The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Collection

The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Collection

Jackie Gleason
 Cast: Jackie Gleason
Jackie Gleason
, Audrey Meadows
Audrey Meadows
, Art Carney
Art Carney
, Joyce Randolph
Joyce Randolph


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Watching these classic 1955-1956 episodes of The Honeymooners is likely to leave viewers seduced. The high quality of the shows' humor is a given, to be sure; between the characterizations by Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Joyce Randolph (the sole surviving star of the show as of November 2003), the writing by one of the best teams of its era, and Gleason's overall production, the series is timeless in its appeal and has been delighting audiences in syndicated reruns since the end of the 1950s. One could reasonably assume that any of these "Classic 39" episodes (the ones from 1955-1956, shot on film in front of a live audience, as opposed to the so-called "lost episodes," which originated as sketches on Gleason's variety show, presented live on-the-air and preserved on kinescope), each of which has been rerun thousands of times, would have nothing new to reveal -- but that would be wrong. The transfers and the playback on these discs are so sharp -- superior even to the current broadcast masters -- that there are details one just never saw before. In "The Bensonhurst Bomber, the shadows that fall across the pool tables in the opening scene, and even the texture of the fabric of Ralph Kramden's (Jackie Gleason) uniform or in guest player George Mathews' suit is visible. And in "Funny Money" (where Ralph finds a bag filled with money), the picture is so sharp that the lines in Ralph's custom-made sports coat shimmer. One can also appreciate the realism of the Brooklyn street backdrops and the alleyway backdrop seen out the Kramdens' window, right down to the dusk and night lighting effects. In addition, one can now see exactly how carefully the details, even in the costumes, right down to the badges and buttons of Ralph Kramden's uniform, were captured. The effect is one of almost hyper-realism, especially in glittering black-and-white -- it's the next best thing to being at the actual shoot. Equally important, watching the shows this way, uncut and seamlessly, one can appreciate the details of scripting that have eluded us for many years in broadcasts. In "Oh My Aching Back, for example -- the show in which Ralph goes bowling and wrenches his back on the eve of a bus company physical -- it turns out that every detail of the plot, even the reason why there is no food in Ed Norton's ice-box that night (and why Trixie Norton isn't home), which leads to a priceless series of gags, is all explained in a breezy, subtle one-minute sequence at the beginning of the episode. This and other openings and closings to episodes haven't been shown since the series originally aired. Presented this way, the best of these episodes come off every bit as beautifully symmetrical as the best one-act plays. This box is filled with little delights like that, which also help to explain another aspect of the appeal of this series. The way it was produced -- live but on film, in front of an audience, with carefully crafted scripts but also with a degree of spontaneity (thanks to Gleason's refusal to fully rehearse) -- combined the strongest elements of live theater and filmed entertainment. The so-called "lost episodes," by contrast, having gone out live, mostly lack the polish or care of these shows, either visually or as performances, and fail a good part of the time as a result. Incidentally, one of the ironies of the lead-off episode, "TV or Not TV, is that the program that Ed Norton is so anxious to see, Captain Video, was never rerun or reshown because it was preserved on kinescope (virtually all lost) rather than shot on film. In fact, the main way that anyone has known about Captain Video, or has had any impression of what it was like, is from watching this episode of The Honeymooners. The first four discs here each contain eight uncut 26-minute episodes. Disc five has seven original shows plus a 20-minute-long 35th anniversary special from 1990, hosted by the late Audrey Meadows and featuring interviews with the late Art Carney, Joyce Randoloph, Gleason company supporting players Frank Marth and George Petrie, and writer Leonard Stern, plus archival interviews with Gleason from a mid-'80s 60 Minutes appearance. Carney is the most interesting in terms of explaining his character (and one particularly popular bit of comic business that he adopted from his own father), while Meadows is the most entertaining. The other bonus features are the series' original opening and closing sequences, which include plugs -- in their credits and announcements, as well as from Gleason (stepping out of character) -- for the series' sponsor, Buick. The programming of the set is fine as far as it goes, presenting the shows in their original broadcast order. The menu on each disc is in two sections delineating each episode under its official name, which will not always be obvious to those familiar with the plots; the stills in the boxes are sometimes a better guide. Each show gets three chapters, including opening and closing credits, which is adequate since the plots are simply structured, with the complexities growing out of the characterizations and settings. The only flaw lies in the lack of additional credits -- none of the actors who played supporting roles in the show, including such familiar names as Marth and Petrie, Ronnie Burns, Sid Nathan, and Ned Glass (who was blacklisted at the time), and even such renowned New York theatrical figures as Alexander Clark, were ever named in the credits. There should have been a full cast list for each show included somewhere in the packaging. The five discs come in separate narrow clamshell-style cases that are packaged together in a slipcase, with a minimum of room available for annotation, though it is also a very handy format. On a purely practical level, the menus are easy to use and the sound is in excellent shape, mastered very cleanly, and a match for the image, which is perfect. And all of it costs about a fifth as much (and weighs about a tenth as much) as the only prior comparable release, the laserdisc version from 11 years earlier, in two massive and awkward boxes (which mostly ripped at the corners under the weight) that were discontinued very quickly, and now feel like so much wasted tonnage.

Product Details

Release Date: 11/04/2003
UPC: 0097368792043
Original Release: 1955
Rating: NR
Source: Paramount
Region Code: 1
Sound: [Dolby Digital]
Time: 16:56:00
Sales rank: 687

Special Features

The Honeymooners anniversary special (DVD version) Includes rare interviews with the stars; Original series opening and closings not seen since 1956

Cast & Crew

Customer Reviews