A sitcom about a talking horse should be one of those “what were they thinking” moments in television. It’s easy to imagine it canceled after 3 episodes when the network’s programming executive gets confined to a sanitarium. However Mister Ed wasn’t just the normal tale of a talking animal. For starters, the series lasted six seasons. What’s more extraordinary is that the series was originally offered in syndication. The show’s quick success made CBS swoop in and pick it up for the second season. This was a very rare feat. Most of the time a show finds the reverse true when it attempts syndication after network cancellation. There was something special about Mister Ed and most of it involves the famous Mister Ed. Rarely has a talking animal been so beloved. Mister Ed: The Complete Series is a triumph of an usual premise that feels normal.
The premise is simple enough. Wilbur Post (Alan Young) and his wife Carol (Connie Hines) buy a charming house after they get married. The previous owner left a few things behind including a horse named Mister Ed in the stable. Wilbur plans on using the stable as his home office. He can’t have a horse in the space. How can he focus on work when the entire place really smells like a stable? But Mister Ed wasn’t just going to use his huge horse eyes to plea for his home. He just outright tells Wilbur that he won’t be moving. Thus the beautiful relationship blossoms. The best part of the show is that it doesn’t even try to explain why Mister Ed can talk. There’s no scientific principle or magical spell. The horse just likes to gab.
The horse deserves a lot of credit for his performance. Bamboo Harvester has better comedy chops than Charlie Sheen. On top of it, the producers cast his voice with Allan “Rocky” Lane. The veteran of numerous B Westerns including star of Red Ryder, Lane had the right tenor for the gig. But he insisted his name end stay off the credits. Which gave a great mystique to Mister Ed. Maybe the horse was talking to Wilbur? Mister Ed doesn’t blab to everyone that walks by the barn door. He won’t talk with Carol which makes Wilbur a bit sneaky. Things get complicated quickly when neighbor Roger Addison (Larry Keating) witnesses Wilbur and Ed chatting away. Wilbur has to come up with a major excuse for what Roger saw. He can’t let the secret out so soon. Luckily the show doesn’t turn into Bewitched with the nosy neighbor trying to prove there’s something peculiar about Mister Ed. Ed does like to call people on the phone so he isn’t merely a figment of Wilbur’s imagination. Others have heard the voice. They’re just clueless that it’s a horse on the other end of the line.
The second season has a bit more star power in the episodes with the new home at CBS. “Zsa Zsa” really does feature Zsa Zsa Gabor. She needs Ed’s help to overcome her fear of horses so she can work on a Western. Oddly enough, her sister Eva would eventually talk to a pig on Green Acres. “George Burns Meets Mister Ed” is a wild trip into showbiz for the horse. Burns thinks they can have a major routine together. The biggest blast of star power is “Clint Eastwood Meets Mister Ed.” Turns out Clint is Wilbur’s neighbor and Mister Ed has a thing for Clint’s filly. The future icon was still a cast member on CBS’s Rawhide when he met up with Ed. This episode helped establish Clint as bigger than a cast member of the long running Western. Shame that Clint didn’t take Ed with him to make The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. They would have been great in a Spaghetti Western.
“TV or Not TV” has an amazing ending. Ed wins a color TV set, but Wilbur must collect it. This leads to Ed being upset that he can’t enjoy his prize. He’s sick of the black and white TV in the stable. Things get nasty until Ed realizes an important biological fact about himself. No need to spoil the punchline, but it’s a brilliant twist. These rich little moments is what makes the show so good that you forget that the main character is a horse.
The sixth season turned out to be the end of the road for the series. The 13 episodes don’t hint that things were wrapping up. Thankfully there’s no farewell episode since that might involve Mister Ed being shipped off to the Glue Factory. No fan wants to see that ending. It’s hard to say what brought down the final bale of hay. The series still had a healthy viewership. The mid-season axing seemed to be the first execution in the network’s rural purge. What also didn’t help Mister Ed‘s survival was CBS finally going all color on their shows. The black and white film added to the atmosphere in the stable. Perhaps the network pinhead felt color would expose the secret of how Mister Ed talked? The fact that the series lasted 143 episodes is as astonishing as the premise. Mister Ed remains a joyful absurdist sitcom from inside a stable.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers are fine. You really can’t see the tricks used to make Mister Ed move his mouth. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. Ed’s voice has the right tone to sound like a horse with a history.
Audio Commentary on “The First Meeting” with Alan Young and Connie Hines. They have quite a few tales from the show.
A Horse Tale (32:02) has Alan Young and Connie Hines give us more tales from the stable. Young points out Mister Ed was based on a book that was written years before the Francis the Talking Mule films. The horse and the mule did share a director in Arthur Lubin. The networks initially passed on the show, but the production company decided to offer it as a syndicated series. The indie success prompted CBS to lure Mister Ed into their barn.
Studebaker Commercial (0:35) has Wilbur and Mr. Ed discussing the latest model.
Audio Interview With Alan Young From Shokus Internet Radios is nearly two hours long. The audio plays with the video of a few episodes playing in the background. Did you know Alan plays the bagpipes?
Audio Interview (92:00) with Alan Young and Connie Hines from Shokus Internet Radio’s Stu’s Show. The focus of the talk is about Hines’ career including her involvement in the quiz show scandals. Hines recently passed away so it’s valuable to hear her story.
Studebaker Car Commercials (5:18) feature Mr. Ed and the cast pushing the latest cars. Thrill to the size of a compact car in the early ‘60s. The video quality varies from good to extreme wavy.
Mister Ed U.S. Bonds Promo let the horse remind folks where to save their money. Bonds are just good horse sense.
Mister Ed: The Complete Series brings together all the weirdness from the stable. Why does Mister Ed talk? Who knows. But what he says is pure horse sense and nonsense.
Shout! Factory presents Mister Ed: The Complete Series. Starring: Alan Young, Connie Hines, Allan Lane and Bamboo Harvester. Boxset Contents: 143 episodes on 22 DVDs. Rated: Unrated. Released: December 9, 2014.
Tags: Clint Eastwood, Mister Ed