Release Date: October 4, 2011 (MPI Home Video)
B&W / 1951 - 1957
Number of Discs: 15
Number of Episodes: 107
Running Time: Approx. 3000 minutes
Running Time of Features: Approx. 170 minutes
Audio: English mono
Subtitles and Captioning: None
Special Features: Featurettes; The Norton Interviews; The Honeymooners Lost Radio Episodes; Additional Sketches and Commercials; The Lost Honeymooners Episode Scripts
One of the most time-tested series of classic television is The Honeymooners. In the 1955-1956 season, the series aired for 39 episodes on CBS. But the larger legacy of the classic series, though, includes over 100 "lost" episodes that aired as skits on The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS and Calvacade of Stars on the DuMont Network. In the 1950s, 121 of these skits were aired live on The Jackie Gleason Show, some running just a few short minutes and others lasting nearly the entire length of the episode. These weren't filmed to be preserved, but videotaped kinescopes were made for these episodes, and to this date, 107 of these 128 episodes exist. Many of these have aired in syndication over the past twenty five years, beginning in the middle 80s, as part of the syndication package for the series, although they air in haphazardly edited formats designed to fit the 22 minute standard syndication length. Now, for the first time ever, all 107 of the known existing sketches are available to view on home media, having been restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Of the sketches included in MPI's new collection, 30 are new to DVD, and 18 haven't been seen since the original airing of the series.
It is hard to comb through 107 episodes and talk about each and every one, so we won't even attempt to do that. Instead, we'll just focus on some of the highlights of the sketches presented on the set.
The first nine episodes on the set were from Calvacade of Stars on the DuMont Network, and these episodes are much different from every episode that would follow. Most notably, in these, Pert Kelton plays the role of Alice, bringing a much brasher and rough view of Alice, one which I honestly found a bit startling. Kelton ended up leaving the series as it moved to CBS, and the real story (which Audrey Meadows later discovered, and was not happy as she only agreed to play Alice until Kelton recovered) was that Kelton had been identified as a Communist and blacklisted from television.
"The New Bowling Ball" is the first episode featuring Audrey Meadows as Alice, and also the first one to air on CBS. In this episode, Ralph's new bowling ball gets stuck on his finger. Ralph and Ed care for an abandoned baby in "The Lost Baby." In "Lost Job," Ralph finds an unpleasant surprise in his paycheck: a pink slip! Ralph owes the IRS a whopping fifteen bucks in "Income Tax," and isn't sure where he'll find the money. Ralph tries to protect Alice from a neighborhood prowler in "The Prowler." In "Vacation at Fred's Landing," the Kramdens and Nortons go on a fishing trip that turns out to be a huge nightmare.
Ralph wins a $1000 prize at a baseball game in "Lucky Number," except he skipped work to win it! Ralph and Ed want to open a hot dog stand in New Jersey in "Hot Dog Stand." In "Letter to the Boss," Ralph writes a nasty letter to his boss after he thinks he has been fired... but has he? Ralph breaks his leg in a bus accident and decides to sue in "Lawsuit." In "Stand In For Murder," Ralph is given a phony job that may just get him killed!
In "Game Called On Account of Marriage," Ralph has tickets to the World Series, but Alice has other plans for him that he probably won't like. Ralph finds a love letter he wrote to Alice in "Love Letter," but he believes it was sent to her from another man! Ed and Ralph are rooming together, as are Alice and Trixie in "Battle of the Sexes." Ralph and Alice are contestants on Beat the Clock in "Teamwork Beat the Clock." In "A Little Man Who Wasn't There," a trip to a psychiatrist could mean trouble for Ralph and Ed's friendship. Ralph and Alice adopt a baby in "The Adoption." In "A Weighty Problem," Ralph has to lose weight, and fast, for a company physical.
Finally, in addition to several other shorter episodes, the final season includes a series of full-length musical episodes where the Kramdens and Nortons leave on a cruise ship to begin a free trip around the world, with trips to Paris, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, and even Russia.
