Marineland Carnival With the ‘Munsters’ TV Show Cast Members & More Lost Treasures

DVD REVIEW:

MPI;
Comedy;
$19.98 DVD;
Not rated.
Stars Fred Gwynne, Yvonne DeCarlo, Al Lewis, Butch Patrick, Pat Priest, The New Christy Minstrels, Sid Gould.

Growing up Jewish didn’t leave much in the way of Easter memories, but it’s impossible to forget where I was on April 18, 1965. It was on that sacrosanct Sunday that The Magnificent Amersons of Munsterdom made its one-shot television debut. The CBS special was long thought lost, and it would be decades before Marineland Carnival: The Munsters Visit Marineland (with special guests the New Christy Minstrels) was resurrected. Located at the tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County, Marineland opened its doors in 1954. About 33 years later, SeaWorld purchased the popular aquatic attraction and moved the tanks and their contents south. Whatever connection the producers drew between a theme park, green-skinned monsters, and a Rinso white band of minstrels is anybody’s guess. From a historical perspective, the 60-minute spectacular is best viewed as a Paleozoic infomercial.

The show’s one-joke premise couldn’t be simpler: Herman (Fred Gwynne), Lily (Yvonne DeCarlo), Eddie (Butch Patrick), and the alternate Marilyn (Pat Priest) drove from Mockingbird Heights to Marineland of the Pacific to buy Eddie an exotic pet fish. Grandpa had it on good authority that Marienland was a fish store with giant tanks stocked with aquatic pets. The 376-year-old Jewish Dracula hated cute fish. Given his druthers, Grandpa would rather have taken Eddie on a bloody Taiji dolphin drive hunt similar to the one seen in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove.

Despite fears that plug ugly niece Marilyn will terrify the sharks, she accompanied Eddie poolside to watch the New Christy Minstrels folk things up while Uncle Herman, Aunt Lily and Grandpa scoured the grounds for pets. Why does so much of the show take place in the parking lot? Marineland was delighted to host the Carnival so long as it didn’t get in the way of business. The doors remained open to the public during the taping. The steady barrage of carnival sideshow acts are about as welcome as a romantic subplot in a Marx Bros. movie. A daredevil in Grandpa’s clothing is assigned the task of scaling a flexible pole to which he’s to hook the official flag of Marineland. For what seems to be an eternity, the Grandpa double swayed back-and-forth, a feat that no doubt thrilled an audience of spectators, but lost luster when translated to the small screen.

Any resemblance to the weekly sitcom was purely coincidental. The only thing the family appeared to have packed for the trip were their makeup artists. Joe Connely and Bob Mosher, the creative forces behind both “The Munsters” and “Leave it To Beaver,” were nowhere to be found. “The Bell Telephone Hour” scribes Charles Andrews and Bill Gammie shared writing duties. (One assumes the seal, walrus and dolphin acts wrote themselves.) Director Bob Lehman came from a background in musical spectaculars (Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians) as well as game shows (“Truth or Consequences”), neither of which prepared him for America’s First Family of Fright. The show climaxes with Herman (Gwynne, not a double) thrilling the crowd by dangling a fish for the giant killer whale to leap from the pool and swipe from his stitched green mit.

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They had me at “This product is not authorized by Universal City Studios, LLC,” but that was before realizing that the special features outclassed the feature presentation. Two fragments from “The Danny Kaye Show” usher in the supplementary features. A black-and-white snippet date-stamped Feb. 3, 1966, opens with Herman’s walk-on followed by a brief interview that ends with the promise of a sketch. Alas, the costume piece featuring Herman in the role of a human being didn’t make the final cut. Perhaps the folks at MPI wanted to limit the special features to Gywnne’s performances in green-face. According to IMDb, there was a show on Feb. 2, 1966, but there’s no mention of Gwynne’s name.

