As a kid, I think one of my first encounters with the classic movie monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula was through a classic TV sitcom… “The Munsters.” The show originally aired from 1964-1966, but those two seasons were staples of the world of UHF syndication throughout the 70’s and 80’s. For those of you who don’t know it, the show was about your average American family, who just happened to be a family of classic monster characters. The series was made in glorious black and white, and since it was produced by Universal, it utilized variations on the classic makeup designs used in their horror films of the 30’s. Following the show’s 2nd season, a feature film was released…and it was the first time audiences would see the family in color. It’s 1966’s “Munster Go Home.”
The original cast of the series is on hand for the film…dad Herman (Fred Gwynne), mom Lilly (Yvonne DeCarlo), Grandpa (Al Lewis), and Eddie (Butch Patrick). The only cast member not on board is Pat Priest, who played the normal looking (to us) niece Marilyn. Here she is played by Debbie Watson. As the film begins, Herman receives word that he has inherited Munster Manor in England, and has been given the title Lord Munster. So, the family gets on a boat and heads for the UK.
Of course, there is trouble on the voyage. Herman ends up getting seasick, but he refuses to take one of Grandpa’s pills to feel better. Grandpa tries to convince Herman it’ll be fine by taking a pill himself. Unfortunately, Grandpa accidentally takes a pill that transforms him into a wolf. He ends up getting locked up in the cargo hold. But things aren’t bad for everyone. Marilyn ends up having a shipboard romance of sorts with the handsome Roger Moresby (Robert Pine…the Sarge from “CHiPs”).
As the Munsters reach England, we meet their UK family. There’s the Lady Effigie (Hermione Gingold) and her two adult children Freddie (Terry-Thomas) and Grace (Jeanne Arnold), and they are none too thrilled with having these Americans take over their estate. Freddie especially had his heart set on being Lord Munster. But Lady Effigie has a plan that involves scarring the family with eerie noises, skeletons popping out of closets, and even Freddie in a ghost suit. However, these things end up thrilling Herman and Lilly…making the manor feel more like home.
Meanwhile, Marilyn meets up with the rest of the Moresby family and finds out that there has been a bitter feud between them and the Munster family for generations. Each year, the two families try to defeat each other in an automobile race around the countryside. This ends up figuring into Lady Effigie’s next plan. She convinces Herman to represent the family in the race, but plans to eliminate him with sabotage. More trouble comes when Herman and Grandpa realize that their British cousins are printing counterfeit money in the basement of the manor.
“Munster Go Home” is somewhat of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s always fun to see the Munsters. Let’s face it, the show had a strange premise, but it really was a well-done comedy series. A classic! A lot of the same sort of humor we got in the series is here in the film…so the end result is pretty funny. But, on the other hand, the film does lack focus. Is it a comedy about the Munsters on a cruise? No, wait, it’s about a counterfeiting plot. Ooh, no it’s about an auto race. I think the writer’s should’ve picked one idea and run with it. I actually think the movie would’ve worked better had the whole thing been about the Munsters on a vacation cruise. Lose all the stuff about England and car races.
It’s also a bit of a culture shock to see the Munsters in color. What can I say, I think they work better in black and white. The opening sequences that take place at their home, that we’re so used to seeing on the series, just aren’t as effective in color. The creepy but comedic atmosphere of the show is gone.
Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis bring the same great comedic chemistry that they brought to these roles on the small screen. I love the way Gwynne really makes Herman a sort of man (or should we say monster) child. It’s a very smart way to approach the role, considering the child-like qualities Boris Karloff brought to the Frankenstein’s monster in the famous 1931 film. Another highlight of the film is perennial British cad Terry-Thomas, also a bit of a man-child in his role as Freddie, but every bit as spoiled as Herman is innocent. Ooh, I almost forgot that future “Family Feud” host Richard Dawson has a small role, as well.
Fans of “The Munsters” will enjoy “Munster Go Home.” Even though there is plenty for the uninitiated to enjoy, as well…I’d still recommend starting with the series.