Blu-ray Review: The Honeymooners (“Classic 39” Episodes)

Classic. Classic is all that needs to be said about The Honeymooners. The reason why the Blu-ray release gets called The Honeymooners: “Classic 39” Episodes is because the 39 episodes from 1955-56 are classic. This is not merely a marketing term where “classic” gets thrown on the title to make thing look better. The Honeymooners earned this honor.

The series got its start as a sketch on Jackie Gleason’s variety show at the dawn of television. He was the king of the short lived Dumont network before coming over to CBS. His short pieces about bus driver Ralph Kramden (Gleason) and his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) became so popular that CBS had Gleason turn them into a stand alone sitcom. The heart of action is Ralph’s dream to strike it rich with his neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney). The two neighbors and loyal Raccoon Lodge brothers always had a scheme finally beat the system. Although the harsh reality of their life in a walk up Brooklyn apartment showed how far from the dream they were. Norton’s wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph) isn’t nearly as frustrated as Alice. But then again, Trixie’s apartment wasn’t the Spartan affair of the Kramden’s unit.

The 39 episodes are the television version of books of the Bible. Thanks to nearly 60 years of reruns, fans of The Honeymooners repeat the plots like parables. “Funny Money” has Ralph think he’s made it when he finds an abandoned suitcase full of cash on his bus. “The Golfer” forced Ralph to learn golf when he lies to his boss about swinging a mean driver. “The Sleepwalker” results in Norton being an unwelcomed guest late at night. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” lets Ralph and Alice give more to each other for the holidays. “The $99,000 Answer” puts Ralph on the roads to riches via a game show. “A Dog’s Life’ is a bit more than most of us can chew. “The Worry Wort” puts the IRS on Ralph’s tail. The ironic “Safety Award” still has a dangerous edge. “Dial J for Janitor” drives Ralph over the wall when he helps out around the building for extra cash.

How does a show that only lasted one season become so legendary? It was just that good. Ultimately it was Jackie who pulled the plug on the series because he wanted to do his variety show. He wanted to do more than be Ralph. But he did not give up on Ralph. On The Jackie Gleason Show, he brought back the cast for numerous Honeymooner sketches including some that took up the hour. Those were collected on The Honeymooners: Lost Episodes 1951-1957. The Honeymooners: “Classic 39” Episodes are canon. They go up their with I Love Lucy and The Phil Silvers Show in demonstrating that TV could entertain as well as movie.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The Blu-ray transfers are simply gorgeous. The textures of the apartment set come out. You can almost feel the stucco finish on the kitchen walls. The grain in the chairs is prominent. Alice’s stare is positively frigid. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The boosted up the level on “TV Or Not TV” which was really weak on the DVD release.
Subtitles are in English and Spanish.

Best Buick Yet Dealer Presentation (20:53) is a color short that has Jackie Gleason in color. He’s letting us know about the ’56 Buick that’s coming out. While the rest of the cast contributes, the film is done using still photographs and voiceover.

60 Minutes’ Jackie Gleason Profile (15:15) puts the Great One against Morely Safer on Oct. 28, 1984. The duo shoot a little pool as he recounts his life from Brooklyn to the Moon. Orson Welles nicknamed him Jackie.

Outtakes of 60 Minutes interview (22:35) is the rest of his stories.

The Adoption (52:38) is from the Jackie Gleason show from when it was based in Miami with a cigarette company as his sponsor. Art Carney and Audrey Meadows rejoin him for a musical episode in 1966.

35th Anniversary Special (21:55) looks back at how a one season show has been so beloved after all the years? Audrey Meadows hosts from a kitchen set. The interview with Jackie is from 60 Minutes. He had passed away in 1987. This was written and directed by Peyton Reed, the director of Bring It On.

50th Anniversary Special (42:00) is hosted by Kevin James. It’s a clip show with vintage interviews from the cast and Tom Hanks.

Person to Person segment featuring Jackie Gleason (10:39) as the replacement for Edward R. Murrow on Feb 3, 1956. He interviews a New York City bus driver. The discussion of women drivers is head turner.

The Honeymooners: “Classic 39” Episodes is a reason for Brooklyn to rejoice. The Kramdens have never look more sweeter in their humble apartment. A perfect series receives the perfect treatment.

CBS DVD presents The Honeymooners: “Classic 39” Episodes. Starring: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph. Boxset Contents: 39 episodes on 5 Blu-ray Discs. Released: May 5, 2014.

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