Friday, December 9, 2011

The Honeymooners: Lost Episodes 1951-1957 – The Complete Restored Series DVD Review

One of television’s most influential and beloved programs, The Honeymooners first appeared in 1951 as a series of sketches on the DuMont network’s Cavalcade of Stars starring Jackie Gleason. The following year Gleason moved to CBS, where The Jackie Gleason Show featured numerous Honeymooners sketches and full length shows from 1952 to 1957. These shows aired live and were never rebroadcast.  For decades, these early Honeymooners telecasts were lost until Jackie Gleason began releasing them from his private film vault. Now, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the very first Honeymooners sketches, MPI Home Video and Jackie Gleason Enterprises present the most complete collection possible of these rare gems, many of which have not been seen anywhere in 50 years or available previously on DVD.  It’s a treasure trove of the hilarious antics of hapless Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), his long-suffering but loving wife Alice (Audrey Meadows), Ralph’s neighbor and pal, sewer worker Ed Norton (Art Carney) and Norton’s wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph).

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

This legendary comedy series had a very interesting run during its lifetime.  It originally was broadcast during the third season of Calvacade of Stars on the DuMont network.  During that period, the character of Alice was played by Pert Kelton who was later replaced by Audrey Meadows when Kelton was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.  Only eight of those sketches are known to still exist and their incorporation into this set marks the first time they’ve been available on DVD.  The cast reprised two of their Honeymooners sketches that had aired previously on Cavalcade of Stars on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town (later known as The Ed Sullivan Show) in the spring of 1952.
When Jackie Gleason went to CBS in the fall of 1952 to create The Jackie Gleason Show, he took The Honeymoonerssketches with him and between 1952-57, those sketches  became the most popular part of his show.  By the time 1955 arrived, the live variety aspect of the show was eliminated in favor of filmed episodes of The Honeymooners.  The 39 episodes created were so successful that in 1956 an additional 20 episodes were filmed.  The original “Classic 39″ episodes that were made in 1955, have been in syndication non-stop since then and they’ve also been released on many different home video formats.  An additional 71 out of the 103 known CBS episodes were discovered in the 80s and became known as the “Lost Episodes,” and they have also been released onto video.  The problem was, that no collection ever offered fans a complete set of everything until now.
Having discovered even more missing sketches in private collections and film archives, MPI Home Video along with  Jackie Gleason Enterprises have released this 60th anniversary collection which is the most complete collection ever released, which contains the 8 DuMont sketches previously mentioned and all 98 of the existing CBS sketches which includes the “Classic 39″ and the “Lost Episodes.”   The remaining three CBS sketches are represented on the DVD in script form.  Most of these episodes haven’t been seen by the public in over 50 years, so this is quite a treat for fans of the show!  Here are all of the episodes included in this massive set:
Disc 1:
1. “Bread” (6:28)
2. “Razor Blades” (5:10)
3. “The New Television Set” (8:21)
4. “Ralph Threatens to Leave” (6:34)
5. “Alice and Ralph Get Dressed for a Date Last Night” (8:19)
6. “The Ring Salesman” (8:52)
7. “The Quiz Show” (12:11)
8. “Christmas Party” (41:24)
9. “The Ring Salesman” (8:09)
10. The New Bowling Ball” (9:35)
11. “The Turkey” (10:13)
12. “The Lost Baby (10:05)
13. “The Quiz Show” (11:29)
14. “Halloween Party” (8:52)
15. “Cold” (7:58)
16. “The Pickles” (7:16)
17. “Jellybeans” (8:27)
18. “Six Months to Live” (13:51)
Disc 2:
19. “Christmas Party” (42:25)
20. “Glow Worm Cleaning” (10:02)
21. “Alice Plays Cupid” (12:04)
22. “Suspense” (10:47)
23. “Lost Job” (9:07)
24. “Anniversary Gift” (10:25)
25. “Income Tax” (10:46)
26. “Alice’s Aunt Ethel” (9:23)
27. “What’s Her Name?” (7:13)
28. “Lunch Box” (9:16)
29. “Hot Tips” (11:20)
30. “Norton Moves In” (12:10)
31. “Ralph’s Diet” (11:39)
32. “The Dinner Guest” (9:56)
33. “Manager of the Baseball Team” (9:59)
34. “The Dorsey Brothers Show” (34:57)
Disc 3:
35. “The Prowler” (11:12)
36. “Guest Speaker” (13:41)
37. “Vacation at Fred’s Landing” (31:16)
38. “Sprained Thumb” (12:43)
39. “Lucky Number” (16:27)
40. “Hot Dog Stand” (35:13)
41. “Two Tickets to the Fight” (10:52)
42. “Halloween Party” (9:22)
43. “Champagne and Caviar” (14:44)
44. “Letter to the Boss” (32:35)
Disc 4:
45. “Finger Man” (11:51)
46. “Santa and the Bookies” (35:02)
47. “Christmas Party” (35:54)
48. “New Year’s Eve Party” (37:15)
49. “This Is Your Life” (37:43)
50. “Cottage for Sale” (39:42)
Disc 5:
51. “Lawsuit” (15:08)
52. “Fortune Teller” (34:51)
53. “The Next Champ” (37:35)
54. “Stand in for Murder” (42:28)
55. “Move Uptown” (36:58)
56. “The Man in the Blue Suit” (34:30)
Disc 6:
57. “Hair Raising Tale” (37:31)
58. “What’s the Name?” (8:21)
59. “Box Top Kid” (40:27)
60. “Two Men on a Horse” (38:43)
