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THE HONEYMOONERS:  CLASSIC 39

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Joyce Randolph
Production Supervisor:  Jackie Gleason
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Original Opening/Endings, Anniversary Documentary
Length:  1016 Minutes
Release Date:  November 4, 2003

“Ralph, I am NOT going to help you make a fool out of yourself.”

“I don’t need any help…I’ll do it by myself!”

Shows ****

In my humble opinion, if you could look up “comic timing” in the dictionary, the only thing you would need to see is a picture of Jackie Gleason.

The man was a genius and an artist, painting with laughter and using comedy as a catch-all for endless ideas.  As such, I’ve loved The Honeymooners ever since I was a child (and NO, I was not around when these shows originally aired, thank you very much).  Four well cast individuals, short smart scripts that used the characters as the palate for the humor, and most of all, Jackie’s impeccable timing has made this a sitcom that remains just as popular today as it was a half a century ago.

Paramount’s release of The Honeymooners: The Classic 39 to DVD will bring joy to fans of Ralph and Alice Kramden and Ed and Trixie Norton everywhere.  These are the episodes that cemented the legend of Jackie Gleason while making indelible stars of Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph as well.

Though Jackie was key, it’s imperative not to overlook the contributions of his fellow cast members.  After all, Jackie was famed for offering little to no rehearsal time before each show, and then filming live in front of a real audience to keep him and his actors on their toes.  Things went wrong from time to time…you can see a couple of examples in the classic 39…but the show went on.  Those who could rise to Jackie’s level of professionalism stayed afloat.  Those who didn’t…well, they didn’t get asked back.

The live audience, Gleason explained, helped the cast to hone their timing.  Crowd response was the best way to know how long or how short to hold a moment, when to go big and when to go small, and so on.  Seeing Jackie in front of an audience was seeing a man where he was born to be…he was like a maestro with his finely tuned instrument in hand.  And if you don’t think the laughter was enough to prove how much the crowds appreciated him, wait til you hear a woman hollering “steady!” at Jackie on roller skates!  (“Young At Heart”)

The Honeymooners quickly grew from a stint on The Jackie Gleason Show into a program all its own.  TV viewers couldn’t get enough of Ralph Kramden and his crazy schemes, Ed Norton and his childlike propensity to get into trouble, Alice and Trixie and their tough but longsuffering devotion.  Through ups and downs, through trials and tribulations, the honeymoon never ended for these two couples.

The classic 39 represent early television at its finest, with some of the funniest misadventures in the history of The Honeymooners.  Fans in the 80s were eventually given a second helping of hilarity, as Jackie Gleason opened up his own personal vault and shared his collection of “lost” episodes with the world…a treasure trove of television tickling not seen in decades!

But even though the lost episodes became part of the lexicon, there’s just something special about those original classic 39 that continues to resonate in the hearts of fans.  All of Ralph’s biggest blunders are here.  You want to see him playing a spaceman, or his hysterical missteps during a TV commercial?  You want to see him answer the $99,000 question or deal with Norton’s chronic sleepwalking?  You don’t look any further than this set….these are the true classics.

Being a longtime fan of The Honeymooners, picking just one episode to label my favorite is a lot like picking a favorite candy, when there’s so many you’d hate to do without.  But if I had to, I’d probably pick “Brother Ralph”.  In it, Ralph gets temporarily laid off from the bus company, leading to a tear-inducing laughfest when he and Alice endure a little role-reversal! 

But there’s not an episode you couldn’t go to in the classic 39 and not find an immediate cure for whatever ails you.  You can watch ‘em in order, but you don’t have to.  Even if you’re not familiar with The Honeymooners, any episode will get you into the spirit right away…another trait of Jackie’s genius was his ability to reduce situational comedy to the most basic elements.  In five minutes, you’ll know who’s who and what the relationships are…then it’s BANG! ZOOM!

That elegant simplicity is part of what gives The Honeymooners such enduring charm.  It didn’t need to tackle social issues, political topics, or wade into waters just to push the envelope.  Here was a team of stars and writers comfortable in their own skins and doing what they did best.  How sweet it still is.

So without further ado,  here are the classic 39….and awaaay we go!

TV or Not TV The Man From Space Head of the House
Funny Money A Matter of Record The Worry Wart
The Golfer Oh My Aching Back Trapped
A Woman's Work is Never Done The Baby Sitter The Loudspeaker
A Matter of Life and Death The $99,000 Answer On Stage
The Sleepwalker Ralph Kramden, Inc. Opportunity Knocks But
Better Living Through TV Young At Heart Unconventional Behavior
Pal O' Mine A Dog's Life The Safety Award
Brother Ralph Here Comes the Bride Mind Your Own Business
Hello, Mom Mama Loves Mambo Alice and the Blonde
The Deciding Vote Please Leave the Premises The Bensonhurst Bomber
Something Fishy Pardon My Glove Dial J For Janitor
'Twas the Night Before Christmas Young Man With a Horn A Man's Pride

Video ***

Considering the age of the shows, I was impressed with the overall quality of this offering.  The black and white photography looks clean, with good detail, and not a lot of murkiness or print problems marring the experience.  The first episode, “TV or Not TV”, is a little shaky, but from then on, the shows look quite good, with only a minimal bit of spots or scratches here and there.  Very nicely presented.

Audio **

The audio is about as good as can be expected, given the age of the shows.  Dialogue is mostly clean and clear, dynamic range and background noises are minimal.  Again, the first episode seems the most questionable, but from that point on, the sound works more than serviceably.

Features **

The bonuses are all on the last disc…they include the show’s original opening (different narrator and a “sponsored by Buick” clip), a pair of alternate closings featuring Jackie Gleason giving Buick an extra plug, and the anniversary documentary from about 1985.  It’s shortened a little for the DVD, but it’s hosted by Audrey Meadows and features then-recent interviews with Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Joyce Randolph and some of the shows’ other players and writers.

Summary:

With Paramount’s fantastic new collection of The Honeymooners: The Classic 39, the honeymoon never has to end in your house.  This is television comedy at its purest and most finest.  To Art, Audrey and Joyce, thanks for fifty years of indelible laughter.

And to the one and only Jackie Gleason…baby, you’re the greatest.