Most of the "episodes" are just skits that were excised from the original episodes of The Jackie Gleason Show, but some of them (particularly the musical episodes on Discs 13 and 14 where the Kramdens and Nortons were traveling) are full-length episodes from CBS, including all opening credits, closing credits, and even original sponsor messages. Additionally, you'll notice that some episodes are listed twice. That is because the episode itself was performed twice. All of the episodes are in the order in which they aired. Runtimes for all of the skits are as follows:
1. "Bread" (6:28)
2. "Razor Blades" (5:10)
3. "The New Television Set" (8:21)
4. "Ralph Threatens to Leave" (6:34)
5. "Alice and Ralph Get Dressed for a Date Last Night" (8:19)
6. "The Ring Salesman" (8:52)
7. "The Quiz Show" (12:11)
8. "Christmas Party" (41:24)
9. "The Ring Salesman" (8:09)
10. The New Bowling Ball" (9:35)
11. "The Turkey" (10:13)
12. "The Lost Baby (10:05)
13. "The Quiz Show" (11:29)
14. "Halloween Party" (8:52)
15. "Cold" (7:58)
16. "The Pickles" (7:16)
17. "Jellybeans" (8:27)
18. "Six Months to Live" (13:51)
35. "The Prowler" (11:12)
36. "Guest Speaker" (13:41)
37. "Vacation at Fred's Landing" (31:16)
38. "Sprained Thumb" (12:43)
39. "Lucky Number" (16:27)
40. "Hot Dog Stand" (35:13)
41. "Two Tickets to the Fight" (10:52)
42. "Halloween Party" (9:22)
43. "Champagne and Caviar" (14:44)
44. "Letter to the Boss" (32:35)
45. "Finger Man" (11:51)
46. "Santa and the Bookies" (35:02)
47. "Christmas Party" (35:54)
48. "New Year's Eve Party" (37:15)
49. "This Is Your Life" (37:43)
50. "Cottage for Sale" (39:42)
51. "Lawsuit" (15:08)
52. "Fortune Teller" (34:51)
53. "The Next Champ" (37:35)
54. "Stand in for Murder" (42:28)
55. "Move Uptown" (36:58)
56. "The Man in the Blue Suit" (34:30)
57. "Hair Raising Tale" (37:31)
58. "What's the Name?" (8:21)
59. "Box Top Kid" (40:27)
60. "Two Men on a Horse" (38:43)
61. "Good Buy, Aunt Ethel" (41:44)
62. "Vacation at Fred's Landing" (31:00)
63. "Ralph's Sweet Tooth" (36:49)
64. "Game Called on Account of Marriage" (33:34)
65. "Love Letter" (38:50)
66. "The People's Choice (Finger Man)" (40:43)
67. "Battle of the Sexes" (35:45)
68. "Teamwork Beat the Clock" (32:27)
69. "The Brother-in-Law" (34:58)
70. "The Songwriters" (36:48)
71. "Santa and the Bookies" (31:08)
72. "Kramden vs. Norton" (34:46)
73. "A Promotion" (39:10)
74. "The Hypnotist" (38:43)
75. "Cupid" (39:37)
76. "A Little Man Who Wasn't There" (39:25)
77. "Hero" (40:02)
78. "The Great Jewel Robbery" (37:50)
79. "Peacemaker" (37:19)
80. "The Adoption" (37:20)
81. "Stars Over Flatbush" (37:15)
82. "One Big Happy Family" (37:53)
83. "A Weighty Problem" (37:56)
84. "Boys and Girls Together" (36:49)
85. "Principal of the Thing" (34:28)
86. "Songs and Witty Sayings" (39:42)
87. "Letter to the Boss" (31:38)
88. "Stand in for Murder" (41:58)
89. "Double Anniversary Party" (13:11)
90. "The Check-Up" (10:08)
91. "Forgot to Register" (13:41)
99. "Away We Go" (49:12)
100. "Plastered in Paris" (49:02)
101. "Behind the Iron Curtain" (48:04)
102. "When in Rome" (48:01)
103. "Curse of the Kramdens" (48:32)
104. "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" (49:02)
105. "Framed in Spain" (52:27)
106. "I Remember Mau Au" (50:35)
107. "Manager of the Baseball Team" (10:45)
The packaging on the set is rather decently put together for a fifteen disc collection. Many times, large sets like this fall to pieces on the packaging front, but this one has been wisely packaged. The large outer case has a photo of Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows on the cover, and several black and white snapshots in the background. On the back, there is a rather thorough introduction to the episodes and a listing of all of the special features. Inside, there is a case that is almost like a book. If you've seen some Anchor Bay releases, such as their release of the Three's Company DVDs, you'll know what I mean. The case holding the disc is like a book, with seven trays holding two discs a piece (one on the front and back of each tray) and an eighth tray holding just one disc. The disc artwork is the same for all fifteen discs, with a photo of the New York City skyline and Jackie Gleason's face on the moon.
Menu Design and Navigation:
For the most part, the menus are rather nice and functional. They are pretty simple, with the main menu featuring the theme song, a photo of Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows (the same one seen on the cover art), and all of the episodes listed on the main menu, along with a Play All option (which is crucial for the discs where the skits are only about five minutes). But I did notice one problem, and it only seems to exist on Disc 1. For some reason, when you insert the disc, you can't do ANYTHING until the theme music has looped through at least once. I thought my DVD player was frozen at first, but it does the same thing on every DVD player that I try. So, you basically have to wait 30 seconds to do anything on Disc 1. It is really annoying, especially when you watch the DVD in smaller chunks. There are chapters placed throughout the episodes where appropriate (obviously, some of the really short ones don't have them, but the longer ones do have them).
