Return to Mayberry
VIDEO of Return to Mayberry – Andy Griffith, Ron Howard, Don Knotts
|Return to Mayberry|
Original airing print advertisement
|Written by||Harvey Bullock
Andy Griffith (uncredited)
|Directed by||Bob Sweeney|
|Theme music composer||Earle Hagen|
|Country of origin||United States|
Richard O. Linke
|Producer(s)||Robin S. Clark
Donna Colabella (associate producer)
|Cinematography||Richard C. Glouner|
|Running time||95 mins.|
|Original release||April 13, 1986|
|Preceded by||The Andy Griffith Show
Return to Mayberry is a 1986 American made-for-television comedy film based on the 1960s sitcoms The Andy Griffith Show and, to an extent, Mayberry R.F.D. as well. The film premiered on April 13, 1986 on NBC, and was the highest-rated television film of 1986. Sixteen of the original cast members reunited for the film and its success could have led to additional Mayberry programs, but Griffith was committed to Matlock for the 1986-87 season.
Most of the characters from the old series are revisited. The slightly milquetoast Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson), in an attempt to look younger, is seen in various hues of hair color. Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), having returned to civilian life following his stint in the Marines, shares filling-station duties with his cousin Goober (George Lindsey), and the pair are seen together for only the third time in the history of the franchise (after having previously only been shown together in the episode “Fun Girls” and an episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC). Howard Morris and Denver Pyle reprise the hillbilly roles of Ernest T. Bass and Briscoe Darling, respectively, along with Maggie Peterson and The Dillards as the rest of the Darling family. Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), the former town drunk, has become sober and now drives an ice cream truck.
Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), now living in Cleveland as a US Postal Inspector, returns to his native Mayberry to see his son Opie (Ron Howard) become a first-time father, and also to run in the soon-to-be held sheriff’s election, as he has already asked county clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) to prepare the paperwork. But when Andy learns that his old deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), now back in Mayberry working as acting sheriff, announced his own candidacy while Andy was on the road back to town he quietly tells Opie, “I won’t run against Barney”.
Andy goes to visit Barney at the sheriff’s office. Barney tells Andy that he decided to run for sheriff because nobody else would, and then his opponent Ben Woods decided to run shortly afterward. Andy then mentions that Barney’s old girlfriend Thelma Lou, newly divorced after less than two years, is back in Mayberry staying with her sister; Barney nonchalantly says he’ll eventually go and see her. As Barney leaves to teach a safety class at school, they’re accosted by Ernest T. Bass standing on the base of the town flagpole, and who gives them a cryptic rhyme: “Your hair was brown but now it’s gray; make that monster go away”. The “monster” is revealed to be an elaborate publicity stunt orchestrated by young businessman Wally Butler (Richard Lineback), who bought an oriental restaurant outside of town and added a hotel. Butler found some old dragon artifacts, presumably left by the restaurant’s former owners, and hired Ernest T. to perpetuate a hoax at Myer’s Lake to attract customers by stealing some neighbors’ chickens and dogs to make people think they were eaten by the monster.
Andy goes to the cemetery to visit Aunt Bee‘s grave, and finds Thelma Lou there visiting her uncle’s gravesite. Thelma Lou laments about Barney’s not calling, but she follows Andy to the school where Barney, in clown makeup, is playacting for a classroom of students. Though embarrassed by his appearance, Barney accepts an invitation to dine with Thelma Lou at her sister’s house. Andy ducks out while the two are reacquainting and drives over to the house where Opie and his wife Eunice live just as she is about to go into labor. In a panic, Opie accidentally crashes his car into a tree, and Andy volunteers his car to take them to the hospital. On the way, Andy’s engine begins to falter, and they only make it as far as Gomer and Goober’s garage before Eunice gives birth to a boy. Shortly afterward, Barney pulls up, already irritated by the fact that no one told him about the birth, which happened all too fast, but his anger is exacerbated when Gomer (Jim Nabors) and Goober (George Lindsey) mistakenly refer to Andy as “sheriff”. Later that night, he visits Andy to apologize for how he acted, saying he also felt “left out” of being part of seeing Opie become a father.
The next day, Gomer and Goober are out fishing at Myer’s Lake when Gomer sees a monster sticking its head up out of the water. Andy and Barney arrive shortly afterward, but Barney doesn’t believe Gomer’s story until he sees what looks like monster tracks in the mud (made by Ernest T. wearing specially made galoshes). When Gomer later shows Barney a picture he took of Goober with something unidentifiable in the background, Barney becomes convinced there’s a monster in the lake. Wally Butler later invites Barney to his new inn, secretly gives him a contribution check for his campaign, and invites him in to talk to a TV news reporter about his discovery.