61. “Good Buy, Aunt Ethel” (41:44)
62. “Vacation at Fred’s Landing” (31:00)
Disc 7:
63. “Ralph’s Sweet Tooth” (36:49)
64. “Game Called on Account of Marriage” (33:34)
65. “Love Letter” (38:50)
66. “The People’s Choice (Finger Man)” (40:43)
67. “Battle of the Sexes” (35:45)
Disc 8:
68. “Teamwork Beat the Clock” (32:27)
69. “The Brother-in-Law” (34:58)
70. “The Songwriters” (36:48)
71. “Santa and the Bookies” (31:08)
72. “Kramden vs. Norton” (34:46)
73. “A Promotion” (39:10)
Disc 9:
74. “The Hypnotist” (38:43)
75. “Cupid” (39:37)
76. “A Little Man Who Wasn’t There” (39:25)
77. “Hero” (40:02)
78. “The Great Jewel Robbery” (37:50)
Disc 10:
79. “Peacemaker” (37:19)
80. “The Adoption” (37:20)
81. “Stars Over Flatbush” (37:15)
82. “One Big Happy Family” (37:53)
83. “A Weighty Problem” (37:56)
Disc 11:
84. “Boys and Girls Together” (36:49)
85. “Principal of the Thing” (34:28)
86. “Songs and Witty Sayings” (39:42)
87. “Letter to the Boss” (31:38)
88. “Stand in for Murder” (41:58)
89. “Double Anniversary Party” (13:11)
90. “The Check-Up” (10:08)
91. “Forgot to Register” (13:41)
Disc 12:
92. “Expectant Father” (16:05)
93. “Goodnight Sweet Prince” (15:33)
94. “Two Family Car” (17:36)
95. “Love Letter” (37:07)
96. “Finders Keepers” (36:29)
97. “Catch a Star” (39:31)
98. “My Fair Landlord” (36:17)
Disc 13:
99. “Away We Go” (49:12)
100. “Plastered in Paris” (49:02)
101. “Behind the Iron Curtain” (48:04)
102. “When in Rome” (48:01)
Disc 14:
103. “Curse of the Kramdens” (48:32)
104. “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” (49:02)
105. “Framed in Spain” (52:27)
106. “I Remember Mau Au” (50:35)
107. “Manager of the Baseball Team” (10:45)
Disc 15:
Bonus Features
Among the highlights from this more-than-50-hour collection: 30 episodes and sketches never before on DVD – including the eight highly sought-after 1957 Honeymooners musical hours, which have not been seen anywhere since their original broadcasts; two previously unknown Honeymooners radio shows; rare color home movie footage of a 1957 rehearsal; the first home video release of the nine known surviving Honeymooners sketches from the Cavalcade of Stars variety show that featured the original Alice Kramden, Pert Kelton; and new bonus features including an interview with Joyce Randolph who starred as Trixie.
I’ve been a fan of this show for as long as I can remember but I was only able to watch this whenever it was syndicated until some of the episodes made their way on to home video.  The main attraction of the show for me was Jackie Gleason who I was a huge fan of thanks to movies like Smokey and the Bandit and The Toy, where he was just hilarious.  Learning about The Honeymooners was like finding a hidden Christmas present that you didn’t know you had.  I devoured the show in marathons and loved the antics of Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and his pal Norton (Art Carney) and their long suffering wives Alice (Audrey Meadows) and Trixie (Joyce Randolph).
Ralph is a bus driver for the Gotham Bus Company and he likes to dream big.  Ralph spends his time coming up with sure-fire ways to get rich quick that will invariably fail in a very funny fashion as predicted by his wife Alice.  Ralph is the dreamer and Alice is the one with her feet firmly on the ground which cause friction between them when he believes that she isn’t supporting him like she should.  He frequently warns her, “…One of these days… POW!!! Right in the kisser! One of these days Alice, straight to the Moon!”  Of course he doesn’t mean it and she is well versed in his empty threats.  Ralph and Alice have been married for around fifteen years and she doesn’t put up with his threats and bluster and responds back with biting sarcasm.  Despite their contentious ways, they both love each other and each episode generally ends with Ralph telling Alice, “Baby you’re the greatest!”
Ralphs’ best friend Ed Norton is a sewer worker who is a, “Sub-supervisor in the sub-division of the department of sub-terranian sanitation, [who] just keep[s] things moving along.”  Norton and his wife Trixie live on the floor above the Kramdens and Norton is usually a part of Ralph’s schemes until he annoys Ralph enough that he gets kicked out of the apartment.  Norton is a lot nicer than Ralph but they both insult each other constantly which is a part of their friendship.  They also both members of  the Raccoon Lodge which is a fraternity which gives them an excuse to take a break from their wives.  Norton’s wife Trixie at one point was a burlesque dancer before marrying him and later becomes something of a pool shark.  She doesn’t appear on the show as frequently as the others but when she does, she spends her time ordering Norton around.
If you haven’t seen this show, you should make sure that you do since there is a reason it did well on a variety of different shows, casts, and networks.  The basic principle of the show is funny and when you add in these talented people into it, it just gets better and better.  Nobody could play the roles of Ralph and Norton better than Gleason and Carney and their chemistry together and with their TV wives just made the show fun.  The character of Ralph was so liked and well known, that Hanna Barbara used him as the inspiration for Fred Flintstone.  This is a very funny show and if you are a fan of Jackie Gleason, I can tell you that you will love it!

