Appellate Judge James A. Stewart once wrote a song. He got offered $25,000 not to play it...ever.
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 3 (published May 21st, 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.
"I think the two of you are just being stupid, childish, and just plain stubborn—which only goes to prove one thing: the two of you are made for each other."—Trixie Norton, counseling a bickering Ralph and Alice Kramden
After reviewing three volumes of The Color Honeymooners, hour-long musical episodes of The Jackie Gleason Show devoted entirely to the Kramdens and the Nortons, could there be anything new left?
Yes, there could be. In the introduction to the first segment (which started the 1969 season), announcer Johnny Olson introduces "the new Jackie Gleason." The star isn't quite a beanpole, but he has slimmed down by 60 pounds for what would turn out to be his last season of regular weekly work for CBS.
"I used to wear a big belt, and now I wear a little belt—and you know how I like a little belt now and then," Gleason says of his new svelteness. The diet gets a few mentions in the sketches as well, as when Ralph's thinking of sightseeing in San Francisco, but every locale is associated with food.
There's another difference, as pointed out on the DVD cover. While the previous three seasons' Honeymooners stories took off from earlier sketches, everything in this final batch of 12 was written fresh for The Jackie Gleason Show.
It's The Color Honeymooners: Collection 4, and awaaaay we gooooo!
Facts of the Case
The Color Honeymooners: Collection 4 features 12 episodes on three discs:
"Ralph Goes Hollywood": Ralph's looking for a lucky break to land him in the songwriting business, and it falls from the sky—literally—in the form of Bing Crosby's wayward golf ball. Bert Parks and Maureen O'Hara also guest.
"Mexican Hat Trick": Smugglers in Mexico are looking for a really dumb tourist to unwittingly carry stolen diamonds into the States. Ralph appears to be the perfect sucker—until he loses the diamonds.
"Case of the Cuckoo Thief": A shoplifter stashes his steal in Alice's bag to avoid arrest, leaving Ralph thinking Alice is a kleptomaniac and Alice thinking the same of Ralph. Milton Berle and Joe Flynn guest.
"Happiness Is a Rich Uncle": Unhappiness, for Ralph, is finding out that Alice's rich uncle is about to marry a young woman (Joey Heatherton).
"Hawaii, Oh! Oh!": Charlie Pineapple (Donald O'Connor) has a formula for getting the dough to pay off a gambling debt: con Ralph into buying his secret reducing formula.
"The Sun and Raccoon Capital": In Miami Beach, Ralph is drafted to run for mystic ruler of the Raccoons at the annual convention. Trouble is, someone's nominated Ed, too.
"Double Trouble": Ralph has yet another doppelganger; this time, it's a check bouncer who's using his name. Jackie Gleason plays a dual role.
"We're Off to See the Wizard": When a hotel mixup cancels their reservation during Mardi Gras, the Kramdens and Nortons stay with Ed's distant relation, a voodoo practitioner who's got a plan to scare up some mortgage money by conning Ralph.
"Operation Protest": Ralph gets a promotion to the executive suite at the bus company, and loses it in one day, thanks to a protest organized by Alice's nephew.
The 1969-70 season of Honeymooners episodes has a season-long story arc that finds Ralph and Ed on the road and on the road to riches, only bouncing them back to start in the final episode. Showing Ralph and Ed composing a hit song might have been good for an episode, especially since Jackie Gleason had a successful sideline as a composer, but devoting a story arc to it might have been a mistake. It allows for a lot of star cameos, but it could be too much of a good thing. Moreover, while the stories might be all-new for the show, they aren't quite fresh; the situations are all rehashes of what you'd expect from The Honeymooners.
Even so, there are some good episodes here. In two back-to-back episodes, "Case of the Cuckoo Thief" and "The Honeymoon Is Over," Gleason and Sheila MacRae add depth to their characters with songs that show their feelings as their marriage is tested. "Thief" also has a stunning comic dance number as the cops chase their shoplifter in a sort of ballet. These episodes won me over by making the music into a fantastic asset.
As the 1960s drew to a close, the musical numbers started to take on more of a swingin' '60s sound, including a guest appearance by the Baja Marimba Band in "Mexican Hat Trick."
The episodes have some flaring and other problems you'd expect from video that's nearly 40 years old. I noticed some odd blue lines at the start of one episode and some lines on the side here and there. Sound quality was acceptable. Some episodes ran a little short, so there's a possibility that some songs had rights issues.
MPI wraps up The Color Honeymooners with two bonus features, an interview with Jane Kean and a reunion sketch from a 1973 special. TV's last Trixie Norton wrote a book about her career and experiences working with Jackie Gleason on TV and stage, and her reminiscences are interesting. The 1973 sketch has some swingin' topicality, with jokes about women's lib, the pill, and gay marriage, but it all leads to the familiar: Trixie and Alice walk out on Ralph and Ed, leaving them to fend for themselves—once again.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Why hasn't MPI released any of the regular Jackie Gleason Show episodes from 1966-70? You know, the ones that weren't devoted entirely to The Honeymooners. It may be just a curiosity by now, but Gleason fans might want to check out a selection of the best episodes.
These musical Honeymooners scripts would be a natural for late-night cabaret, so here's hoping someone notices.
As for The Color Honeymooners: Volume 4, these sketches have some great moments, but a few clinkers were slipping in here and there. If you've already collected the first three volumes and still can't get enough of the Kramdens and the Nortons, there's enough here to warrant finishing off the set.
It looks like Jackie Gleason picked just the right point to bow out, leaving the audience wanting more. Gleason and company could have done The Honeymooners for the rest of their lives, but they'd have eventually reached the point where nobody was saying "Baby, you're the greatest!" anymore.
Not guilty. And awaaaay we goooo…
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• Interview with Jane Kean
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