Sunday, March 08, 2015

The Munsters: "Munster Masquerade" (September 24, 1964)

Marilyn’s (Beverley Owen) new boyfriend, Tom Daley (Linden Chiles) invites the Munsters to a masquerade party on Halloween night.

Marilyn, who is serious about Tom -- and knows that the Munsters “are very old-fashioned” -- insists this would be the perfect opportunity for the families to meet.

Accordingly, Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), Grandpa (Al Lewis) and Herman (Fred Gwynne) dress up in costume and attend the fancy party, while little Eddie (Butch Patrick) stays home with a new babysitter, Mrs. Morton (Lurene Tuttle).

Unfortunately, the Munsters and the Daleys prove very different in terms of family traditions and manners…

“Munster Masquerade,” the first episode of CBS’s The Munsters (1964 – 1966), takes the Munster family to high society, and in Halloween costumes, to boot. 

This comic set-up provides the episode’s amusing pay-off: Herman Munster -- a Frankenstein Monster -- is presumed to be in costume under his costume, though is actually wearing his real (stitched-together) face.

Significantly, “Munster Masquerade” is dominated by dialogue that stresses the importance of family in regard to these American “Monsters” who live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Marilyn calls her adopted parents “old fashioned,” for example, and Herman says that “we Munsters are a very old family.”  

So, even though this family is different from the American suburban norm, we can see from this inaugural episode that it prides itself on its traditions and beliefs, as well as its modern life in 1960s America. The Munsters have a history, and our proud of that history. So they are more like the rest of us than would seem apparent based solely on appearances.

The episode also explores the old idea that when your child marries, you are also marrying another family.  

In this case, Marilyn’s interest in Tom necessitates that the Munsters get to know the Daleys, a family of snobbish elitists.  The Daleys think the Munsters are beneath them, and this, finally, is what ruins the day (and Marilyn's relationship).  

Importantly, the deal-breaker isn’t the fact that the Munsters are monsters; it’s that to the Daleys, Marilyn’s family is below their station, or class.

In a weird way, The Munsters really is a one joke kind of show. The Munsters think they are completely normal and average; while the rest of the world thinks they are hideous and terrifying.  

The Munsters, in good faith, attempt to cross this gulf of understanding, but find themselves rejected or rebuffed by society at large. However, the Munsters always have each other, and the strong bonds of family, and so each episode is about that bond being strengthened, even in the face of what might be termed prejudice or discrimination. 

Uniquely, the Munsters never blame society for their problems in assimilation. They just assume they've run into another cuckoo bird, and try again the next time.  In this, there is something inherently optimistic about them.

But the series' central gag -- which repeats (and which can be genuinely funny) -- involves the Munsters citing bromides about family or modes of behavior, but putting a “monster” spin on them.  

For instance, Eddie -- the werewolf -- is told by Lily to “wash behind” his "points;" meaning his pointed ears. That's a variation, of course, on every mom's ubiquitous advice to wash behind the ears.

And Herman notes that he is “every inch a gentleman…in fact, several gentleman,” making note of his origin as a cobbled-together corpse in a laboratory.

In some way, The Munsters is a reiteration -- in every single episode -- of this idea, of the Munsters interpreting life through their unusual lens. But they do so in a fashion that viewers can nonetheless recognize or understand. 

The series thus takes cliches involving family and then spins them in a new and humorous way involving vampires, werewolves, or other monsters.  

To some, the repeating of this same joke may be tiresome, but just one episode in, the joke is good for a laugh, or more correctly, several laughs.

I also admired here the extreme detail that goes into the set decor of the Munster mansion.  The house is filled with cob-webs, dusty books have tilted from their shelves, and every dark, dank corner is filled with some creepy, messy touch. This is the hearth of the Munsters, and it looks great in stark black-and-white.

No comments:

Post a Comment