actors, old or new. As the story progresses, you get so soaked into the move of the film that you don't really notice or mind the new players, which eventually you get used to, or the setting. In the end, it all becomes quite enjoyable as you'll indeed be rooting for the Munsters.
The Plot: While visiting a wax museum in town, the Munsters come across wax likenesses of their own selves. After they leave, it is revealed that the wax Munster recreations of Herman and Grandpa, along with a long line of other creatures, are actually robots of a crime ring (headed by Sid Caesar) and are using the likeness to steal and terrorize -eventually rob a museum of priceless Egyptian jewels. The real Herman and Grandpa are framed for terrorizing and theft and such, and are put in jail only to escape and have Marylyn, the police chief, and his reluctant but willing son on the case. Herman and Grandpa set out to clear their names and stop the theft leading them into all sorts of trouble.
Sid Caesar’s portrayal of a crazed German scientist is in short, hilarious and will most certainly amuse and have you laughing endlessly out loud. Lily and Eddie are given more supporting roles, as it might have been in the series and are basically there for the back and forth scenes. Marylyn, on the other hand, is given a much bigger role than ever before as she, too, is on the case. Perhaps the producers wanted to make her of more importance in the TV series they planned. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, unlike Munster, Go Home! When Gwynne and De Carlo were billed atop the credits, are indeed billed first followed by the rest under the "co-starring" category. There is also a new character, a cousin of some sort – please forgive me for forgetting the name-who dreams of his fabled opera career, a new character for the Munster clan perhaps whose overdone Halloween appearance doesn't make him as likeable as the other characters. Yet, you will inevitably get well used to him and eventually accept him into the story. Also, the focus on the Munster house wasn't as great, which may also have deprived the film from the original series' glory. Indeed, the film is an interesting look at how the proposed television series would have been.
We may never know how that would have turned out as the telefilm version of The Wizard of Oz aired directly opposite The Munster's Revenge garnering a much greater audience. I cannot say for sure if the public would have accepted this as a TV program. I think they might have and it would have definitely been a treat for Munster fans as a great addition to the TV selection that the new generation could choose from. I imagine it would last for a good few seasons and maybe even more if it became that popular. Overall, the film, while lacking the old Munster flame, is a good enjoyable addition to the Munsters series.
A good idea can be used over and over again. A new Munsters television program, The Munster's Today, aired in syndication from 1988 to 1991 with an entirely new cast centering on the Munsters who have recently been awoken from a deep long sleep to find themselves in the late 1980's. Edward Herman played Herman in the made for the TV film Here Comes the Munsters (1995), in which Yvonne De Carlo, Al Lewis, Pat Priest, and Butch Patrick appeared together in a scene one last time as a bickering family being waited on by the new Herman in a restaurant scene. Sadly, Fred Gwynne died in '93 of cancer while having just regained his status as a first rate actor and author of children's picture books. His last film was My Cousin Vinny (1992).
The last showdown of the wacky Munster clan to date was The Munster's Scary Little Christmas (1996) - made-for-television film in which Grandpa (accidentally) captures Santa together with a few of his elves. Lily sets out to win the neighborhood Christmas decoration contest, and Marylyn invites a few friends over for a nice, old-fashioned Christmas. I cannot tell you anything about these films as I have not yet seen them, though intend to within the near future.
I remember watching the show as re-runs when I was younger. Somehow it stuck with me eventually leading me to buy the DVD sets. Incidentally, I found a good collection featuring the two films-Munster, Go Home! & The Munster's Revenge-on Amazon (Barnes & Noble might have it too). If you're going for the simple stuff, I recommend getting the individual seasons (which by the way has some great documentaries as well as the original test film) in addition to the two film franchise collection I just mentioned. If you don't want to waste time, a Complete Series Collection has the documentaries on Lewis, Gwynne, De Carlo, and on the show as well as the test film along with MGH and MR! It just costs a little more.
Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)