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Shout Factory presents

Father Knows Best: Season One (1954-1955)

"Margaret, I'm home!"- Jim Anderson (Robert Young)

Stars: Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Billy Gray, Elinor Donahue, Lauren Chapin
Director: James Neilson, William D. Russell, Peter Tewksbury

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 11h:00m:00s
Release Date: 2008-04-01
Genre: television

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BB-B- B+

 

DVD Review

As an offshoot of a popular radio program (now there's something you don't hear that too much of these days) Father Knows Best debuted on America's small screens in 1954, with star/executive producer Robert Young reprising his role as kind patriarch Jim Anderson.

The series featured Jane Wyatt as his wife Margaret, and children Betty, Bud and Kathy played by Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin. The Andersons were, by design, one of those "perfect" television families—peppered with small, relatable problems and conflicts, but deep-down a close-knit unit—and one that as a kid growing up on reruns in the 1960s gave me a sense of genuine comfort. Not that I had a rotten home life—a quite pleasant one, actually—but there was a big dose of warm fuzzies that radiated from this series that I found appealing.

The general structure of each 22-minute episode didn't vary all that much, and ultimately featured a sturdy life lesson learned, typically imparted with gentle wisdom from Jim Anderson, under the knowing nods of Margaret. The source of conflicts were plentiful, but mostly harmless, usually built around teenaged daughter Betty's struggle with boys, brother Bud always working an angle to get more money, or the youthful antics of youngest daughter Kathy. As themes to learn from, there were injured birds, broken hearts, the lure of a motor scooter and household chores aplenty.

With this 4-disc season one set from Shout Factory—featuring the 26 episodes that spanned 1954-1955—I found the opportunity to revisit the Andersons still carried with it that same comforting effect. But with a twist I wasn't expecting.

For all of the wonderful, sugary phoniness that I thought the Andersons represented—with that neat, orderly but somehow unattainable 1950s backlot sheen—there was something I didn't pick up on when I watched it as a kid. Because back then I identified more the Anderson children, especially Bud (who I thought was stupidly cool), and I tended to see the show through their eyes.

Yet in rewatching this first season of Father Knows Best now decades later, as a parent of a teenager, I'm struck by how the frequent exasperation of the always well-dressed Jim and Margaret still rings with a familiar parental tone, albeit spackled in somewhat more soft-edged 1950s niceness. For example, when daughter Betty runs in the room to say she has good news, Jim's response is "Bud's leaving home?", but it's not delivered like a shrill comeback that we see in most modern sit-coms. It's just a statement, and one that probably any parent of a teen has at the very least thought, at one time or another.

And it wasn't just the occasional parental comment I may not have noticed as a kid, but it was a subtext of Jim dealing with being a father, and where he was in his life while trying to hold the family together. Sure, it was all whitewashed in vintage politeness and neatly pressed clothes, but the concept hasn't changed all that much over time. As an adult I now look very differently at an episode like Jim The Farmer, where job pressures force a desire to go back to nature. I can relate, Jim. I can relate.

There's an alluring and gentle flow to this series—sometimes a little heavy on the moralizing, but what the heck—and the locale of Springfield, Ohio always seemed like the picture perfect place, festooned with neat lawns and nicely appointed homes. Robert Young remains as one of the quintessential television dads, and perhaps I didn't realize then that he was one of the reasons I so dug the Anderson clan in my youth.

I still do, only now for slightly different reasons.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: All 26 episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. Overall quality is decent, though the title sequences show the most age-related wear. The prints are hardly pristine, but mage sharpness is notably soft throughout, and while contrast levels vary across the set, generally the presentation holds pleasant displays of greys and blacks.

Image Transfer Grade: B-
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono audio carries some occasional age-centric hiss and crackle, but otherwise delivers clearly discernible dialogue. There is a naturally pronounced absence of any bottom end, so there is a tendency for things to sound somewhat tinny in spots.

Unremarkable, but more than adequate.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 104 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring That Girl, The Best of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, McHale's Navy
Production Notes
4 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
4-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This four-disc set is housed in a pair of thinpak cases (two discs each), inside of a relatively thin side-opening box. Supplements are fairly diverse and hold more than a few surprises, and are split amongst all four discs, broken out as follows:

Disc One:
A handful of forced Shout Factory television-related trailers open the disc. Bonus material consists of Daddy's Girls (23m:09s), a pleasant and leisurely paced collection of recollections from Lauren Chapin and Elinor Donahue about their auditions and working on the series.

Disc Two:
Digging into the personal archives netsRobert Young's Home Movies Narrated By His Grandson Bill Proffitt (09m:47s) andBehind The Scenes Home Movies Narrated By Bill Proffitt (02m:50s). Both of these come from the Young family, and while the narration from Proffitt is far from scintillating, the footage (especially the on-the-set material, shot from the catwalk) is worth a look.

Disc Three:
The never-aired 24 Hours In Tyrantland (33m:00s) was produced for the U.S. Department of Treasury, and promotes the glory of saving bonds, under the basic premise of a Father Knows Best episode. This is a fun little curiosity—and one that certainly goes in some weird directions—that should really be an appealing oddity for fans of the series. The Promised Playhouse: Flashback Version (22m:29s) is an alternate version of the The Promised Playhouse episode, later used during the show's syndication run, featuring a different opening sequence.

Disc Four:
The final bit of supplemental material is the pilot episode (The Return) for Young's followup CBS series Window On Main Street (29m:10s).

Also included is a six-page booklet with a brief description of the series and a full episode, complete with original air dates. Each episode is cut into 4 chapters, with no subtitle options.

Extras Grade: B+
 

Final Comments

I loved this show as kid, watching reruns in the late 1960s, and I'm pleased to find it still retains a very comfortable charm. This stuff is still highly enjoyable.

Recommended.

Rich Rosell 2008-05-01