Andy’s wife Helen follows Andy back to Mayberry and only then finds out that Andy has opted out of the sheriff’s race, and Opie receives a highly lucrative job offer from a newspaper in Binghamton, New York. With Barney’s opponent Woods now running an aggressive campaign to discredit Barney, Howard and Opie try to convince Andy to re-enter the race, saying that Barney doesn’t stand a chance. Meanwhile, former town drunk Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), now long sober and driving an ice cream truck, is serving customers near Myers Lake when he sees the “monster” pop out of the lake. Otis quickly races to the courthouse to tell Barney. Despite Andy’s pleading with Barney to drop the hunt because people were laughing at him, Otis’ report convinces Barney to resume the hunt.
Later, when Andy and Barney take Helen and Thelma Lou out to dinner at Butler’s Inn, Andy notices some old pictures of the restaurant when it was still oriental. Noticing a particular picture with a dragon’s head in it (and remembering Ernest T.’s rhyme), Andy is inspired to do some investigating of his own: He drives up to the hills and visits the Darlings’ homestead, where Ernest T. hangs out. Briscoe Darling (Denver Pyle) and his daughter Charlene (Maggie Peterson) are delighted to see Andy, but Ernest T. nervously and repeatedly asks Andy to leave. After sitting in with the Darlings to play a song, Andy manipulates Ernest T. into telling him when the monster will show up in Myer’s Lake again. The next day, Helen and Thelma Lou are having lunch at Butler’s Inn. When Helen mentions Andy and Barney are both up at Myer’s Lake intent on trapping the “monster”, Butler excuses himself and hurriedly drives off to the lake.
At the lake, Barney clumsily baits a trap (involving a frozen chicken tied to the end of a rope) while Andy spots Ernest T. going into a nearby stone quarry shed. Butler arrives at the shed to futilely get Ernest T. to reel the monster back in, but Andy catches both of them in the act. Barney and Howard follow Andy to the shed, and Andy makes it look like Barney plotted to make Butler overconfident and force his hand. Howard takes pictures of Barney with the dragon’s head for the newspaper, and Andy tells Butler about the legal consequences of his actions, but suggests that Ernest T. return the stolen chickens and dogs, and then implores Butler to try honesty with his next business venture, saying “It works better”.
Later, at a victory rally for Sheriff Fife, when Barney learns that Andy opted out of the sheriff’s race to give Barney a better chance to win, he humbly asks the crowd to vote for Andy as a write-in candidate because “That’s exactly what I’m gonna do”. Andy is eventually elected the “new” sheriff, Opie accepts the newspaper job in Binghamton, and Barney and Thelma Lou finally get married, with Ernest T. and the Darlings joining in the celebration.
The final shot (seen behind the end credits) is of Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife folding up an American flag at the end of the day on Mayberry’s Main Street.
Most of the surviving cast members of The Andy Griffith Show reprised their roles in the reunion movie. One notable exception was Frances Bavier, who played Aunt Bee for all eight seasons as well as two seasons of Mayberry R.F.D. Bavier had retired shortly after leaving R.F.D. in1970. Her absence was explained by a scene in which Andy visits the cemetery where Aunt Bee is buried. (The official reason given for Bavier’s absence was poor health. Bavier reportedly was also reclusive and ambivalent about coming out of retirement, but she did in fact die three years after the program was filmed.) Elinor Donahue (as Ellie Walker) and Jack Burns (as Warren Ferguson) were two other cast members not to be involved in the movie. Some of the main R.F.D. regulars, including Sam Jones, son Mike, and Millie Swanson—all of whom were first introduced on the last season of The Andy Griffith Show itself—were also absent. (Ken Berry, who had played Jones, was forced to decline as he was busy playing Vinton Harper on Mama’s Family.) Former series regulars Howard McNear (as Floyd Lawson), Hope Summers (as Clara Edwards), and Paul Hartman (as Emmett Clark) were all long deceased.
Also in the movie, Gomer and his longtime sweetheart LuAnn (Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.) had, implicitly, gone their separate ways, as Gomer was shown as being unattached in this TV movie. No explanation is given as to the end of Gomer’s career in the U.S. Marine Corps, other than his civilian presence in Mayberry. Barney and Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn) finally married in the movie. In a 1966 episode Barney returned home to rekindle their relationship only to find out that Thelma Lou had married someone else. In the movie, it is briefly mentioned by Andy that Thelma Lou’s first marriage had lasted only 18 months, although Barney quickly corrects him stating that they were only married 16 months. Regardless, their decades-long courtship finally ended in matrimony. There is also no mention of Andy and Helen having any children, although Griffith and Corsaut’s final guest appearance in Mayberry R.F.D. was in the episode “Andy’s New Baby”.
