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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Best of Mister Ed: Volume 1 (1961-1963)

A horse is a horse,
Of course, of course.
And no one can talk to a horse of course,
That is of course,
Unless the horse,
Is the famous Mister Ed

- (from the theme song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: April 01, 2004

Stars: Alan Young, Connie Hines, Larry Keating, Edna Skinner, Allan "Rocky" Lane (as the voice of Mister Ed)
Other Stars: Clint Eastwood, George Burns, Jack Albertson, Richard Deacon, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Neil Hamilton, Jack LaLanne, Donna Douglas
Director: Various

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 09h:04m:00s
Release Date: January 13, 2004
UPC: 027616898012
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+B+B D-

DVD Review

A "Jeanie" in a bottle. Hillbillies packing it up and moving to the swanky surroundings of Beverly Hills. The crew of a tiny ship filled with 5 passengers gets stranded on an uncharted island (but have the smarts to pack enough clothes for 98 episodes). Yes, the early 1960s was the age of absurdity for a large majority of television comedies, and one of the most unlikely hits to emerge from that era centered on a talking horse who could only be bothered to speak up to one individual on a regular basis, because he found the rest of the world boring. Oh, he'd chat up a kid or two just for kicks every so often ("Who's going to believe them anyway"?)

Taking a "hey, it worked for Universal Pictures and Francis the Talking Mule" attitude, executive producer Al Simon and producer/director Arthur Lubin (helmer of the first five Francis movies) bestowed the airwaves with Mister Ed via syndication in the fall of 1961. Response was such that CBS took notice and welcomed him to their big pond with a prime time berth on Sunday evenings in the fall of 1962. Although it never achieved Dick Van Dyke- or Andy Griffith-sized ratings, a loyal contingent of Ed-heads helped keep the lovable horse galloping through five time-slot changes in succeeding seasons. MGM's The Best of Mister Ed, Volume One collects many of the show's high points from the first half of its run; 21 episodes in all.

More often than not, many series dating from the era of Mister Ed haven't aged very well (caught any My Three Sons or Father Knows Best cable marathons lately?). What makes Mister Ed still work in these days and times is the sheer outrageousness of its story lines. When a horse writes songs, hangs ten on the surf holding his own with the best of the cowabunga crowd, paints with a skill that rivals Pollock, charms the pants off Zsa Zsa Gabor (wary of all horsies except "Mister Eddie") and possesses baseball savvy good enough to help the Leo Durocher-era Los Angeles Dodgers win the National League pennant, one can't help but look.

No wonder legendary comedian Jack Benny called it his favorite television show.

But the show would have quickly lapsed into one trick pony status had it not been for the excellent cast that surrounded this super stallion. Early television veteran Alan Young (recipient of one of the industry's first Emmy awards) couldn't have been a better fit for Wilbur Post, the owner saddled (tsk, tsk) with the amazing animal who confides in him, and vice versa. Perfectly mirroring a parent-child relationship with nary a dull moment, most of the show's high points surfaced via jams that surrogate papa "Willlllburrrr" has to untangle. Whether it be lip synching Ed's vocals during a barn side recording session, whisking wife Carol for a post vacation encore to hide Ed's Hawaiian makeover to his barn, or getting fired from a dream job after his boss witnesses Post on all fours learning how to wag his tail properly (for an eventual book on the life of a horse)—there was no storyline shortage to be found.

Two other factors came into play as well. Not only Young's ability to talk to the horse in such a manner that it made believers out of its audience, but the voice of Mister Ed himself, Allan "Rocky" Lane. An old time movie cowboy star (from the glory days of B-grade westerns at Republic Pictures) blessed with a set of vocal cords somewhere between John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, it's hard to imagine anyone else bringing the character to life (although at the time of this writing, sitcom vet Sherman Hemsley is attempting to do so via a modern day remake of Ed for a fall 2004 pilot for Fox; good luck, Mr. Jefferson).

Although the novelty of the show sometimes overshadows their contributions, the terrific supporting crew gets their share of laughs, too. Connie Hines overcomes the typical drawbacks of sitcom wives from the era with sexy, perky charm as the long-suffering but ever loyal Carol, while Larry Keaton and Edna Skinner are comic perfection as the requisite nextdoor neighbors, Roger and Kay Addison. Skinner brings a sophisticated wit à la Eve Arden to her part, while Keating is the show's unsung hero. Nothing short of brilliant with his deadpan looks and dry responses to all the goings on, Keating was a mixture of David Niven by way of William Powell. Sadly, cancer took the actor's life prior to Season 4, depriving television of one of its most underrated performers (and as a testament to this, the role was not re-cast).

If there's anything negative to be found in the set, one might say it's due to the "best of" concept. In this day and age of highly craved season boxed sets, "compilation" is a dirty word among completists, I know. But to be honest and fair, as good and entertaining as Mister Ed was (and still is), not every episode is a gem. For every classic—Ed the Beachcomber, The Horsetronaut, Wilbur Post: Honorary Horse—there's at least two to three episodes that pale in comparison. In other words, The Best of Mister Ed: Volume One is all killer, no filler. From the unforgettable first time meeting between man and (talking) horse in the debut episode (remember "how now brown cow"?) to guest star visits from George Burns (who financed the show's original pilot), Zsa Zsa Gabor, and, yes, even Clint Eastwood (who had that classic sneer down way back then).

But wait, there is one extremely glaring omission. Where the heck is the classic Leo Durocher Meets Mister Ed episode? In my three-plus decades of television viewership, few moments rival the surreal, sheer unadulterated hilarity of watching a horse round the bases of Dodger Stadium as a beyond excited Alan Young urges his animal friend to "Slide, Ed, slide!" One unforgettable cutaway shot later, and I'm on the floor.

MGM, you MUST bring on Volume Two.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Other than a stray speck here and there, Mister Ed looks surprisingly good for a program over 40 years old. With good contrast and more than adequate sharpness, the presentation rivals the high quality of the Nickelodeon repeats I caught in the late '80s.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Basic, but smoothly crisp 2.0 mono. I'm sure Ed might be a little miffed at the lack of a 5.1 remix, but the rest of you will have no reason to whinny.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
2 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Although the total lack of extras should be forgivable since MGM is just now getting their feet wet as far as vintage television offerings, they should have tried to gather Young, Hines, and other surviving cast and crew members for at least a featurette. Did you know that legendary Universal Pictures make-up man Jack Pierce (from the days of Frankenstein) served in the same capacity for America's favorite horse? This and a ton more trivial goodies could have been explored.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

Although Ed-heads would have no doubt welcomed full season collections, The Best of Mister Ed: Volume One should more than compensate as it gathers many of the series' most memorable early episodes. Despite the absence of supplemental material, visual and audio quality more than make up for it.

 


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