Friday, May 17, 2019

Munster, Go Home! (1966)

Yeah, I know, Munster, Go Home! isn't the usual sort of thing I discuss here.  But this film spin off of the sixties series represents my earliest recollection of The Munsters.  It must have been somewhen in the early seventies when I saw it on TV.  Interestingly, I have no memory of having seen the TV series prior to this, although it had been shown on TV here.  (I do recall seeing the rival Addams Family TV series, though).  In truth, Munster, Go Home! isn't a terribly good film - it was made after the cancellation of the TV series, primarily for overseas release in order to drive sales of the series to foreign markets by familiarising audiences with the characters.  However, while not a particularly good film, a second viewing of it (nearly fifty years after the first) has revealed that it actually isn't an especially bad film, either.  Indeed, I'm prepared to admit that I did laugh a couple of times while watching it again.

In common with many feature film adaptations of TV sitcoms, it does feel somewhat episodic, its plot moving jerkily toward a conclusion, with many scenes clearly included simply to pad it out to feature length.  Also in common with other sitcom adaptations, it chooses to take its familiar characters out of their usual milieu - in the case, an unexpected inheritance on Herman's part takes the family to England to claim both a title and a stately home.  I say 'England', but, in reality, they never leave California, with the whole film being shot on and around the Universal backlot.  As Austin Powers once observed, it is amazing how much like southern California England looks.  This, for UK viewers at least, produces some mildly hilarious results - the local town is clearly the 'Middle European' village set used in many of Universal's classic monster movies. Which is rather apt, as The Munsters, of course, were parodies of the classic monsters.  Other incongruous elements are the US telephone ring tones, the fact most of the cars are left hand drive, Robert Pines' English accent and some of the 'English' costumes, which appear to have wandered in from the nineteenth century.

The film takes an age to get to 'England' though, padding out proceedings with an Atlantic crossing on the SS United States, during which we go through various comic antics centered around the reactions of various passengers and crew to Herman's appearance.  Grandpa also succeed in accidentally turning himself into a wolf, which results in him being caged up in the ship's livestock hold and facing the prospect of six months quarantine in England.  In possibly the film's best gag, (and, interestingly, one of the few I clearly remembered from my first viewing), he is smuggled through British customs draped around Lily Munster's neck, pretending to be a fur, (and almost giving himself away by biting another passenger).  Upon arriving in England, the plot is driven by their villainous cousins' attempts to scare them off and eventually kill them, in order to protect the counterfeiting operation they are running from the ancestral home.  These culminate with a car race during which Herman drives the 'Dragula' as a rival tries to run him off of the road.  This is probably the best set-piece of the film and is well-staged (even though, as was common at the time, lots of unconvincing back projection is used for close ups).

The guest cast are quite impressive, headed up by Hermione Gingold and Terry-Thomas as two of the British cousins and John Carradine as their butler.  It has to be said, though, that while they give energetic performances, their hearts don't really seem to be in it.  Terry-Thomas, in particular, looks uncomfortable and seems out of place, the script really not allowing him to exploit his usual caddish characterisation to its full extent.  Also present are resident Brits in Hollywood Richard Dawson (Hogan's Heroes) and serial Doctor Watson impersonator Bernard Fox.  One time radio Sherlock Holmes Ben Wright also turns up as the shifty seeming local publican, (although he turns out to be a red herring).   Obviously, though, one's enjoyment of the film rests upon the performances of the regulars, all but one of whom are present, (for some reason Universal contract artist Debbie Watson replaces Pat Priest from the TV series as Marilyn Munster), in particular Fred Gwynne as Herman.  I have to say that I've always admired Gwynne's performance in the role.  While several actors have subsequently played Herman, none have succeeded in recapturing his joyous interpretation of the buffoonish but likeable man-child monster.  He brings such enormous charm from the character, both in his delivery of the (usually corny) gags and his physical performance.  His interplay with Al Lewis' Grandpa are always a highlight.  Sure, all of the leads give very broadly comedic performances, but for this kind of material, that is precisely what is required. 

In the final analysis, while Munster, Go Home! is, in reality, little more than an expanded episode of the TV series (with the added novelty of colour) and, in terms of production values, never rises above te level of a TV movie, it is still reasonably entertaining.  In fact, I confess to having been surprised at just how much I enjoyed it o re-watching it as an adult.  While films enjoyed in childhood are often revealed, upon watching again as an adult, to be quite terrible, the opposite was, for me, the case with Munster, Go Home!  It's still no masterpiece, but turned out to be an enjoyably spent ninety six minutes of late night, post pub, viewing.



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