January 22, 2014

Munster, Go Home! (1966)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Earl Bellamy
Stars: Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, Yvonne De Carlo

What it's about. Universal Studios' black and white television series "The Munsters" is adapted into a contemporaneous color feature film. The three leads are present: gigantic Herman (Fred Gwynne), his Vampira-ish wife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), and Grandpa (Al Lewis), her meddlesome mad scientist father. Also there is young Butch Patrick as Eddie, the werewolf-like son of Herman and Lily.

Surprisingly, the role of their normal and comely daughter Marilyn is played by Debbie Watson, a would-be teen star under contract to Universal. The older but more gracious Pat Priest had played Marilyn in a majority of episodes of the series, which ran between 1964 and 1966.

The film retains the services of Earl Bellamy, Joe Connelly, and Bob Mosher, who had produced, directed, and/or wrote numerous episodes of the series.

The plot has Herman inheriting a mansion in the English countryside, along with the title Lord Munster. The Munsters travel to England via ocean liner to claim their property. While on the boat, Herman becomes seasick, Grandpa accidentally turns into a wolf, and Marilyn has a first base romance with race car driver Roger (Robert Pine).

Snubbed in the will of the late Lord Munster are the current residents of Munster Hall. They are scheming and elderly Lady Effigie (Hermione Gingold), her spoiled middle-aged son Freddie (Terry-Thomas), and their butler Cruikshank (played a heavily made-up John Carradine). They despise their American relations and plot to murder Herman, which would allow Freddy to inherit both the title and manor. The foul deed is to accomplished while Herman upholds the Munster tradition of competing in a local auto race.

The cast of quaint villagers of Shroudshire include future game show host Richard Dawson and Bernard Fox, beloved as Doctor Bombay on "Bewitched." Jack Dodson, best known as Howard on "The Andy Griffith Show", shows up as a ship steward.

How others will see it. Though "The Munster" series has always been fairly popular in syndication, it only lasted two seasons, and the feature film was a commercial failure. Critics mostly ignored it.

Today, some of the interest in the movie comes from an unexpected source: car enthusiasts, who can feast their eyes on vintage race cars. But most viewers will seek out the film as a continuation of the television series. As such, they are disappointed that Pat Priest has been dumped in favor of a Gidget type. "England" is also a disappointment: it is merely a set on the Universal back lot. And the many supporting actors, though some are at least familiar faces, take away from the Munster family, which after all is the Raison d'etre of the film.

User ratings at imdb.com drop with advancing age, from 6.8 under age 18 to 6.2 over age 45. Women of all ages are more forgiving of the film's faults than their male counterparts.

How I felt about it. Grandpa's part in this film is almost entirely lifted from an episode of the series, "Grandpa's Call of the Wild." This episode always confused me: I thought Grandpa was a vampire, not a werewolf. Whatever, but he's still a funny actor.

One running gag of the series is Marilyn's would-be boyfriend frightened away by the sight of her "monster" parents. History is repeated again, only this time Roger doesn't know Herman is her dad, undoubtedly a good thing for their April-June romance.

The movie is certainly not as good as the series. Perhaps the black and white cinematography is more appropriate for a monster movie, comedy or not. The laugh track of the series fills in the gaps following punch lines, which fall flat here far too often. The production was also hurried. The movie was completed in just three weeks.

The real problem, though, is that we don't have enough of the Herman-Grandpa-Lily chemistry. Instead, we are subjected to British character actors transplanted to Hollywood. The major plot revelation, the identity of the mysterious Griffin, is also a let down, so boring in fact that I won't even bother to spoil it.