The following segment dated April 13, 1966, alone is worth the purchase. Forget about the quality of the skit — Kaye and Gwynne are joined by Edie Adams for a spoof on “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” titled “The Munster-Dracula Report.” This is one of only four times that I can recall seeing a Munster in full color. A pilot episode starring Gwynne as Herman and Joan Marshall as Mrs. Munster was filmed in 1964, followed by a 16-minute color demo reel that Universal presented CBS with. (Both are included on “The Munsters” season one DVD.) Neither Universal nor CBS would cough up the extra $10,000 per episode needed for color, so the show was subsequently filmed in black-and-white. The two-inch quad master of Marineland Carnival they found lounging in Grandpa’s lab was in pristine shape. But when it comes to oversaturation, nothing could rival the vibrant Technicolor hues found in their one-shot theatrical release, Munster, Go Home.

A skit from “’The Red Skelton Hour” featuring the two Freddys, Gwynne and The Freeloader, is the longest 23 minutes you’ll spend watching television all year. As a kid, Skelton’s desire to break character by constantly laughing at his own blubbering ad libs sickened me. His schtick has not aged well. When it came time for Herman Munster to plug his wares on another CBS show, Skelton, and Danny Kaye for that matter, didn’t appreciate the subtle brilliance of Gwynne’s characterization, choosing instead to treat him like a jolly green jejune goon off which to bounce lame monster jokes.

Next up, a surprisingly insightful May 30, 1968, appearance by Yvonne DeCarlo on “The Joey Bishop Show.” Her wig, a leaning tower Broadloom Bouffant by Monsanto, defied gravity and left one questioning how she ever managed to fit her head through a door frame. The actress hated the makeup — she wondered aloud how much more intense the lighting would have been had the show been shot in color — and was happy to call it quits after two seasons. The anecdotes fly fast and free. She happened upon a taping of “The Jack Benny Show” with special guest star Milton Berle. Uncle Miltie took one look at her green pallor and cobweb accoutrement and quipped, “Hello, Yvonne. Are you working today?” A Q&A with the mini-skirted DeCarlo fielding questions from the audience yields more discussion about the rigors of the makeup chair.

There’s an exclusive-to-DVD talking-head segment featuring Butch Patrick reminiscing about his role as Eddie Munster and what it was like growing up on the Universal backlot. We close with a cluster of original commercials capped by promotional tie-in for Cheerios. If I sound disappointed, you have my heartfelt apologies. Part of me is a bit crestfallen knowing that these might be the last bits of vintage Munsterabilia to be had. Truth be told, within a day of it arriving in the mail and I already watched the disc and its stellar supplementary features three times. If you’re a Munsters junkie, treat yourself to a hit of heroin.

Russian ‘Chernobyl 1986’ Documentary Gets Digital Release Dates

Capelight Pictures and MPI Media Group have announced the Sept. 24 digital release of Chernobyl 1986, a Russian-language disaster film directed by and starring Danila Kozlovsky.

The film begins with the explosion of nuclear power plant number 4, putting the USSR and all of Europe at risk of a possible steam explosion that would eject radioactive materials into the atmosphere. Firefighter Alexey volunteers for what seems like a suicide mission: to manually drain the plant’s reservoir before the melting reactor collapses it.  With the fate of all Europe in their hands, this group of ordinary citizens turned heroes must use their strength to save their nation from devastation.

Starring Kozlovsky as Alexey, Oksana Akinshina, Flipp Avdeyev, and Ravshana Kurkova, Chernobyl 1986 was originally released in Russia in April 2021 and has since grossed over $5.4 million in the international box office.

‘Scenes From an Empty Church’ To Debut on DVD Aug. 10

MPI Media Group has set an Aug. 10 DVD release date for Scenes from an Empty Church. The film will carry a suggested retail price of $24.98.

Scenes from an Empty Church was released theatrically and through digital retailers on July 2, one week after its world premiere on opening night of the Chattanooga Film Festival.

In a locked-down New York City, two priests open their church doors to those seeking salvation during the pandemic. From the commonplace to the truly metaphysical, their visitors reflect the full spectrum of personal crises of spirituality. Throughout their encounters with the city’s sweetest, wildest and weirdest, the two priests learn the importance of connection, empathy and open-mindedness.

