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Blu-ray Reviews

The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 9 Matt Hough

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Posted April 26 2014 - 05:03 PM

The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes Blu-ray Review

Ralph Kramden: the lovable, rotund bus driver from Brooklyn with his unfettered pride, hair-trigger temper, and eternal dreams of making it big was an on and off fixture on television for more than two decades. First seen in a series of sketches on Cavalcade of Stars and through various incarnations of The Jackie Gleason Show, the loud but deep down gentle giant and his TV family found immortality in thirty-nine classic episodes of the situation comedy known as The Honeymooners which ran from October 1955 through September 1956. The standalone series was originally to be the first of two thirty-nine episode seasons (with options for a third), but star Jackie Gleason pulled the plug after the first group and went back to the variety show format with “The Honeymooners” as merely sketches contained within it. Thus, this tri-baker’s dozen of episodes which were filmed in the Adelphi Theater in New York are the best record we have of the brilliance of this one-of-a-kind ensemble and their hilarious, unpredictable antics.


Cover Art


Studio: Paramount

Distributed By: N/A

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English PCM 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 16 Hr. 57 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray

keep case with leaves in a slipcover

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: All

Release Date: 05/06/2014

MSRP: $129.99




The Production Rating: 4.5/5

Most of the episodes of The Honeymooners revolve around two distinct concepts: Ralph (Jackie Gleason) trying to gain wealth in any number of ways (a TV quiz show, a kitchen gadget, a new appetizer, becoming the house janitor, inheriting a fortune, finding money he doesn’t know is counterfeit in a suitcase on his bus) in order to provide his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) with more than a cold water flat in a walk-up in Brooklyn or Ralph getting himself into hot water because of his all-consuming pride and ego or, as he always admits, his “BIG MOUTH.” In all of his endeavors he’s joshed along, supported or sometimes thwarted or sabotaged by his well-meaning best friend sewer worker Ed Norton (Art Carney). Ralph, Alice, and Norton (with an occasional assist from Norton’s wife Trixie played by Joyce Randolph) tease, taunt, cajole, nag, brag, love, and forgive one another in a series of hilarious and easily identifiable situations that these wonderful actors play with obvious relish. As with most sitcoms which catch the public’s fancy, The Honeymooners accumulated a series of catch phrases and situational set-ups that audiences looked forward to show after show. If Ralph wasn’t busy threatening to send Alice “to the moon,” he was ordering Norton out of the apartment or nudging him forcefully to have him hurry along with some activity Ed was taking overtly elaborate preparations to attempt. “Bang – Zoom!” “Baby, you’re the greatest!” and “Put ‘er there, pal” entered the American lexicon and stayed there through several generations.

Because the show was filmed in a theater with the audience sitting in seats rather than on a soundstage with the audience in bleachers, there is a far more theatrical feel to The Honeymooners than, say, I Love Lucy, one of its contemporaries of the 1955-56 season. With most (but not all especially the early ones) of the episodes, there is entrance applause for the stars, and obvious mistakes like forgotten lines or actors stepping on one another’s lines did not stop the filming giving each episode the appearance of a play that simply goes on despite any mishaps. Also, there seems to be a tendency for the actors to milk the expected bits of business that worked for them (Carney won an Emmy this season for his performance; Gleason and Meadows were nominated), and improvisation within limits seems to have been encouraged. (Years later, Gleason revealed the handcuff scene in “Unconventional Behavior” was completely improvised.) While none of the shows would come anywhere near dud status, some of the episodes are true classics of the genre: “The Golfer,” “A Matter of Life and Death,” “Better Living Through TV,” “A Matter of Record,” “The $99,000 Answer,” “Dial J for Janitor,” along with the aforementioned “Unconventional Behavior.” And Gleason’s little stock company including George Petrie and Frank Marth along with a couple of hilarious turns by Ethel Owen as Alice’s mother who finds Ralph obnoxious in the extreme can always be counted on for solid support.

Here are the thirty-nine episodes contained on five Blu-ray discs in this Blu-ray set. Those episodes marked with an asterisk (*) are shows which have two versions available: the familiar syndicated versions or the ones with original sponsor material contained in the original opening credits and in Gleason’s closing plugs for Buick cars.

1 – TV or Not TV
2 – Funny Money
*3 – The Golfer
4 – A Woman’s Work Is Never Done
5 – A Matter of Life and Death
6 – The Sleepwalker
7 – Better Living Through TV
8 – Pal o’ Mine
9 – Brother Ralph
*10 – Hello, Mom
11 – The Deciding Vote
12 – Something Fishy
13 – “Twas the Night Before Christmas
14 – The Man from Space
15 – A Matter of Record
16 – Oh My Aching Back
17 – The Baby Sitter
*18 – The $99,000 Answer
19 – Ralph Kramden, Inc.
20 – Young at Heart
*21 – A Dog’s Life
*22 – Here Comes the Bride
23 – Mama Loves Mambo
*24 – Please Leave the Premises
*25 – Pardon My Glove
*26 – Young Man with a Horn
27 – Head of the House
28 – The Worry Wart
*29 – Trapped
30 – The Loudspeaker
*31 – On Stage
*32 – Opportunity Knocks But
33 – Unconventional Behavior
34 – The Safety Award
35 – Mind Your Own Business
36 – Alice and the Blonde
*37 – The Bensonhurst Bomber
38 – Dial J for Janitor
*39 – A Man’s Pride



Video Rating: 4/5  3D Rating: NA

The episodes are presented in their original 4:3 broadcast ratio and are offered in 1080p using the AVC codec. In general, the images are sharp and clear with above average grayscale boasting fine black levels and clean whites. But there are some scratches to be seen occasionally and dust specks on a fair number of episodes. Of course, some of the sponsor materials have been taken from much lower level quality elements occasionally even approaching kinescope level quality. Each episode has been divided into 5 chapters.