Video (2 out of 5 stars)

This collection has been digitally restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and they look good for what they had to work with.  Since the practices of the time, the show wasn’t filmed and saved like shows are today.  In fact, we are extremely lucky that Jackie Gleason kept video kinescopes of the show or we would have nothing left.  Because the kinescopes were basically done by recording the show off of a video monitor, expectations need to be set in reality despite this restoration.  Considering what they had to work with, it’s amazing how well these episodes turned out.  There’s a lot of damage, scratches, and other defects throughout the set, but considering that just about every other show from the same era has completely disappeared, I will be happy to watch this show as is.

Audio (2 out of 5 stars)

This Honeymooners collection’s audio suffers from the same issues caused by the source material as the video does.  Dialogue is clear but sometimes muffled, but it’s good enough to understand what’s being said.  Music and effects don’t sound as good as one would like but again, this is a sixty year old show that was recorded off of a video monitor so beggars can’t be choosers.  I think the UCLA Film & Television Archive team restored the video and audio the best they could and I’m sure this is probably the best it’s ever going to look and sound.  The sound improves as the set goes on and the episodes are newer.

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars)

For a sixty year old show MPI sure found a lot of cool extras for the fans! While I wish there had been a lot of interviews with rest of the cast, this is still a pretty good collection of extras for a show this old.
  • A Deluxe 42-page Booklet – containing the full Honeymooners history and rare photos, compiled byHoneymooners expert Robert S. Bader.
  • History of the Lost Episodes -  A fifteen minute talk with TV historian Dan Wingate who talks about the history of the show and the show’s evolving changes.  He also talks about the release of the various episodes and the history behind them.  We also get to see some archival footage of Mr. Gleason talking about releasing his episodes that he had been storing for years.
  • All About Trixie: The Joyce Randolph Interview – An almost twenty minute interview with the actress that played Trixie for the longest period of time.  She talks about how the show was put together and filmed and how Jackie Gleason hated rehearsals so they had one run through and then had to do it live.  Joyce is still very fond of the show and lists her favorite episodes as the ones where she had a lot of lines.
  • The Norton Interviews – A series of man on the street type of interviews with Art Carney in character as Ed Norton.  Most of these interviews are conducted by Jackie Gleason and they are a lot of fun to watch. The interviews included are:
    • Man Under the Street Interview – Ed Sullivan
    • People to People – Robert Q. Lewis
    • Brooklyn Dodgers – Jackie Gleason
    • Cost of Living – Jackie Gleason
    • Rock & Roll – Jackie Gleason
    • Norton Helps the Guest Host – Johnnie Ray
  • The Honeymooners Lost Radio Episodes – Since there were a lot of radio listeners that didn’t have a TV set in their house to watch the show, the network and Gleason decided to do some episodes just for the radio to entice listeners to like the show enough to buy a TV to watch the show. Two of these radio broadcast have been discovered and listed below and were later made into TV episodes. They are:
    • Letter to the Boss
    • Love Letter
  • Additional Sketches and Commercials – Here is an eclectic collection of different things.  Some of them are commercials, some are interviews, some of them are parodies, and more.  Here’s some more goodies for fans of the show:
    • Art Carney Receives Award from sewer workers
    • Art Carney Nescafe Commercial
    • Art Carney and Audrey Meadows sketch
    • Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton Old Gold commercial
    • Audrey Meadows on The Jack Benny Show
    • Honeymooners parody from The Red Skelton Show with Peter Lorre and Red Skelton
    • Audrey Meadows Chesterfield commercial
  • The Lost Honeymooners Episodes Scripts – Despite the extensive search for the six missing sketches from the CBS years of the series, they haven’t been found yet.  The good news is that three of those missing episodes were later remade and are still available but there’s still three missing completely.  To help make this the complete set that this is, we have the next best thing since they’ve included the scripts in a PDF format for the three missing episodes.  The three included are: “Easter Hats,” “Alice’s Birthday,” and “The Missing Pair of Pants.”

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars)

This is not only a hilarious show, but it’s also served as the inspiration to many other shows and parodies including The Flintstones, a bunch of Warner Brothers cartoons, a theatrical remake, and countless other imitators.  If you want to see the real deal, then pick up this set as it offers the most complete collection of The Honeymooners around and the fact that it’s been restored and treated with respect just makes it even better.  And away we go!
Order your copy today!

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