Another absence in the movie was Dud Wash. All the Darlings appear including Charlene but her husband Dud is not seen or mentioned. Nor is Charlene’s and Dud’s daughter Andelina (“The Darling Baby”) seen or mentioned. In addition, it seems that Ernest T. is now at least somewhat involved with Charlene and friendly with the Darlings as opposed to the regular series in which the Darlings wanted nothing to do with him.
As Richie Cunningham did in Ron Howard’s later series Happy Days, Ron Howard’s Opie also had a brother who vanished without mention. Andy, Jr., christened on Mayberry RFD in the episode “Andy’s New Baby,” apparently neither attended Barney’s wedding nor was his name brought up during the course of this film.
The outdoor sets from the original series were destroyed in 1976 when the Forty Acres backlot was razed. For this movie, the town of Los Olivos, California doubled for Mayberry, with a stretch of Grand Avenue being used for the town square. A reconstruction of the original courthouse set was built in a small park at the corner of Grand and Alamo Pintado. The mid-intersection flagpole seen repeatedly in the movie is a veterans memorial that was built in Los Olivos shortly after World War I.
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Although Return to Mayberry was a ratings success, its critical reception was more ambiguous. A review in The New York Times opined that its “slow pace, extremely modest level of humor and straightforward and predictable plotting make Return to Mayberry a less appealing reunion for the audience than it may have been for its actors.”Time discussed the film only when it was in its last days of production, and—despite the laudatory “Even on TV’s crowded reunion calendar, Return to Mayberry is a special event”—offered no substantive comment on the merits of the finished product. More modern reviews have been kinder, calling it “marvelous blast from the past” and a reunion that “worked largely because the producers kept the original flavour of the series yet brought the show up to date”.
In a few U.S. markets, Mayberry was controversially rebroadcast on Veterans Day in 2004. Some ABC affiliates used Mayberry as a replacement for the network’s unedited rebroadcast of the film, Saving Private Ryan. These affiliates opted out, because Ryan included language which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had, in March 2004, ruled “indecent and profane”. Mayberry was seen as a “safe” alternative, despite the fact that Ryan had already aired on the network (and these same affiliates) in 2001 and 2002. The then-chief executive ofCitadel Communications — the main affiliate owner to rebroadcast Mayberry — cited the then-recent 2004 US Presidential election as a justification: “We’re just coming off an election where moral issues were cited as a reason by people voting one way or another”, the executive claimed, “and, in my opinion, the commissioners are fearful of the new Congress.” In the end, however, no complaints were lodged against ABC affiliates which showed Ryan, perhaps because even conservative watchdogs like the Parents Television Council supported the unedited rebroadcast of the film.
Confusion with other reunions
In 2003, four surviving cast members (Griffith, Howard, Knotts, and Nabors) came together for a reunion special that featured the actors reminiscing about their time on the show. The production was interspersed with archival footage and short filmed interviews with some of the other surviving cast members. This special was called The Andy Griffith Show: Back to Mayberry. Some media outlets have occasionally called this show, too, Return to Mayberry, which led to some confusion between the two productions. The title, The Andy Griffith Show: Back to Mayberry, distinguishes this production from a 1993 production titled The Andy Griffith Show Reunion.
- Andy Griffith as Andy Taylor
- Ron Howard as Opie Taylor
- Don Knotts as Barney Fife
- Howard Morris as Ernest T. Bass
- Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle
- George Lindsey as Goober Pyle
- Aneta Corsaut as Helen Crump Taylor
- Jack Dodson as Howard Sprague
- Betty Lynn as Thelma Lou
- Maggie Peterson as Charlene Darling
- Denver Pyle as Briscoe Darling
- Hal Smith as Otis Campbell
- Rodney Dillard as Rodney Darling
- Doug Dillard as Doug Darling
- Mitch Jayne as Mitch Darling
The film was originally released on NTSC VHS in 1989 by Forum Home Video under license from Viacom (ASIN B001D1G5KY). A budget reprint from Video Treasures followed. It was also re-released in 1994 by Regent Entertainment (ASIN B0001JUGLI). Later, the rights reverted to Paramount, which had been sold to Viacom in 1994.
Film was released as a special feature on the DVD The Andy Griffith Show 50th Anniversary: The Best of Mayberry in December 2010.
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