Jackie Gleason and Art Carney return to their most famous characters in the second set of The Color Honeymooners. This three disc set presents eight entire episodes of the Jackie Gleason show from 1966-67 featuring the Honeymooners. Though these hour-long shows are derived from the Honeymooner episodes from the 50's and padded with song and dance numbers they're still worth watching. Gleason is wonderful, as always, and Art Carney still retains all of his charm. Even though they aren't quite as enjoyable and the black and white episodes, each installment offers some good laughs.
Background: Originally created as a reoccurring skit on the Gleason-hosted Cavalcade of Stars, the Honeymooners stared Gleason as Ralph Kramden, a blow-hard Brooklyn buss driver who's always trying to come up with a scheme to strike it rich. Aiding him in his schemes is his best friend and upstairs neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney), and opposing them are their long suffering wives Alice and Trixie.
The skit was so popular that in 1955 it was spun off into its own half hour TV show that lasted only one season. These are the known as the "Classic 39" and featured Audrey Meadows as Alice and Joyce Randolph as Trixie. Though the ratings weren't good in the mid 50's, when the series went into syndication it became incredibly popular and has been on the air ever since.
After the failure of the Honeymooners as a stand alone show, Gleason kept the series alive on his variety shows where it had started. It was a part of his 1962 show The Jackie Gleason American Scene Magazine (which was soon renamed The Jackie Gleason Show) and when he moved his show to Miami Beach ("The fun and sun capital of the world") in 1966, the Honeymooners started playing a larger role. Though the characters wouldn't appear in every episode, when they did the Honeymooners would take up the entire hour-length show instead of being just a short skit. This time around Alice and Trixie are played by Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean respectively.
This set: This DVD set presents eight consecutive Honeymooner episodes of The Jackie Gleason Show (taking up where the first set left off) from the first season in Miami, 1966-67. Unlike the first set, where the Kramdens and Nortons both won a trip around the world and each episode took place in another country, the shows in this set are not connected and don't have any continuity. Some of these episodes were inspired by the 50's TV series, taking the plots and many of the gags and expanding them to fill an hour time slot. Because of this these episodes feel padded. A lot of the new material doesn't work well either.
Each episode starts with a dance number, most of them end with a musical
number and there are songs sprinkled through the episodes themselves.
These songs really bring the momentum to a halt and ruin the flow of the
comedy. Added to that is the fact that Gleason and Carney can't really
sing, they recite the songs more than actually sing them. While MacRae
and Kean do have good voices, it's not enough to make up for the others.
Art Carney and the Great One himself are also getting older at this point. They are very talented actors and Gleason's expressions are still priceless, but their timing wasn't as solid as it was a decade earlier and they had more trouble playing the more outrageous scenes and making them believable.
The supporting actresses, Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean, were competent in their roles but they didn't have the chemistry with the leads that Meadows and Randolph had. MacRae never seemed to be Gleason's equal the way Audrey Meadows was, she just had trouble outshining the star of the show, which is understandable but regrettable. Kean overacts a bit, rolling her eyes with every other line and basically acting like she's in a play rather than being a real person.
That's the bad news. The good news is that even with these flaws, the shows are funny. Each episode has a few good laugh-out-loud moments, and Jackie Gleason is a joy to watch. If they could have tightened these shows up a bit by cutting them down to half an hour they would have been much better. As it is, they are good, but flawed.
There are some great moments in this collection too. In the March 4th, 1967 episode, Rififi, Brooklyn Style, featured a Pert Kelton as a guest star (appearing as Alice's mother.) Kelton was the very first Alice, first playing the role in 1951. She was black-listed by CBS during the McCarthy era, and was replaced by Audrey Meadows in 1952. Her appearance here is a lot of fun, and Gleason's comments at the end of the show about Kelton seem truly heartfelt.
The episodes in this collection include:
Run, Santa, Run (12-17-66): Ralph and Ed try to make some extra money by taking a job as Santa and his elf. Unbeknownst to them, they're really taking bets for a bookie.
King of the Castle (1-7-67): When Ralph tells Norton to stand up to his wife, Trixie, she moves in with Alice and Ralph finds himself living with Ed.
Movies are Better than Ever (1-14-67): Ralph takes Ed and the girls out to a movie for Norton's Birthday. When the sewer worker ends up winning a color TV set, things get ugly. Ralph insists that the set is his since he bought the tickets.
Without Reservations (2-4-67): Stanely, Alice's brother, convinces Ralph and Ed to buy a hotel along the proposed route of a new highway. When the highway's path changes it leads to trouble.
Rififi, Brooklyn Style (3-4-67): Ralph is in charge of collecting money for a present for the boss' daughter and buys her an expensive watch. Alice and her mother find it and assume its Alice's birthday present. Instead of admitting that he forgot about his wife's birthday, Ralph cooks up a crazy scheme to get out of the mess.
Ralph Kramden Presents (3-18-67): Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton try to get two TV stars, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, to show up at a Raccoon Lodge Meeting.
Flushing Ho (4-15-67): When money gets tight, the Kramdens and the Nortons decide to move in together and rent a two bedroom apartment in Flushing.
Sees All - Knows All (4-22-67): A fortune-teller looks into Ralph's future and tells him he'll kill someone within a week. He moves in with Ed to protect Alice and so that his buddy can keep an eye on him. The question is: Will Norton survive the week?
These eight shows (which run about 45 minutes each) are presented on three DVDs, a trio of episodes on discs one and three and a pair on disc two. They come in a clear, single width keepcase with a single page that holds the two extra discs. A very nice looking package.
Note: For some reason the episode from 2-11-67, Life Upon The Wicked Stage, is not included in this set.
The full frame color picture looks fine for a show this age, but not great. The image is very soft and indistinct. There's quite a bit of color bleeding with all the brightly colored clothes, and some light chroma noise too. Given the technology of the time (1966) it's about what would be expected for a TV show. Very watchable, but not outstanding.
Unfortunately there are no bonus items on this disc.
This show hasn't aged as well as the 'classic 39' Honeymooners episodes,
but it's still funny. The song and dance numbers don't really add
anything to the show and the introductions, dressed up and quaffed models
announcing the stars, is laughably gaudy by today's standards. Even
though these shows feel padded there are great moments in each episode
that make waiting through all the other stuff worth it. Hardcore
Gleason fans like me will be happy to own these, but the more casual fan
will be happy with a rental. They don't have the replay value
of the more well know Honeymooners shows, but they are still fun.