TITLE: FATHER KNOWS BEST - SEASON THREE
DVD Release Date: June 9, 2009 (Shout! Factory)
B&W / 1956-1957
Number of Discs: 5
Number of Episodes: 37
Running Time: approx. 990 minutes
Runtime of Special Features: approx. 125 minutes
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English; Closed-Captioned
Special Features: Father Knows Best? Radio Program Episodes (3); Window on Main Street Episodes (2)
Just in time for Father’s Day, Shout! Factory brings us more of Robert Young in the 1950s family sitcom, Father Knows Best! The series premiered in 1954 on CBS, and moved to NBC in the second season, only to later move back to CBS. The series was based upon a radio series of the same name and stars Robert Young as Jim Anderson, the father of a family that faces “real” problems. Jane Wyatt plays wife Margaret, and Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin play the children.
The series, as innocent as it may seem, was actually groundbreaking when it originally aired. The whole concept of a sitcom was still new to television, and Father Knows Best was among the first series to combine family problems with the sitcom genre. The Andersons were a real family that faced the real problems, paving the way for many more sitcoms about families with real problems, from The Brady Bunch to Family Ties to Roseanne and more.
Shout! Factory’s release of Season Three contains all 37 unedited episodes from the 1956-1957 season of the series on a five disc DVD set with a nice sampling of special features to go along with the episodes, which may or may not answer the question for you of whether or not father really knows best.
Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:
Bud has a new girlfriend in “No Apron Strings” who is jealous of Margaret (due to the fact that her own mother is deceased), so will she convince Bud to take her on a date on the night of his mother’s birthday party? Betty falls in love with a cowboy on a dude ranch in “Never in Twain.” In “Betty Goes to College,” it is time for Betty to go off to the university that Jim and Margaret graduated from, but how will they react when she tells them of her plans to attend the local community college instead? Bud has fallen for an older woman and lies about his own age in “Man About Town.”
Jim teaches Bud a valuable lesson in greed by increasing his allowance (but adding a self-serving restriction) in “Bud, the Millionaire.” The kids and their parents trade places for a costume party in “The Old Days.” In “Whistle Bait,” Betty is jealous of a new girl at school that is getting all of the attention. In “Betty Goes Steady,” Betty becomes attracted to somebody that is an outcast in her social circle. Will it work for her? Jim’s sister comes to visit for Christmas in “The Angel’s Sweater,” but she isn’t too fond of the children and they don’t really like her that much either. Will a Christmas miracle bring the family together?
In “The Promising Young Man,” Jim’s boss wants him to make his son, Woody, his apprentice, but does Woody really care about the insurance business, at all? Margaret hires a gardener in the episode “Margaret Hires a Gardener,” but how can a middle class family even afford one? Margaret decides to liberate herself in “Brief Holiday” and show that her place is not just in the kitchen by giving herself a break for the day. Bud becomes a hero when he saves a ship over a thousand miles away with his shortwave radio in “Short Wave.” Bud learns a lesson in ethics when he works for a crooked carnival owner in “Carnival.”
Bud is supposed to take a trip and is supposed to go with Kippy in “Trip to Hillsborough,” but what will he do when Kippy backs out? A Hollywood actor wants Jim’s help after a car accident in “An Evening to Remember.” In “Bud Buys a Car,” Bud gets his first car with ten dollars that he has saved (yes, you read that right, ten dollars), so how great of a car is it? Bud brags about preventing a bank robbery to impress a girl in “Bud, the Hero,” but will he still be bragging about it when he is asked to talk about it in church?
Bud’s friend may not be all that much of a friend in “Bud, the Philanthropist,” where he takes credit for one of Bud’s good deeds. Could father want more kids? Find out in “Baby in the House.” One of Jim’s former classmates was supposed to become a doctor, but ends up becoming an unsuccessful door-to-door salesman in “Class Prophecy.” Bud is struggling with how to make a good impression on a girl that he is falling for and seeks advice from Jim in “The Art of Romance,” but meanwhile she is seeking advice from Margaret on the very same issue. Margaret’s father has decided it is time to retire in “Grandpa Retires,” but is sitting around doing nothing all day really what he is meant for in life?