From writer-director Onur Tukel (Catfight), Scenes from an Empty Church features performances Kevin Corrigan (The Departed, TV’s “Ray Donovan”), Max Casella (ApplesauceInside Llewyn Davis), and Thomas Jay Ryan (EqualsFay Grim).

Vintage Charles Bronson TV Crime Series ‘Man With a Camera’ Headed to DVD, Digital

MPI Media Group has set a May 12 release date for Charles Bronson’s “Man with a Camera: The Complete Series” on digital and DVD platforms.

The crime drama ran for two seasons on ABC, from 1958 through 1960, and predated Bronson’s rise to film stardom in the 1970s with a succession of box office hits, most notably Death Wish and its sequels.

Directed by Gerald Mayer (known for “Mission Impossible,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and “Mannix”), “Man with a Camera” tells the story of Mike Kovac (Bronson), a former World War II combat photographer now freelancing in New York City, who specialized in getting the photographs that other lensmen couldn’t.

His assignments came from newspapers, insurance agencies, and the police and private individuals — and his cases always led to danger and typically involved a good-looking damsel in distress.

Kovac’s police liaison was Lieutenant Donovan, played by James Flavin, who looked to the freelance cameraman for help with the cases the cops couldn’t handle. Kovac employed the latest photographic technology to solve a case, including a Minox III mini-camera fastened to his belt; fisheye and telephoto lenses; and various other cutting-edge technologies. He even converted the trunk of his car into a portable darkroom where he could develop his negatives on the spot. Character actor Ludwig Stossel starred as Kovac’s immigrant father Anton, to whom Kovac frequently came for advice.

Spacewalker

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

MPI;
Drama;
$14.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Yevgeny Mironov, Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Ilyin, Alexandra Ursulyak, Yelena Panova, Anatoly Kotenyov.

The Russian film Spacewalker takes a look at the Soviet side of the space race by focusing on the 1965 mission in which Alexei Leonov became the first person to perform an EVA.

The story plays a bit like a cross between The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, providing a harrowing story of spaceflight most Americans will be wholly unfamiliar with beyond the milestones achieved, if that.

By the mid 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a race to put the first man on the moon, a target America had boldly set after being beaten by the Soviets to a number of spaceflight milestones, such as the Sputnik, the first object to reach orbit, in 1957, and the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin in 1961.

There were a couple of key differences between the American and Soviet space programs. First, the U.S. was more transparent with the progress and goals of its space program, while the Russians conducted theirs behind a veil of secrecy. So, while the American NASA would publicly announce timetables for its mission goals, the Soviet space agency wouldn’t announce anything until it had already done it, and even then it had a tendency to lie about how successful it was.

That’s due largely to the second key difference between the programs — the Soviets were a bit more lax in their safety standards, which could result in cutting corners on the engineering of their spacecraft, since a lot of their motivation was simply to show up the West. (America would learn the lesson of trying to rush through goals with the Apollo 1 fire in 1967.)

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Spacewalker begins in 1963, with the chief Soviet designer, Sergei Korolev (Vladimir Ilyin) learning details of America’s Gemini program — in particular plans to conduct an extravehicular activity in 1965. So, Korolev advances his own timetable by two years in an effort to beat the Americans.

The crew chosen for the mission are Pavel Belyayev (Konstantin Khabensky) and hotshot pilot Leonov (Yevgeny Mironov, also one of the film’s producers). However, moving up the timeline puts a lot of pressure on the crew’s training, not to mention the engineering team to get the spacecraft right. Korolev too is under tremendous political pressure simply to beat the Americans, a fact that weighs on his conscience as he seems to be the only one concerned with the safety of the cosmonauts. When he attempts to delay the mission for a year after a disastrous test flight, Leonov and Belyayev proudly volunteer anyway.

The launch of the Voskhod 2 mission in March 1965 (two-and-a-half months prior to Gemini IV, the first American spacewalk), seems to go off without a hitch, and offers one of the films highlights. However, the mission quickly becomes plagued by mishaps due to defects in the Voskhod capsule and Leonov’s spacesuit. While he completes the spacewalk, providing the few seconds of footage they proudly released to the world to demonstrate their space prowess, most of what happened next they kept hidden for the most part. Namely, that hardware malfunctions pushed the craft off course during re-entry and left the crew to fend for survival in an icy Russian forest trying not to freeze to death before a rescue team could locate them.

