Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks that if 24 ever returns, it might be time for Kiefer Sutherland to switch to a musical variety sketch format.
Our reviews of The Color Honeymooners: Collection 1 (published June 27th, 2006), The Color Honeymooners: Collection 2 (published March 10th, 2008), The Color Honeymooners: Collection 4 (published August 20th, 2008), The Honeymooners (published December 8th, 2005), The Honeymooners: The Classic 39 Episodes (published November 25th, 2003), and The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes (The Complete Restored Series 1951-1957) (published November 8th, 2011) are also available.
"We're spending so much time together, we might find out that we hate each other. Now is that what you want to do, break up a happy marriage?"—Ralph Kramden, to his wife Alice
In fall 1967, the revival of Jackie Gleason's "Honeymooners" sketches was going into its second season on The Jackie Gleason Show. The Kramdens still had their antique icebox, but the episodes were in color, with song-and-dance numbers. The curiosity value alone should make these worth a look, but the sketches had lots of laughs, too. So it's understandable that audiences wanted more, even if it seems unlikely on the surface.
Facts of the Case
The Color Honeymooners: Collection 3 features 12 more hour-long segments of the classic comedy, on three discs:
• "Hair to a Fortune": Ralph buys a phony formula for hair tonic from con artists. His first customer, unfortunately, is his boss, Mr. Marshall.
• "The People's Choice": Ralph helps capture a notorious criminal—twice. A hero with a lot of ego and not too much in the way of brains would make the perfect state assemblyman, at least in the eyes of two crooked party hacks.
• "Two for the Money": Ralph decides that playing the ponies is the best way to recover the $200 in Raccoon Lodge money he misplaced. What are the odds against this one working?
• "Out of Sight, Out of Mind": Ed tags along when the bus company sends Ralph in for a psychological test. The diagnosis is easy: "Do you notice how much calmer you are now that Mr. Norton is out of the room?" the doctor asks Ralph.
• "Two Faces of Ralph Kramden": One of them belongs to a mob boss who's running from a rival and wants to set up Ralph for a date with a machine gun.
• "The Main Event": Ralph and Ed go into the fight business when a boxer friend of Ed's uncle arrives in town.
• "Sleepy Time Gal": Ralph figures a hypnotist can get Alice to tell where she hid the money she's been saving, but Ralph gets a surprise when Alice finds out about his plan.
• "Boy Next Door": When Ralph finds a love letter Ed wrote to Trixie years ago, he thinks some man is writing love letters to Alice. Will his marriage and his friendship survive when Ralph takes the letter to a handwriting analyst?
• "Follow the Boys": Alice and Trixie realize the honeymoon's over, since Ralph and Ed spend more time together than with their wives. Trixie suggests putting the romance back in their marriages.
I suspect when Jackie Gleason agreed to revive "The Honeymooners" on his show in 1966, he was expecting the sketches to disappear in a few weeks. After all, hour-long singing, dancing rehashes of a failed sitcom should be too preposterous an idea to succeed. However, the "Classic 39" episodes of The Honeymooners had already become a beloved fixture of local TV lineups, and the Kramdens and the Nortons were destined to become a fixture on The Jackie Gleason Show again as well.
I may have reached the eighth episode ("The Main Event") before I found a surprising plot twist, but Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Sheila MacRae, and Jane Kean wring laughs out of the material. Gleason even wrings some emotion out of "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," as Ralph tries to break off his friendship with Ed in order to preserve his sanity. Carney doesn't go for pathos anywhere, but his comic timing's impeccable. As usual, MacRae rules the Kramden house with an iron fist in a velvet glove, even if Ralph doesn't realize it until the end of an episode and the Kramdens couldn't afford velvet gloves anyway. Kean, as Trixie Norton, doesn't get much screen time, but manages to have some hilarious bits; she's hilarious as Trixie and Ed make a big noise to break a lease in "Be It Ever So Humble" and as Trixie romances Ed all over again in "Follow the Boys."
"Follow the Boys," which actually focuses on the Kramdens' marriage, is the funniest one in the set, including a scene in which Gleason and MacRae play the funniest game of checkers in history. It should be no surprise to see Gleason and company rushing the last scene because the laughs from the studio audience slowed things down. Some great bits make "The People's Choice," "Two for the Money," "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," and "The Main Event" classics as well. "Nephew of the Bride" is an unusual treat because it strays from the usual Ralph and Ed antics to let Ethel and the butcher get a lot of the laughs.
These episodes have the sort of flaring and other minor flaws you'd expect from forty-year-old TV videotape. Still, they're in reasonably good condition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you've watched the old black-and-white Honeymooners and didn't even crack a smile, a paint job won't win you over.
Those musical sketches can be kitschy, since they open with the June Taylor Dancers. On the other hand, you haven't lived until you've seen a slickly choreographed dance number set on a putting green, with golf clubs swinging.
This sounds like a good place to make a statement about closings. Since it's actually The Jackie Gleason Show, the star steps out of character at the end of each episode to talk to the Miami Beach studio audience, sipping his "coffee" ("The mountain grown kind," he says with enough gusto to suggest it's something else in his cup.). These endings may be hokey, but they do give you a give you a glimpse of TV variety, especially when Gleason's making impromptu adjustments because the show ran short or long.
I'll have to end this here; I need a cup of "mountain grown" coffee. Not guilty.
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