The packaging on the set is similar to the first two seasons, with the set using a blue-green color scheme this time. The cover art of the box set has a snapshot of the entire family. Inside, we have three slimcases, all of which are different colors, but have the same artwork as shown on the cover of the DVD set. There are five discs; therefore two of the slimcases contain two discs and the third slimcase contains one disc. On the back of each slimcase, there is a listing of all of the episodes on the discs contained within. Each member of the family has their picture on each of the discs: Jim on Disc 1, Margaret on Disc 2, Betty on Disc 3, Kathy on Disc 4, and Bud on Disc 5. Disc 1 contains episodes 1-7, Disc 2 contains episodes 8-15, Disc 3 contains episodes 16-22, Disc 4 contains episodes 23-30, and Disc 5 contains episodes 31-37. Each disc contains exactly one of the special features (see the section below for details). Season One had a very nice episode booklet included with it, but unfortunately, it appears that Shout! Factory has abandoned the episode booklets for this series.
Menu Design and Navigation:
Just like most other Shout! Factory releases, the menus are very nice, but also basic and functional. The main menu on each disc gives you options of Play All, Episodes, and Special Feature, while the theme song loops in the background (be warned, it eventually gets VERY annoying). Once you make a selection of Play All or Bonus, what you get is pretty obvious, but if you select Episodes, you get a list of all of the episodes on that particular disc. Once you select an episode, it plays right away without any further menus. Each episode has chapters placed at all of the appropriate places.
Video and Audio Quality:
Although the video and audio quality of the episodes contained on the set is by no means perfect, the quality is generally pretty good on the episodes. There is grain and debris all over the episodes and the audio levels are a bit low at times, but it isn’t a total disaster by any measure. The episodes look good enough for presentation, and definitely look better than public domain releases of TV series from the same era. The audio is presented in mono (perfectly adequate considering that a TV with stereo sound would have been unheard of at that time), and closed-captioning is available on every episode.
The first season of this series on DVD was plagued with edited episodes, but this season has all unedited episodes--or at least as unedited as far as we are truly concerned. For example, the original sponsor opening credits are replaced with the standard syndicated version of the opening credits on every episode, and furthermore, the end of each episode originally had Robert Young giving a preview of the episode that would be airing the following week. But these are not necessary to the plot of any of the episodes, therefore as far as we are concerned - the episodes are unedited - with each episode running roughly around 25:45. Runtimes for each episode are as follows:
No Apron Strings (25:48)
Never in Twain (25:47)
Betty Goes to College (25:44)
Man About Town (25:42)
The Homing Pigeon (25:44)
Spaghetti for Margaret (25:45)
Betty’s Birthday (25:45)
Bud, the Millionaire (25:42)
The Old Days (25:42)
Whistle Bait (25:44)
The Great Guy (25:42)
The Family Goes to New York (25:45)
Betty Goes Steady (25:43)
The Good Prospect (25:44)
The Angel’s Sweater (25:47)
The Promising Young Man (25:42)
Margaret Hires a Gardener (25:42)
Swiss Family Anderson (25:42)
Brief Holiday (25:44)
The Lawn Party (25:43)
Short Wave (25:43)
Betty and the Jet Pilot (25:43)
Trip to Hillsborough (25:44)
An Evening to Remember (25:44)
Bud Buys a Car (25:44)
Safety First (25:44)
Bud, the Hero (25:44)
Betty, the Track Star (25:43)
The Spelling Bee (25:46)
Bud, the Philanthropist (25:41)
Baby in the House (25:45)
Class Prophecy (25:43)
The Art of Romance (25:44)
Margaret Disowns Her Family (25:45)
Grandpa Retires (25:42)
Shoot for the Moon (25:40)
There are a few nice special features on this set, beginning with episodes of the radio version of the series (which actually had a slightly different title of Father Knows Best?, noting the question mark at the end, as if perhaps father doesn’t always know best). Each episode begins with an instrumental theme song that we recognize as one of the “songs of World War II,” the Irving Berlin song “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee.” This is due to the sponsor of the series at that time, Maxwell House coffee. The first of these can be found on Disc 2, and this is actually the “audition show” (30:53) for the radio series. We learn about the Henderson family (note the last name is NOT Anderson initially) in this episode and their “typical problems” in this episode. On Disc 3, in “The Elusive Card Game” (25:39), the Christmas season is over and Jim gets the bills--and Kathy is waiting for the steam to come out of his ears, as Bud claimed would happen! Finally, on Disc 4, we have a Kathy-centered episode, “An Uncontrolled Dog (26:29), where Kathy brings home this dog that terrorizes the entire neighborhood that just won’t go away. This one was my favorite of the three episodes.
