After the third day of seasickness jokes
involving the fact that he was looking
"a little green," Herman Munster
began making plans to strangle
everyone on board the ship.
The baffling thing about The Munsters is not that the series was ever made. In the genre-crazy atmosphere that spawned television shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and My Mother the Car, there must certainly have seemed to be room for a show based on the Universal classic monsters, even if that show was a transparent rip-off of The Addams Family. (To be fair, both shows began airing the same year, so the question of who was imitating whom is debatable. Still, The Addams Family was a bit wittier and more enjoyable over all.)
No, the stupefying fact of the matter is that The Munsters was not only produced, but that it was fairly popular. Even though the original series only ran for two years (exactly as long as its Addams Family rival), it was followed up by a number of TV movies, an animated series, an 80's reunion special, and, at what must have been the height of its popularity, the theatrically released film we review today: Munster, Go Home! All of this came from two seasons of weak, harmless humor buoyed by the trademarked appearances of Universal's monsters.
We hear Sir Alec Guinness had
a similar coat.
Granted, Fred Gwynne as Herman makes the perfect comic version of Frankenstein's Monster, and Al Lewis practically made a career out of playing characters like Grandpa, so it's not as if the series was completely without appeal to the audiences of the day. Even Butch Patrick was occasionally endearing as the young Eddie Munster -- certainly, he had more charisma than did the Addams brats, at least until Christina Ricci stepped into the role of Wednesday. But before we venture too far into Dr. Freex-like ramblings about the background material, let us simply say that we're mystified that the goofball adventures of a wholly derivative TV family like the Munsters found their way onto the big screen. We'd like to think that this was back during the time that Hollywood had standards, but as our film education progresses, we are forced to admit that Hollywood never had any standards.
Munster, Go Home! fills in a bit of Munster back-story by explaining Herman's past: originally created by Dr. Frankenstein, Herman was adopted by the Munsters, a noble English family. From this family Herman has inherited the title of Earl of Shroudshire (ugh), and so the film begins with the Munsters preparing for a trip to Shroudshire to claim their castle and place in English life. If you're confused about the genealogy here, in particular the fact that Lily's father is often referred to as "Grandpa Munster," look no further than this handy (if complicated) Munster family tree.
"I locked Spridle and Chim Chim
in the trunk."
Upon arrival, the American Munsters discover that their English brethren are birds of a feather: ghosts, shrieks, and dancing skeletons make them feel at home on their first night in the castle. Of course, the British Munsters are actually greedy "normal" types who were trying to scare their American relatives away from the inheritance, but of course Herman and family are thrilled to find such a "hospitable" extended family. The British Munsters quickly devise a plan to do away with the new Lord Munster: enter him into the annual Shroudshire automobile race and get him killed in an accident, the blame for which will be placed on a rival family.
Lurking behind all this is The Griffin, a shadowy pulp style character (who probably would have been more effective if we had ever seen him/her before his/her identity was revealed). The Griffin is using the reputation of the Munsters to scare away the peasants, thereby allowing him (or her) to run a counterfeiting ring from the basement of the estate. This leads to the only really funny line in the movie:
Herman(after finding undeniable proof of counterfeiting): Call the police! Call the FBI! Get Scotland Yard! Phone Batman! Car 54, where are you?!
Fred Gwynne, of course, played Officer Muldoon in the original Car 54 series. If you want big time funny, that's it. The rest of the jokes don't even reach the level of wit and sophistication of "Let's go see the Queen Mummy!" And here's the part that should be of interest to anyone who suffered through more than four episodes of the series: unlike the TV show, the movie has no laugh track. None. Every "joke" is followed by a well deserved silence.
B-movie buffs will automatically note the presence of John Carradine as the butler Cruikshanks; collecting a paycheck was never easier for this man as he codgers his way through the role. A very young Robert Pine (instantly recognizable to those who watched CHiPs in its heyday) plays the love interest for the "unattractive" Marilyn Munster (Debbie Watson, the third of seven actresses to play the role in its various incarnations).
"Is it really necessary for Leno
to use language like that?"
Another attraction for Munster fans and genre enthusiasts is the presence of Dragula, the racecar constructed from a golden coffin, in which Herman spends the last half-hour of the film during the Shroudshire race. A few different models and toys were made of the car, further attesting to the popularity of the Munsters. While the car is admittedly a work of prop art (check out the webbed windshield!), we're still scratching our heads at the fact that mass-production models were made of a car with 30 minutes of screen time in a film that was mildly amusing at best.
Still, if you're looking for safe, goofy humor with absolutely no teeth (besides Grampa's), Munster, Go Home! is the perfect place to look. Without even the racy "French" humor that permeated the relationship between Gomez and Morticia, The Munsters is about as innocuous as entertainment gets.