The fall of the Iron Curtain in the 1990s revealed that such miscues weren’t uncommon with the Russians, (most notably the later Soyuz 1 and 11 flights that resulted in the deaths of their crews). But even the aftermath of supposedly successful flights such as Leonov’s demonstrate the immense risks inherent in spaceflight that many people wouldn’t even consider.

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The film looks great in high-definition and should be highly entertaining to space enthusiasts. It might be a harder sell to those without at least a passing familiarity with the space race, though it does present some valuable history and I hope it leads to more depictions of the Soviet side of spaceflight (contrasting with American depictions such as First Man and From the Earth to the Moon).

Being a Russian production, the film was shot in Russian and can be viewed in its native language with English subtitles. However, the default setting on the Blu-ray is to play an English dub, which is slightly awkward at first but becomes less distracting as the movie plays on. The film was known by several names as it toured the festival circuit beginning in 2017, from The Age of Pioneers to The Spacewalk, before being dubbed Spacewalker for its American release.

The Blu-ray includes two rather substantial bonus featurettes: the 26-minute “The First Walk in Space,” centered on an interview with the real Leonov (who died in 2019), and “The Story Behind Spacewalker,” a 25-minute look at the making of the film, including a detailed look at the creation of the impressive visual effects. Both are in Russian with English subtitles.

Woody Allen’s ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ Due on Digital and Disc Nov. 10

Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York will come out on VOD, digital, DVD and Blu-ray Nov. 10 from MPI Media Group and Signature Entertainment.

The film stars Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Diego Luna and Liev Schreiber.

The film tells the story of college sweethearts, Gatsby (Chalamet) and Ashleigh (Fanning), whose plans for a romantic weekend together in New York City are dashed as quickly as the sunlight turns into showers. The two are soon parted, and each has a series of chance meetings and comical adventures while on their own. Over the course of a day in New York, Ashleigh discovers she might not be who she thought she was and Gatsby learns that while you only live once, once is enough if you find the right person.

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Holiday Show Featuring Perry Como Headed to DVD

MPI Media Group on Dec. 11 will release on DVD only Perry Como’s Olde English Christmas, the celebrated crooner’s 1977 holiday special, filmed that year in England.

The show, set in a historic, festively decorated castle, finds British singing star Petula Clark joining Como along with recording artist Leo Sayer, Olympic figure skater John Curry and Irish actress Gemma Craven.

Musical highlights include traditional favorites such as “Silent Night,” “Joy To The World,” “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Ave Maria,” “The Holly & The Ivy,” “Toyland” and “Greensleeves.”

Como also shares duets with Clark (“Where Is Love,” “There’s A Kind of Hush”) and Sayer (“When I Need You”) plus a reprise of his novelty classic “Hot Diggity” and more seasonal sounds.

Additional bonus footage from his television appearances spanning the 1950s through the 1980s include Como’s hit standard There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays, The Christmas Song, Bless This House and more Christmas carols.

The DVD has a running time of 75 minutes and carries a suggested retail price (SRP) of $14.98.

Pat Boone Christmas and Thanksgiving Specials Coming to DVD Nov. 6 From MPI

Pat Boone and Family: Christmas & Thanksgiving Specials will come out on DVD Nov. 6 from MPI Media Group.

Top-selling crooner Boone and his four singing daughters — Debby, Cherry, Lindy and Laurie — as well as his wife Shirley appear in these music and comedy specials that first aired on ABC in 1978 and 1979. The Christmas show includes classic holiday songs, appearances by the Hudson Brothers, Dinah Shore, Rosemary Clooney, and stars from “Three’s Company,” “Happy Days” and “The Love Boat.” The Thanksgiving special features Bob Hope and the Hudson Brothers. Songs performed by the Boones include “Can’t Smile Without You,” “You Needed Me” and “Bless This House.”

Bonus material includes “The Pat Boone Family — Christmas in Bethlehem,” Christmas carols and a Boone family photo album.