DVD
The Addams Family
Volume 1

Starring: Carolyn Jones, John Austin, Jackie Coogan, Ken Weatherwax, Lisa Loring, Marie Blake and Ted Cassidy
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
RRP: 34.99
3553401000
Certificate: PG
Available 09 April 2007


Following the deluge of
Addams Family tribute movies and cartoons, now is a good time to reacquaint ourselves with the original 1960s TV series. This Season 1 DVD does not disappoint...

Based on characters created by Charles Addams in a series of cartoon illustrations for the New Yorker, the Addams Family sitcom ran for 64 half hour episodes on ABC across two seasons from September 1964 to April 1966.

It is full of wit, inventiveness and sly, macabre humour, and brilliantly uses the inverted lens of the Addams' counterculture family to cast a baleful eye across a range of American institutions from education to politics, sports to boy scouts, Summer Camp and beyond.

Because of our extensive exposure to the Addams Family franchise, it is difficult to place ourselves in the shoes of the 1964 viewer and feel the shock of being asked to identify with - instead of fear - this bizarre family, apparently straight out of a 1930s horror movie. It works because of the skilful portrayal of the Addams Family as a darker mirror image of the textbook, all-American extended family group, strictly abiding by their own moral and ethical codes.

Morticia (played by established Hollywood actress Carolyn Jones) is the elegant, vampish family matriarch, and forms the centre of the action with her husband, the wild-eyed but warm hearted Gomez (John Astin). They have the average two children in Pugsley and Wednesday, and their household is completed by elder relatives Uncle Fester and Grandmamma. Morticia and Gomez care passionately for each other - the sexual chemistry is often startlingly raw for early 1960s TV - and care passionately for their childrens' well-being in the face of constant assaults by society's 'normalising' institutions.

This was a period of American history where a new generation was starting to challenge the legitimacy of the social and political elite, and this series hits a range of targets with unerring accuracy.

Political cynicism, for example, is given a thorough workout in Gomez the Politician. The iconic Victorian mansion at 0001 Cemetery Ridge is set next to a swamp whose slimy denizens are a constant source of pleasure to the Addams family. When local politicians threaten to drain the swamp in a bid to win favour with the local electorate, Gomez uses his apparently limitless wealth to bankroll the candidates in favour of draining the swamp - in the sure knowledge that they will renege on the commitment once elected!

School institutions come under examination - "I love my children," says Gomez. "Why would I want them to spend all day in a school?" Especially a school where 'fairytales' incite kids to mindless violence against defenceless dragons and encourage the forcing of old ladies (there are no such things as witches, of course) into cooking pots.

The writers have a lot of fun inverting 'normal' domestic activities. Gomez loves to play train sets with his son - blowing up bridges and causing multiple pile-ups; Gomez questions the rampant consumerism of the '60s by his childlike delight in losing money on the stockmarket; his kids keep spiders and Octopi as pets and guillotines and medieval racks as toys; Morticia's gardening skills involve cutting the heads off healthy roses and raising man-eating plants; Uncle Fester's body carries enough electricity to light a bulb. And just what is that in Grandma's American pie?...

The house is full of brilliantly realised surreal humour, and each episode reveals a new twist: A lion rug which is clearly alive; a disembodied servant hand which appears from boxes, vases and umbrella stands; the stone-faced, groaning family butler Lurch who, in a delightful Brechtian flourish, plays each episode's continuity music on the house harpsichord.

Then there is the whole cast of bizarre relatives, including the hair-covered Cousin Itt and Morticia's mother, played by Margaret Hamilton, perhaps better known as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

There is an excellent selection of extras. First are audio commentaries from cast members Lisa Loring (Wednesday), Ken Weatherwax (Puglsey) and Felix Silla (Cousin Itt) on the The Addams Family Goes to School, Morticia the Matchmaker, and Cousin Itt Visits the Addams Family episodes. Mini documentaries include a portrait of Charles Addams, of score composer Vic Mizzy - who developed musical themes for each character and played Lurch's keyboard parts - and reminiscences by cast members including John Astin. The Extras are topped off by a stills gallery of Charles Addams' original character drawings and photographs of Addams at work and with his family.

Andy Thomas

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