The radio program is a little different from the TV series, primarily in that Jim comes off as being very, well, overbearing in the house and a lot less like the Ward Cleaver type of father that he often appeared to be on the TV series. The audition show, in particular, shows a very hot-headed father that will lose his temper at the drop of a dime, much unlike what we see on the TV series. I enjoyed hearing these radio programs personally, and I could almost imagine the sets of the TV series and the faces of the characters in my head while listening to the episodes. For anybody that is interested in more episodes of this series (including the episodes that are include on this DVD set), they are in public domain and can be found online. A total of 67 episodes of the radio series can be downloaded for free on the Old Time Radio section of the Internet Archive at http://www.archive.org/details/Father_Knows_Best, but there are actually other different episodes floating around on the other websites throughout the World Wide Web.
Fans of the series are certain to enjoy these radio episodes, as they present a lot of stories about out same cast of characters as the TV episodes present, but in a much different format than what we are used to. Finally, on some (but not all) of the episodes, you may be thinking to yourself that Margaret Anderson sounds somewhat like Wilma Flintstone, and if you do, you would be entirely correct. In many of the radio episodes, Jean Vander Pyl, who would later go on to voice Wilma Flintstone, played the role of Margaret Anderson.
There are two more episodes from the TV series Window on Main Street, the series that Robert Young starred in after Father Knows Best. The series stars Young as Cameron Garrett Brooks, an author that moves into a hotel room in a town called Millsburg to write stories about the citizens of Millsburg, as seen through his “window on main street.” On Disc 1, we have the episode “A Doctor Comes to Town” (25:42), where a new doctor comes in to Millsburg, but this new doctor has a history in Millsburg from his youth and begins to wonder if that history will hinder his opportunity to succeed in Millsburg. On Disc 5, we have the episode “The Chambermaid” (25:43) where Cameron Brooks writes a story about an elderly hotel housekeeper that went from being a wealthy and prominent figure on the social scene to working in the hotel following the death of her husband of forty years.
The series is an anthology series, and as a result, the episodes are hit or miss, some being great episodes and other episodes being a total disappointment. It was not a success, and only lasted half a season (a rather uncommon thing in the early 60s). Still, it would be nice to see Shout! Factory to continue to release episodes of this series (and perhaps complete the series) throughout future releases, as I’m sure that some classic TV fans would certainly appreciate this rare gem.
More special features would be nice, though. I’d like to see some historical interviews with Robert Young. Original sponsor openings would be nice too, as each episode has had the opening credits replaced with syndicated versions of the opening credits. Also, as previously mentioned, all of the episodes originally had closing tags with Robert Young where he would talk about “next week’s episode,” all of which are missing on this set. They aren’t essential to the plot, but they would be nice to have. It would be nice to see some interviews with Billy Gray as well, although in an old interview that I found with him on the internet, it seems that he does not have too many kind words about the series which he played on for six years. Finally, there were two reunion movies for the series in the 70s, and it would be nice to see one or two of the future sets include these movies. As you can tell, there is a lot of potential for special features on these DVD sets, and it would be nice to see that potential taken advantage of!
I’ve always skipped this show in syndication, as I (and I’m ashamed to admit this) tend to tune out a lot of black and white TV series, but once I discovered season one on DVD, I began to not only gain an appreciation for the series, but also found a new series that I can count among what I would consider one of the best series to ever air on television. Father Knows Best is a great series that fans of older TV series (such as Leave it to Beaver, which is disputably the most well-known of the early sitcoms in TV history focusing on family life) will definitely love. But those that just love family sitcoms are certain to appreciate the series as well. If you’ve never seen the series, it is definitely worth checking out sometime, and I would say that this DVD set is worth buying just to see how great the series is.
As far as the DVDs themselves, Shout! Factory has done a great job on this set. The video and audio quality isn’t perfect, but certainly more than sufficient for the series with all factors considered. We are already halfway through the series, and only have three more seasons to go. Hopefully, Shout! Factory will get these out as soon as feasibly possible and include more special features similar to the ones we have had as well as additional ones. But until that time, will we ever really know if father truly knows best?
Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 2/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 4/5
-- Reviewed by skees53 on 06/15/09
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