Audio Rating: 4/5

The PCM 2.0 (1.5 Mbps) mono sound mix has been nicely cleaned up but is otherwise very representative of the period. Because the show was produced in a legitimate theater, there’s a little built-in echo in the theater’s acoustics which the microphones naturally pick up adding another layer of theatricality to the presentation. Dialogue is always cleanly presented and the music and natural sound effects never interfere with the listener’s understanding the funny lines which pass by.



Special Features Rating: 3/5

Promos (1:07, HD): two promos for the show presented in montage

Best Buick Yet (20:53, HD): a dealer slide show of the new 1956 Buick models with Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Audrey Meadows offering commentary on the new features for that year’s models.

60 Minutes Interview (15:15, HD) Morley Safer interviews Jackie Gleason in a 1984 piece on the venerable news magazine show.

60 Minutes Outtakes (22:35, HD): in many ways even more fascinating than the interview are the segments left out of the piece including Gleason’s views on Chaplin’s likely inability to handle TV’s hectic pace and stories about his work other than The Honeymooners.

American Scene Magazine (52:38, SD): the 1966 episode of Gleason’s variety show featuring “The Adoption,” a musical Honeymooners episode that showed all three stars in a funny and touching story of the Kramden’s adopting a child and showing off Audrey Meadows’ surprisingly impressive singing voice.

35th Anniversary Special (21:35, SD): hosted by Audrey Meadows with clips and reminiscences.

50th Anniversary Special (42:00, SD): hosted by Kevin James and with vintage interviews with Gleason and (then) current comments from Carney and Randolph and stars Tom Hanks, Carol Burnett, Dennis Franz, and John Ritter adding their own congratulations.

Person to Person (10:39, SD): a 1956 segment of the show with Jackie Gleason not the subject of the interview but the interviewer talking with a real Brooklyn bus driver and his family.



Overall Rating: 4/5

The classic thirty-nine episodes of The Honeymooners have never looked or sounded as good as they do in this new Blu-ray set. That the set doesn’t celebrate more strongly the achievements of the cast, the director Frank Satenstein, and the three sets of writer-duos who scripted the shows seems like a missed opportunity. Only fans can decide if the upgrade in picture and sound with these included bonus features alone justify the price CBS/Paramount is asking for the set. Recommended but with reservations.


Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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#2 of 9 Steve...O

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Posted April 26 2014 - 06:17 PM

Thanks, Matt.  Of the three series that CBS/P are releasing on BD this was my most anticipated because (1) it had th most to gain from the DVD counterpart and (2) it is essentially a complete series release.  From your review this sounds like a solid effort that will leave consumers wanting more.  As with the Lucy release, I can wait for a better price.  Granted it was at blowout pricing, but I just picked up the entire run of Dick Van Dyke on Amazon  in BD for $17 less than what this release is going for.

 

Joyce Randolph is still very much alive and in good health at last report.  I'd be curious to find out if she was approached to participate in this. 


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#3 of 9 Matt Hough

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Posted April 26 2014 - 06:20 PM

Well, there really aren't any up-to-date bonus features with the set. That 50th Anniversary special was done in 2005, I believe. That was my biggest problem with this set. A current specialist on the show along with Joyce and maybe other experts and vintage interviews could have been combined to make some audio commentaries for the set, and there just aren't any.



#4 of 9 Steve...O

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Posted April 26 2014 - 07:32 PM

Agreed, Matt.  For something of this level of historical importance some newly produced material would have been appropriate.   CBS has got to have tons of material in its vaults on the 4 stars and surely a Rudy Behlmer type historian on this show would have been available.

 

By the way, you've got to be bleary eyed after watching 39 episodes of this and 36 episodes of ILL - please know that I appreciate your work to educate us all about these sets very much!


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#5 of 9 Matt Hough

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Posted April 27 2014 - 04:15 AM

Thanks, Steve. My preference would have been for the sets to be spaced at monthly intervals instead of all on the same date, but studios don't tend to work that way. On to Andy Griffith and Little House on the Prairie!



#6 of 9 mrz7

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Posted April 27 2014 - 02:54 PM

Definitely going to get this Blu-Ray.  Thank you Matt for the review.  Like Steve O, I am probably going to hold off on "I Love Lucy" for awhile.....just because I can't justify the cost for one season.  I bought the complete series (all 5 seasons) of "Dick Van Dyke Show" for $110.00 back at Christmas time. Here I thought I had a deal, but apparently Steve O got an even better (Good for you Steve!!!).    

 

But since "The Honeymooners: Classic 39" set is a complete series, I might go for it when it gets to the price that Steve bought for the "Dick Van Dyke Show"....LOL......but I am definitely getting this one.

 

Thanks again Matt Hough for your very helpful review!!! 


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#7 of 9 Josh Steinberg

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Posted April 27 2014 - 03:01 PM

Will definitely be getting this!  I wish they had come up with some more bonus features for it, but the episodes themselves are definitely worth the price of admission for me.  I've treasured the DVD set since it came out.

 

It was going to be a day one purchase for me, except that I've gotten a few hints that I might be getting it as a gift for an upcoming anniversary.  My girlfriend will likely be receiving season one of a certain redhead's show in return :)



#8 of 9 A. Pismo Clam

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Posted May 01 2014 - 12:10 PM

Has anybody here seen an uncut Honeymooners episode as originally broadcast?  I wonder if the syndicated versions merely replaced the sponsor openings/closings and left the episode content alone or if little edits were made to the episodes like I Love Lucy?



#9 of 9 Josh Steinberg

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Posted July 24 2014 - 08:30 AM

Amazon has this dropped to $65 today if anyone is interested (it's been hovering at $75 for the recent past).







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