Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles
Hanna-Barbera ruled Saturday morning television in the 1960s, cannily finding trends and adapting them to their pint-sized audience. Working in tandem with CBS Saturday morning chief Fred Silverman, they spotted a fad and capitalized on it. As the lids were galvanized by the super-hero trend which led to ABC’s surprise smash success with Batman in January 1966, it is little surprise that the fall 1966 cartoon season was festooned with colorful heroic figures. Among the dozen new series to debut that September there was Filmation’s earliest offerings: The Lone Ranger and The New Adventures of Superman, plus H-B’s Space Ghost and Dino Boy, The Super Six, and, notably, Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles. The latter series was split evenly between the two properties, each offering something for its viewers. The former show was about boy genius Buzz Conray (Dick Beals), who constructed the thirty-foot tall robot improbably dubbed Frankenstein Jr. Buzz’s scientist dad (John Stephenson) was perfectly okay with the pair heading out to tackle the colorfully-clad criminals that plagued Civic City with regularity.
The second half was an odd blend of rock & roll, secret agents, and super-heroics, the three leading fads of the decade. The Impossible were Multi Man, Fluid Man, and Coil Man (Don Messick, Paul Frees, Hall Smith), secret agents posing as rock stars to disguise their heroic deeds. Regardless of venue, their performances were invariably interrupted by an even more rainbow-hued assortment of evil-doers. The bubblegum music and pop art color scheme were indicative of the pop culture that was filtering down to the kids.
Until recently, fans could only enjoy a sampling on Warner Home Video’s 1960s cartoon collection but now, all eighteen episodes have now been collected by their Warner Archive division. For those of us who love tripping down memory lane, rewatching these episodes is an instant reminder of what it was like crowding around the television, surrounded by cereal bowls and siblings, to watch the silliness unfold.
Of course, when you’re eight, as I was, this was serious entertainment. The show was never one of my all-time favorites but seeing these again, I’m reminded of the goofy fun. The “Frankie” stories are incredibly formulaic and the villains are more dumb than evil. It’s also hard to take foes with names like Junk Man, the Mad Inventor, Mister Menace, or Dr. Hook (without the Medicine Show) very seriously.
Still things moved along at a clip and with a sparkle of youthful enthusiasm, especially as Buzz shouted “Allakazoom” as they launched into the sky.
The pop trio was given their assignments from Big D, via a mini-screen embedded in the guitar, and then they shouted a rousing “Rally-ho!” and donned their outfits. They took on similarly silly threats from the Fiendish Fiddler, the Terrible Twister or the Diabolic Dauber.
At the time, my untrained ears had yet to recognize the limited voice cast that H-B tended to use on all their shows. Now, though, Ted Cassidy, Messick, Frees, and the uncredited Paul Winchell come through clearly.
Interestingly, this relatively tame series was one of the first to be attacked at being too violent for children, which is one reason it was canceled after running on CBS for two seasons. Uncut, though, it was resurrected on NBC a decade later, running from November 1976 until September 1977. It’s certainly one reason the 1960s collection ran a warning the cartoons were “intended for the Adult Collector and is Not Suitable for Children”. Thankfully no such warning appears here.
There is no restoration nor are there any extras, but the quality is good enough for those of us wishing to relive our youth in high-definition.