Release Date: July 26, 2011 (MPI Home Video)
B&W / 1954 - 1955
Packaging: Amaray Case
Number of Discs: 1
Number of Episodes: 5
Running Time: 161 minutes
Running Time of Features: N/A
Audio: English mono
Subtitles and Captioning: English Subtitles
Special Features: None
From the earliest days of television all the way into the 1970s, Jackie Gleason gained fame in television playing his role of Ralph Kramden in various incarnations of The Honeymooners, the story of two couples (the Kramdens and Nortons) struggling just to make it every single day. The series, of course, is best known for the "classic 39" episodes, which aired in the 1955-1956 season on CBS. But before and after that, the series aired as skits on The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS, and even before that, on Calvacade of Stars on the DuMont Network. This collection contains five of the best episodes from the second and third seasons of The Jackie Gleason Show from CBS.
The episodes included on the DVD are as follows:
"Stand in for Murder" (April 17, 1954) - A mob boss, who looks exactly like Ralph, is a target of a rival gang, and a plan to get Ralph murdered could just save the mob boss.
"Principle of the Thing" (April 30, 1955) - Ralph decides to withhold rent from the landlord (special cameo by Jack Benny) when he refuses to make repairs.
"A Weighty Problem" (April 16, 1955) - A bus-company inspector determines that Ralph is getting too fat to drive the bus, and he must lose weight, and fast.
"The Little Man Who Wasn't Here" (February 12, 1955) - Ralph gets too many complaints by passengers on the bus and is ordered to see a psychiatrist, but his biggest mistake may be to take Norton with him.
"Songwriters" (December 11, 1954) - Ralph and Norton's latest get-rich-quick scheme involves writing songs, but will the effort pay off?
The "episodes" presented here are very rough cuts straight from The Jackie Gleason Show, so as a result, they do not have any opening credits or closing credits. However, aside from that, the episodes appear to have all of the material that is essential to the skits intact. The episode runtimes are as follows:
"Stand in for Murder" (38:57)
"Principle of the Thing" (34:25)
"A Weighty Problem" (37:54)
"The Little Man Who Wasn't Here" (39:24)
The packaging isn't particularly exciting at all. It is just a standard Amaray case with a photo of Ralph and Alice on the front, and a photo of the entire cast on a bus (with Ralph driving, of course) on the back. The back of the case also lists all of the episodes and has a thorough description of the episode. The disc artwork is the same as the cover art.
Menu Design and Navigation:
The main menu (and only menu on the disc) is very plain. Basically, there is just a menu that lists all of the episodes, along with a Play All option and an option to turn on the subtitles. Chapters are placed throughout each episode.
Video and Audio Quality:
Before I say anything about the video and audio quality of the content of this DVD, it is important to note that these are going to look awful no matter what. The source material for these episodes was not preserved on film in some vault, but rather what we have are kinescopes that are of widely varying quality. And with that being said, the "varying" quality is, generally speaking, pretty poor. There is grain and debris all over the place, the black levels are terrible, the audio is low and muffled and crackles a lot. I could go on all day about the problems. But this is about as good as it is going to get. There is very little, if anything, that could be done to make these episodes look any better than they do. And considering the classic value of this series, it would be a travesty to just completely avoid releasing them, so MPI seems to have done the best that they possibly could here. Still, don't expect extraordinary video and audio quality. The episodes all have English subtitles.
There isn't a single special feature on this disc. Maybe what would have been nice to have as a special feature would be some of the footage from the "show around the show," but considering how well these have been preserved, I can only imagine those elements are in even worse shape.
This is really about the best taste that anybody is going to get of these lost episodes of The Honeymooners, as the previous multi-disc sets have been out-of-print for some time now (you can still buy them, but expect to pay a ton of money). It is a shame, because this is one of the greatest classic series of all time. It would be nice if MPI could make an attempt to re-release those out-of-print sets, but unless that ever happens, this DVD is your best bet. These are great episodes, and gave me more of an appreciation for The Honeymooners than I ever had before. I am confident that MPI did the best that they possibly could with this release, as they have done for other releases, it is just that the problem is that "the best" is difficult when you have bad source material to begin with.