Video and Audio Quality:
Let's be clear about one thing before I say a word about the video and audio quality: these episodes were not filmed and intended to be preserved. These were low-quality video kinescopes that would have, in most other cases, been destroyed, and we should be lucky that we have them at all. With that being said, that disclaimer says about all that needs to be said about the video and audio quality: as expected, many (though not all, some actually look really good) of the episodes don't look pretty at all. You'll find grain and debris everywhere (literally, EVERYWHERE), lighting levels are all over the place, some of the episodes are just plain hard to see, and the audio is almost invariably low, muffled, and has numerous other defects. But this isn't a flaw with the set or the producers of the set. This is normal for a series this old that wasn't intended to be preserved. The UCLA Film & Television Archive has made some considerable effort into making these episodes look as great as they do look, and knowing the work that they do, I'm sure that they made considerable improvements on how this set could have POTENTIALLY looked. I seriously hope that nobody who intends to own this set is wanting to own it for the video and audio quality, because only so much can be done, and I truly think that this is as good as it gets. If there is anything positive to be said about it all, the quality does give it some nostalgic value. Unfortunately, the episodes are not closed-captioned, nor do they contain English subtitles. I can kind of understand why, though, as it would be a lot of work to do all of that, but it is a disadvantage for the hearing impaired.
Having these episodes on DVD, to me, is like a special feature in and of itself. But that wasn't enough for the producers of the DVD set, so fortunately, we have a ton of special features on the set. You'll find all of them on Disc 15. For the sake of simplicity, we'll categorize them all into the groups in which they are set up on the main menu.
"History of the Lost Episodes" (14:19) - In this featurette, we get to see TV historian Dan Wingate (also a DVD producer for many fine MPI releases) give us a brief history of the lost episodes, and why they were "lost" and the initial release of the lost episodes.
"All About Trixie: The Joyce Randolph Interview" (19:08) - Most of the cast of the series is, unfortunately, no longer with us. But Joyce Randolph is very much alive and kicking, and in this featurette, we get to hear her talk about her experience on the series and a bit of history about the character of Trixie. You can tell that she has very fond memories of the series, and particularly episodes where she had a prominent role.
The Norton Interviews: These are a series of various interviews from different people (mostly Jackie Gleason) interviewing Art Carney in character as Ed Norton, giving only opinions and thoughts that the character could present. The interviews included are as follows:
"Man Under the Street Interview - Ed Sullivan" (6:12)
"People to People - Robert Q. Lewis" (11:32)
"Brooklyn Dodgers - Jackie Gleason" (6:16)
"Cost of Living - Jackie Gleason" (5:34)
"Rock & Roll - Jackie Gleason" (6:55)
"Norton Helps the Guest Host - Johnnie Ray" (8:38)
The Honeymooners Lost Radio Episodes: In addition to the TV series, there were also some radio episodes of The Honeymooners. Two of those are included in this set, both of which were also aired as TV episodes later. They are as follows:
"Letter to the Boss" (35:08)
"Love Letter" (28:11)
Additional Sketches and Commercials: Here, we have a hodgepodge of material related to the series that just doesn't fit into any other category.
"Art Carney Receives Award from sewer workers" (1:55)
"Art Carney Nescafe Commercial" (2:11)
"Art Carney and Audrey Meadows sketch" (7:51)
"Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton Old Gold commercial" (1:01)
"Audrey Meadows on The Jack Benny Show" (15:59)
"Honeymooners parody from The Red Skelton Show" (8:22)
"Audrey Meadows Chesterfield commercial" (1:22)
The Lost Honeymooners Episodes Scripts: There are six missing sketches from the CBS years of the series, and three of those episodes were later remade (and the remakes were not lost). However, the other three are still missing, BUT, here, you get to read the scripts for the CBS episodes that still remain lost! We have these complete on-screen scripts for "Easter Hats," "Alice's Birthday," and "The Missing Pair of Pants."
I am really happy to see this set on DVD. In fact, I think that this qualifies as one of the best DVD releases of the year, and gives fans of nostalgia something to truly want for their own collection. It is unfortunate that the means of preserving the series when it originally aired have caused the quality of the episodes to suffer for future generations, but this DVD and the preservation methods being taken now will allow us to hold on to this piece of TV history for a bit longer, as it deserves to be. It would be nice to see MPI follow up on this set with a compilation of as many of the later Honeymooners sketches as they can possibly get together. They've already released most of the "Color Honeymooners" episodes, but it would be nice to have those, along with other specials from the 60s and 70s, in a box set to complement this one. Of course, the "classic 39" filmed episodes are available on a fine set from CBS Home Entertainment, and those are a great complement for this set as well. I have nothing but praise for this set and the efforts of MPI and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. This is a set that has been a long time in waiting, and has gotten the appropriate respect that it deserves.