Based on a character created by Walter R Brooks in a series of short stories, Mister Ed was a black and white sitcom which ran on American television for a hefty 143 episodes across six seasons between 1961 and 1966. The titular Ed, in case you’re wondering, was a talking horse (of course). This six-disc box set, presently only available in Australia, collects forty random episodes from the series’ first five seasons and, although it’s the product of an entirely different time and cultural sensibility, it’s actually heartily funny, much of its humour stemming from the camera trickery which brings Ed to vocal life and the deadpan delivery of Allan Lane.
Considering it was first aired in 1961 the show is remarkably accomplished technically; sequences where Ed appears to talk are impressive enough but even better are the scenes where the horse handles props and interacts with the other cast members and appears capable of rational, intelligent thought – you don’t get that today with Love Island contestants – and its simple, rather charming storylines are refreshingly naïve and a reminder of less showy and aggressive television times.
The premise of the show is as unfussy as it’s ridiculous. Flaky architect Wilbur Post (Alan Young, best known to genre fans as Wilby in George Pal’s classic Time Machine) and his wife Carol (Hines) move into a beautiful new home complete with a barn and a pre-installed horse called Ed played by a striking and majestic creature named Bamboo Harvester. But Ed is no ordinary horse; he’s able to communicate with Wilbur and only Wilbur – and over the course of the series the two strike up a comedic and rather touching relationship which inevitably gets Wilbur into any number of equine-related escapades.
The episodes collected on this handy box set are culled from various points throughout the show’s run – no story arcs here – and generally involve some bizarre and unlikely situation arising out of Ed’s wise-cracking, indiscrete personality. The episode titles alone tell you what’s in store should you settle down for twenty-odd minutes in the company of Wilbur and Ed; Ed the Songwriter, Ed the Horsetronaut, Ed’s Bed, Ed the Beachcomber. Across forty chaste and family-friendly selected episodes, Ed gets Wilbur into some tricky predicament, Wilbur’s wife and neighbours (Keating and Skinner for the first three series) shaking their heads and sighing at the knots Wilbur seems to tie himself into without ever finding out about Ed’s extraordinary (and unexplained) vocal abilities. Guest stars abound too as the show quickly attracted the attention of some of the best-loved faces of Hollywood’s Golden Age, with the likes of George Burns, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mae West cropping up across the run. Even a young Clint Eastwood flexes his comedy chops in an episode filmed while he was still starring in Rawhide, in which he moves next door and attracts the ire of Ed who objects to the star bringing his own horse into the neighbouring property.
Uncomplicated, undemanding stuff and none the worse for it, Mister Ed is a wonderful nostalgia fix for those creaky enough to remember it (naming no names) and it’s witty and clever enough to appeal even to a jaded modern audience who prefer their comedy littered with sleaze and profanity. Guaranteed hours of harmless horseplay; watch a couple of these and you’ll be chomping at the bit for more.
THE MISTER ED COLLECTION / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING ALAN YOUNG, CONNIE HINES, BAMBOO HARVESTER, LARRTY KEATING, EDNA SKINNER / CERT: PG / OUT NOW (AUSTRALIA)