MPI Networks presents
The Very Best of the Honeymooners (1951-56)
Ralph Kramden: If I called you a dirty bum and a miserable low life, wouldn't you getmad?
Ed Norton: Have I ever?- Jackie Gleason, Art Carney
Stars: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney
Other Stars: Audrey Meadows, Joyce Randolph
Director: Frank Satenstein
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 02h:15m:43s
Release Date: 2000-11-07
DVD ReviewWhen I was a youngster, before man could talk or think, Saturday evenings always had one must-see program: The Jackie Gleason Show. Gleason's variety program was consistently entertaining, but the highlight was always when The Honeymooners segment was featured. This early TV sitcom featured Gleason as the short-tempered, rotund bus driver Ralph Kramden and Audrey Meadows as his mouthy wife Alice; my favorite was always cockeyed sewer worker Ed Norton, played by Art Carney. Joyce Randolph rounded out the cast as Ed's wife, Trixie. This show had a rousing blend of verbal humor and outright slapstick that has seldom been equaled since.
This compilation disc is made up of four programs previously released on VHS. Two of them are brief groupings of "Funniest Moments", which is somewhat of a misnomer. These programs (27m:26s and 27m:32s, respectively) are heavily weighted toward bloopers and mishaps from the early years of the program (which ran nearly 20 years), with Gleason stalling wildly as things fell apart around him on live television in front of 80 million viewers. In fact, almost half of the material in these shows comes from the variety show (such as the Reggie van Gleason bits) and not The Honeymooners segments, which is more than a little disappointing. However, there are some very funny moments indeed from the title segment, including several lengthy clips from the "Beat the Clock" episode. Gleason's double takes, slow burns and outraged eruptions at everything around him are still funny nearly 50 years later. There's also a touching soliloquy by Gleason to a cradle in the episode "The Adoption", although it hardly qualifies as a "funniest moment."
The newest, lengthiest and by far the funniest of the compilations is a 47m:15s piece entitled The Wit and Wisdom of Ed Norton. Art Carney's comedy is still outrageous after all these years, without being lewd or crude beyond pointed references to life in the sewer. Trying to find a good quote for this review was difficult because so much of the humor is in the delivery and the reactions. How does one describe Ed Norton's elaborate preparations to write a simple note (lifted from Laurel & Hardy but raised to new heights)? Without the vest, the crumpled porkpie hat and vacant expression, much of the humor would be completely lost. There are plenty of laughs to be had here, however, because the comic timing and delivery are simply impeccable. Carney and Gleason play off each other expertly, ad libbing like mad but never breaking character.
To close out the package, there is a complete Honeymooners episode from 1953, "Letter to the Boss". Gleason and Carney's talents are well-displayed in this classic episode in which Ralph believes he's been fired from the bus company. Together with Ed, he composes a nasty letter to the boss, telling him off. After Ed leaves to mail the letter, Ralph learns that he has in fact been promoted and goes to crazy lengths to get that letter back from his boss. Yeah, it's the sort of thing that we've seen on hundreds of sitcoms in the decades since, but it's never been as done as well as it was here.
One aspect of the compilations that I find highly irritating is that the narrative voiceover will sometimes describe, for instance, a particular piece of ad libbing in the video as it plays in the background. However, the voiceover drowns out the material on the program so that we have to assume that what was said was very funny, even though we have no clue as to what it might have been. The subtitles are also commandeered by the voiceover, so there's no assistance to be had there either.
Although Ralph Kramden probably would be arrested today as an abusive husband, with his constant threats of "To the moon, Alice, Pow! One of these days," this disc disregards that less savory element of the character and emphasizes his affection for Alice. This is "Honeymooners Lite", but it makes a good introduction to the best parts of the ensemble work and the humor on the program.
It's not really the Very Best of the Honeymooners, but in all, this is a nice package with plenty of classic laughs, at a very reasonable $14.95 list price. There is some mild duplication of material from one program to another, but there's still over two hours of fresh material that will be unfamiliar to many of today's viewers, except to the extent that it's been ripped off by countless other programs since.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Frankly, the image quality ranges from poor to iffy. Taken from kinescopes shot live back in the 1950s, the picture is blurry, smeary and a general mess. Most of the programs look like about a fourth-generation VHS copy. However, this is assuredly the only surviving material, so one can almost accept it with good grace. Unfortunately, MPI doesn't put much effort into getting the most out of what's there; the bit rate runs a meager 2-3 Mbps, which is hardly adequate. Would it have been so hard to at least increase the bit rate so that we would be certain that the poor quality is all due to the kinescopes? That said, the black levels are quite decent, and the range of greys is acceptable.
Image Transfer Grade: D
Audio Transfer Review: The audio suffers from a great deal of noise and hiss, much of which is due to the material being recorded live with primitive equipment. However, the noise and hiss periodically vanish almost completely, causing speculation as to whether some of the material was in fact cleaned up but abandoned. At one point there is also a strange faux stereo effect going on as the mono sound switches from left to right speakers for no particular reason. Definitely not reference material.
Audio Transfer Grade: D+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 42 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: Well, the chaptering is very good. The English subtitles (though often erroneous or sloppy) are a nice touch. But beyond that, there's nothing whatsoever.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsAn amusing look back at one of the highlights of the Golden Age of Television. Video and audio quality, as to be expected, are poor, but at least these classics are still available. Recommended, especially at this bargain price. "How sweet it is!"
Mark Zimmer 2000-11-02