The Honeymooners "Classic 39" Episodes
Year: 1955 - 1956
Length: 1016 minutes on 5 DVD 9's
Aspect Ratio: Fullscreen
Audio: DD Mono
Extras: Anniversary Show, Original show opening / closing
SRP: Under $40 USD
Lovable loser Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), wife Alice (Audrey Meadows), screwball neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney) and his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph) finally make their way to DVD on November 4 with Paramount’s release of The Honeymooners “Classic 39 “ Episodes. The Honeymooners blazed the trail for so many situation comedies that followed, it’s fitting that these “Classic 39” episodes get the royal DVD treatment, archiving the landmark show for years to come.
So many of today’s stand-up comedians and comic actors were inspired by Jackie Gleason, it is hard to believe that the television landscape of today would be anything like it is now, had it not been for his great influence. It’s hard to find anyone today, nearly fifty years after the debut of The Honeymooners, who isn’t familiar with either that show - or The Jackie Gleason Show (where the latter show’s characters were created).
Simple in concept - blue collar Americans struggling to carve out their piece of the American pie in Brooklyn, NY - this show has often been imitated but never duplicated.
The Package and Discs
The Honeymooners “Classic 39” Episodes comes to you on 5 discs in Thin Paks, surrounded by a cardboard slipcase. Photos from the episodes appear on the box, and on the individual cases. The package is nicely done, and it takes up less than one and a half inches of space on your DVD shelf.
The first four discs contain eight episodes each, with no extras aside from a subtitle selection screen. The fifth disc contains the remaining episodes, as well as the set’s special features.
Menus are static, and simply laid out. Select the episode you want, and it plays. There is no chapter selection screen, but each episode contains four chapters. Chapter one is the opening credits, and chapter four is the closing credits. Chapter two begins at the start of the program, immediately following the opening credits... simple and quick access to the program material.
So, how’s it look? And what about the sound?
I was a bit concerned when I popped in disc one and selected episode 1, “TV or not TV.” The episode is marred by a few fine scratches throughout, and there is a moderate amount of dust. Worse, the audio is quite muddy, making dialog difficult to hear. Sure, I know this is old source material, but I was hoping for better. Thankfully, at least the dust diminishes over time in this first episode.
While I didn’t screen every episode on the set (I watched four episodes, plus the extras), every other episode I did take a look at looked and sounded spectacular, given the age of the source elements. The picture was sharp and high in contrast, with excellent black levels and shadow detail. An occasional spot of dust can be seen, but overall the picture after the first episode is excellent.
Also, after the first episode, the sound is much clearer and fuller. Dialog on the Dolby Digital Mono track is crisp and clean, with nice clear mid-range.
Considering how this show has been presented on television in reruns over the years, even the first episode is an improvement, but the rest of the episodes I screened were a sight to behold, and music to my ears.
Disc 5 includes The Honeymooners Anniversary Special (DVD version). This special was made for the 35th anniversary of the show, and is hosted by Audrey Meadows. Interviews with Art Carney and Joyce Randolph, as well as some of the “Gleason Players” and writers of the show are included, plus archival interviews with Jackie Gleason. Still, this is primarily a “clips” retrospective on the show. I don’t recall seeing this special when it originally aired on CBS, but I suspect the “DVD Version” is edited down from that original broadcast. This version runs 21 minutes, 53 seconds.
Also included are original series openings and closings, not seen since 1956. These are basically the “brought to you by Buick” sequences seen on the original broadcast, and included Gleason pitching the product.
With the noted exception of the flaws in episode 1, the audio and video on this set is outstanding. You will have never seen these shows look or sound better than this.
I don’t know what kind of archival material is available on this show, but the extras left me wanting a bit more. It could certainly be a “rights” issue, but it would have been nice to see some clips from the original Jackie Gleason Show sketches, or see the 60 Minutes interview with Gleason (clips of which are in the Anniversary Special) in its entirety.
Maybe, if this set sells well, we’ll see The Jackie Gleason Show on DVD, with some more extras than are presented here...
Still, if you are a Jackie Gleason fan, you can’t go wrong with this set. At an estimated street price under $40, it’s a bargain.