Shout Factory | 1959 | 930 mins. | Not Rated
In the pantheon of classic TV sitcoms, Leave it to Beaver ranks near the top. Airing from October 1957, until September 1963, Leave It to Beaver was the first television show told from a child’s perspective. Further, the series served as a bridge between the waning radio comedy and the television “sitcom.” Innocent and homogenized, when compared to today’s family comedies, Leave It to Beaver stands as an iconic slice of ’50s Americana. Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver was the original adorable sitcom kid. After him, countless shows would be built around adorable, precocious kids and their often bewildered parents.
Created by writers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, it has often been said they drew inspiration for the show’s characters, plots, and dialogue from their own lives; in particular, conversations and experiences with their children. Leave It To Beaver centered on the Cleavers: parents Ward and June (Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley), high-school sophomore Wallace “Wally” Cleaver (Tony Dow), “and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver,” a ten-year-old fourth grader with a nose for trouble. Generally, Beaver or Wally would get himself into some kind of trouble (the fairly innocuous sort), only to be rescued by the other, a parent or, in a moment of rare resilience, himself.
The tone and tenor of season three remained the same as those that preceded it, though it should be noted that the Cleavers moved from Mapleton Drive to 211 Pine Street. The thirty-nine episodes include appearances from the series’ large ensemble of supporting characters: Wally’s two-faced buddy, and fan favorite, Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond), Beaver’s best friend Larry Mondello (Rusty Stevens), Wally’s friend Lumpy Rutherford (Frank Bank) and his father Fred (Richard Deacon), Beaver’s nemesis Judy Hensler (Jeri Weil), fourth-grade teacher Miss Landers (Sue Randall), and Beaver’s pals Whitey Whitney (Stanley Fafara), Gilbert Bates (Stephen Talbot), and Richard Rickover (Richard Correll), among others. Notable third season guest stars include Madge Blake as Mrs. Mondello, Veronica Cartwright as Violet Rutherford and Majel Barrett as Gwen Rutherford. Aside from sitcom regular Norman Tokar and Norman Abbott, the third season directing roster includes Earl Bellamy (Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart) and Beaumont, who made his debut behind the camera with “Wally and Alma.” (Beaumont would also go on to write some episodes, including the series finale.)
As one might expect, most of this seasons episodes are taken up with the innocent escapes of Beaver and Wally—getting through the difficulties of school, and hanging out with friends. However, there are a few occasions when the writer took on some tougher themes (when put in the context of 1959). In the episode “Beaver and Andy,” Ward and June approach the subject of alcoholism in talking to the Beaver about drunk acquaintance Andy (Wendell Holmes). In another episode, a deeply distressed Beaver confesses to his parents, “I wished I was dead. I wished it for about fifteen minutes. But nothing happened so I came home.” Of course, the problem is solved and the mood passes, but Beaver is allowed to express a deep sadness, in a television landscape that only showed bright, shiny children.
There’s little denying that Leave It to Beaver has a heavy dose of saccharine. Even so, the series remains enjoyable more than fifty years after it first aired. In my opinion, here are some of the third seasons highlights: “Beaver, the Magician” finds a neighborhood boy utterly convinced that Beaver has turned into a rock, “June’s Birthday” in which a caring Beaver excitedly gives mom an ugly blouse, which she tries and fails to accept graciously, “Beaver and Ivanhoe,” in which dreams of knightly chivalry cause Beaver to run wild defending women’s honor and pursuing justice, and “Beaver Takes a Bath,” which has Wally babysitting his younger brother with disastrous results.
Season three of Leave It to Beaver obviously features the Cleaver boys at an age the strongly influenced the show’s writers, and results in some of the series’ best episodes. Aside from that, Beaver and the rest of his family remain icons of Eisenhower’s America.
The episodes have been completely restored and remastered from brand-new high-definition transfers of the original film elements, and presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Contrast is excellent, and imperfections are hard to find. The episodes have really been cleaned up nicely. The level of detail is also strong for a black-and-white TV series from the ’50s.
The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. That’ll be the case for all older TV shows, though, and at least the transfer is free of pop and hiss and other distortions.
There isn’t much in the way of special features. On disc one you’ll find an audio interview with Jerry Mathers (The Beaver) and Frank Bank (Lumpy Rutherford) from Shokus Internet Radio’s Stu’s Show, which is brief but entertaining.
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