‘Mister Ed: The Complete Series’ DVD Review: Anything But Neigh

Mister Ed

Naysayers — or is that neighsayers — will tell you that ’60s TV sitcoms such as Mister Ed were mind-numbingly corny. I’d retort that they were classics of innocent entertainment.

And that’s why I’m heartened that Shout! Factory is finishing what it started by releasing the entire series of Mister Ed in a box set, due Tuesday.

That includes the previously unissued Season 6 (truncated at 13 episodes as ratings slipped away), and complete versions of eight episodes which were shortened due to poor source material when Season 1 was first issued. (In later rerun syndication, ’60s series often went from 25 to 22 minutes to make room for more ads.)

So here they all are — all 143 episodes in glorious black-and-white featuring hapless architect Wilbur Post (Alan Young), wife Carol (Connie Hines) and Wilbur’s secret conversationalist pal, Mister Ed (in the credits, “Himself,” though he was superbly voiced by Allan Lane).

The comic complications arose from Ed only revealing his humanlike intelligence and voice to Wilbur. To everyone else, he was just a horse — of course, of course. And Wilbur seemed weird spending so much time in his barn/office behind the house. In fact, it’s a wonder he never was sent to an asylum.

Airing first-run from January of 1961 to February of 1966, Mister Ed began as a non-network or syndicated show and, after its first season, became the first such series to be pickup up by a network (CBS), which became its home until the end.

The talking-horse concept wasn’t new, given such films as the Francis the Talking Mule series. But Mister Ed gave the gimmick warm new life, thanks to Young’s game performances opposite the horse, Lane’s wry yet warm readings and scripts which made Ed the most savvy and hip character on the screen.

Here’s a taste of Ed’s teasing humor that befits the season: “I love Christmas. Wilbur is so full of the spirit of giving, and I’m so full of the spirit of receiving.”

Heck, given Hines’ thankless role as Wilbur’s put-upon straight-woman wife (she did her best with what she had), Wilbur and Ed had the strongest love on the show. In fact, even amid all the zanny shenanigans and Young’s agreeable hamminess, they were downright sweet.

Many guest stars popped up over the years, from Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mae West to Clint Eastwood and Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. As in I Love Lucy and other series, a neighboring couple also added interplay, starting with the wonderfully sardonic Larry Keating and Edna Skinner, until Keating’s death brought Leon Ames and Florence MacMichael for Seasons 4-5. (The final season was neighbor-regulars free.)

The Palomino horse was named Bamboo Harvester, and he died at age 20 in 1970. He was reportedly one of the best behaved and most reliable performers on the set. (To make his mouth move and appear to issue words, some nylon in his mouth got the job done at first, but reportedly the horse later learned to move his lips via a cue from his trainer.)

You’ll learn more tidbits among the extras scattered across the set, including recent interviews with Young and Hines.

For me, I’m happy enough just savoring all these episodes, which have a comforting familiarity regardless of the season. And chief among their constants is Mister Ed’s famed theme song at the start and finish of each show. That makes 286 performances of the song — but not too many.

Let’s hope Shout gets around to issuing Season 6 separately for those who have purchased the first five seasons individually. Until then, saddle up for the finish of one of America’s most beloved classic sitcoms.

— Bruce Westbrook

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