When The Munsters debuted on CBS in the fall of 1964, a cult show was born. While the idea of Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne), a dead-ringer for the Frankenstein monster, who was married to vampire Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), had a werewolf son (Butch Patrick) and lived with his vampire father-in-law (Al Lewis) and his “normal” niece, Marilyn (Pat Priest), while co-existing with humans seemed like a farfetched premise, it worked. The Munsters stayed on the air for two seasons and has remained in syndication for over 50 years.
The theatrical feature Munster, Go Home! (1966) has Herman named Lord Munster at the death of his British uncle, Lord Cavanaugh, the Fourth Earl of Shroudshire, and inheriting Munster Hall. The family sails to England to claim the manor, where they encounter jealous relatives (Hermione Gingold, Terry-Thomas and Jeanne Arnold) who are running a counterfeit ring from the hall. Also in the cast are future C.H.I.P.S. star Robert Pine, future Family Feud host Richard Dawson, as well as veteran character actor John Carradine (who had appeared on The Munsters series) and the British actor Bernard Fox, who was a mainstay on American television in the 1960s, most notably as Dr. Bombay on Bewitched.
Originally, a film based on The Munsters had been conceived as a made-for-television project. When The Munsters went over budget, Universal (who produced the show) needed to recoup the loss. The studio had already done very well with adapting their McHale’s Navy television show for the big screen, and they noted that another series, the animated The Flintstones, had also been a theatrical success. Entertainment trade paper Variety announced in January 1966 that Munster, Go Home! would now be a theatrical film, with no change in the $500,000 budget. And, while the film would run as a double-feature with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), it would not be shot in widescreen. It would, however, be shot in Technicolor, a decision that had been made in the middle of the series’ second season, despite The Munsters having been shot in black-and-white. A theatrical release also benefited Universal because it would capitalize on the show’s fan base domestically and act as an introduction to Americans who had not seen the series during the first run, but who might seek it out when it went into syndication, and to international audiences who would soon have the show distributed in their country for the first time.
Despite being set in England, Munster, Go Home! was entirely shot on the Universal lot from March 22 to April 21, 1966. It began only one week after production on the series wrapped in order to give the cast and crew a short break. The script was written by producers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher with George Tibbles (based on Tibbles’ original story). To direct, Universal first tapped former child actor Gene Reynolds, who had directed Leave It to Beaver, Hogan’s Heroes and other shows, as well as episodes of the second season of The Munsters. Munster, Go Home! was to be Reynolds’ first theatrical film, but he was soon replaced with Earl Bellamy, who had also shot the series. The Hollywood Reporter claimed that it was “completely amicable” and based on a difference of the film’s concept.
Years later, Reynolds would say that he had been hired very quickly to do the film with little preparation, there were conflicts with the cinematographer and Reynolds was having personal troubles that interfered with his work; all of which resulted in his not being able to shoot as fast as the studio needed. Universal also decided to put their new ingenue, Debbie Watson, in the film as Marilyn, instead of Pat Priest, which angered the cast. The studio felt that Priest, who was almost 30, was too old to continue playing a college girl. Watson graduated from high school during production and despite any hard feelings the cast may have had about Priest losing the role, they threw Watson an on-set party, complete with a Baskin Robbins’ cake in the shape of a coffin, with tiny figurines of the characters of Herman, Lily and Grandpa.
A less happy event occurred just before production began, when it was announced that The Munsters had been cancelled. It was good news for Gwynne and Lewis, who had tired of the roles, but bad news for the others, who had hoped that the film would revive the series. Unfortunately, this did not happen, nor did the film receive good reviews when it was released in the United States in the summer of 1966.
By Lorraine LoBianco