FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*
Though THE MUNSTERS series both started and concluded inn the same seasons as did its competitor THE ADDAMS FAMILY, the former series got a slightly longer lease on life when Universal chose to give the family of Herman Munster a big-screen outing. To be sure, the Addamses got their revenge later, in that they garnered far more revivals over the years than did the inhabitants of 1313 Mockingbird Lane.
Speaking of that euphonious address, HOME could have easily have been set in America once more, the better for the producers to get a little more value out of that expensive-looking series-set. Instead, Universal decided to send its family of friendly monsters to Merrie Old England. During that same decade, England’s Hammer studio had been remaking (with Universal’s permission) a fair number of classic Universal horrors, albeit with a characteristically British spin. Maybe sending funny versions of the classic fiends to the shores of Albion could be seen as an act of revenge against the British upstarts..
Most of the actors from the series—Gwynne, DeCarlo, Lewis and Patrick-- once more donned their ghoul-getups. This time out Debbie Watson played Marilyn, the “ugly duckling” of the family, and it should be noted that her character gets considerably more to do than she did in most series-episodes. If any of the main characters was ill-served, it would be Patrick’s Eddie Munster, who only gets a handful of moderately funny lines but no real physical business. Still, overall the lion’s share of the good scenes naturally go to the other three performers, which was equally typical of the series.
The plot is simple and devised with kid-viewers in mind: out of the blue Herman inherits both an English castle and an English lordship. The whole devil’s brood packs up and leaves their house behind (including Spot, left alone under the stairway), and nothing is said about the now-wealthy Earl of Munster tendering his resignation to “the parlor.” Marilyn is a bit confused about this turn of events, having been told that her uncle, although a “man of many parts,” was put together in Germany. However, it’s explained that at some point Herman wandered onto English shores and was adopted by the Munster clan, from whom he gets his name.
Assorted hijinks transpire once the American Munsters cross the ocean, but the only significant event is that Marilyn enjoys a meet-cute with Roger, a handsome scion of Old Blighty. Not until reaching English shores does Marilyn learn that Roger’s family has old grievances against Clan Munster.
Further, even the English Munsters don’t like this American breed, not least because the British members of the clan were expecting to inherit everything—on top of which, the Brit-Munsters are conducting certain illegal activities at Munster Hall. Thus matriarch Lady Munster (Hermoine Gingold) and her two grown aristo-brats Freddy and Grace (Terry-Thomas, Jeanne Arnold) plot to either scare off or kill off their adoptive relations. Moreover, these comic connivers are aided both by a grotesque butler (John Carradine) and a mystery villain known as “the Griffin.”
Lots of silly things happen during the visit of Herman and company, not least their discovery that locals consider all Munsters to be “rotters.” (So, the continuity-buff asks, how did Herman, if he was raised by reprobates, turn out to be such a goody two-shoes?) However, all the in-between business, including Marilyn’s fights with her prospective boyfriend, comes down to nothing but marking time until the big finish. The comic climax is certainly more spectacular than anything the series ever attempted, as Herman engages in a cross-country drag-race against assorted opponents, including Roger. The Griffin takes this opportunity to try offing Herman, and both the stunts and the attendant musical score prove top-notch for this level of entertainment. On a side-note, both Lily and Grandpa are more active this time out, feverishly trying to come to doltish Herman’s rescue. (DeCarlo even gets to exercise her skills in horse-riding, presumably honed during her B-western days.)
In the end the script returns the Munsters to their old status quo, and it’s back to Mockingbird Lane.. Presumably the producers did so with the idea of keeping the concept going for at least one more feature-film, as had occurred with two earlier teleseries, “the Lone Ranger” and “McHale’s Navy.” But when these Munsters went home, they wouldn’t again emerge from their crypt until the 1981 telefilm THE MUNSTERS’ REVENGE.