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MPI Home Video presents
The Honeymooners: Lost Episodes—Set #1 (1953 - 1956)

"I got a BIG mouth."
- Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason)

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: November 28, 2001

Stars: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Joyce Randolph
Director: Frank Satenstein

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 06h:30m:00s
Release Date: October 30, 2001
UPC: 030306351629
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B C+D+D+ C-

DVD Review

Ralph Kramden spends his time, like Lucy Ricardo, conniving to get whatever it may be that he thinks he wants, dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes, and always lives to regret his actions. At least Ralph doesn't whine when his just desserts wind up like so much pie in his face, but he sure does yell a lot.

The Honeymooners began as one of many sketches on Jackie Gleason's first televised vehicle, Cavalcade of Stars. In 1952, he signed with CBS to produce a new Saturday evening variety hour called The Jackie Gleason Show and brought the concept with him, expanding the bits well beyond their original 5-minute length. Eventually, The Honeymooners became so popular it was given its own 30-minute timeslot, the format most often seen in syndication.

The Kramdens live in Brooklyn on Chauncey Street, based on the neighborhood—and its denizens—of Gleason's own childhood. The financial and marital problems illustrated by Ralph and Alice (Meadows) were common to the many Americans who tuned in each week; made to seem worse by exaggeration, the audience could come to understand that their own peccadilloes were perhaps not insurmountable. Ed and Trixie Norton (Carney and Randolph, respectively), their friends and upstairs neighbors, filled out the comedy and brought relief to the monotony of their cramped existence in their tiny two-room flat. Sometimes extraordinary things happened to these very ordinary people, as in several of the episodes included here.

I was surprised how my memory of these shows differed from what I watched here. The physical comedy far outweighs the battery of one-liners I had thought were key to the humor. I also noted that in every episode, the line Ralph repeats without fail is not one of the first 5 that might spring to mind, but one in which he proclaims Norton to be a "mental case," often followed by muttering something about sending him to Bellevue.

Each episode is rated individually by "honeymoons," with five as the best.

Disc One
Episode 1: Letter to the Boss (32m:50s)
Original airdate: November 14 1953

"Before I see you work I'd rather see you starve." - Ralph

After nine long years, Ralph gets the word that he won't be driving for the Gotham Bus Company anymore and decides to write his boss a letter to tell him exactly what he thinks of him. With Norton lending a hand, what could go wrong? This one ends with Gleason doing a bit of his trademark, physical shtick. (This episode also appears on The Very Best of the Honeymooners).

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 10
Rating: 4.5

Episode 2: Suspense (10m:48s)
Original air date: January 24 1953

"Get out, Norton, we're gonna have a fight." – Ralph

It's a wonder the Kramdens managed to stayed married for so many years. They never confide in each other, and constantly manipulate at every opportunity to get what they want. Here, Ralph believes Alice is plotting to kill him. Actually, she does have something to hide, but if she feels compelled to lie about something like this, perhaps she's better off dead.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 6
Rating: 4

Episode 3: Dinner Guest (10m:13s)
Original airdate: May 2 1953

Muller: Maybe we can go to a drive-in movie.
Ralph: What for? We're all married.

Ralph's plan to cozy up to his boss to gain a promotion at the bus company is unwittingly foiled by Alice again and again…or is it? This time, Alice really does get in his way, but it turns out that Ralph must still apologize in the end. Watch for that Norton "Mambo Rhythm."

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 3
Rating: 2.5

Disc Two
Episode 1: Songs and Witty Sayings (39m:08s)
Original airdate: May 14 1955

"Well, if you do…you'll be the first girl to do a hula dance on the moon!" - Ralph

Ralph and Ed scheme to enter a amateur contest to win $200. Meanwhile, Alice and Trixie have the same idea. After various arguments about who has more talent and who's going to win, both pairs enter.

Show night: A guy with a bicycle gets the hook; Alice does the hula while Trixie plays the ukulele; the boys do a swami mind-reading act, but Ralph does what he does best: freezes in the limelight, and the boys bomb. Watch for Carney's quick impression of Times Square and Gleason and Carney do a delightful Laurel and Hardy spin.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 2
Rating: 3

Episode 2: Norton Moves In (12m:25s)
Original air date: April 18 1953

"One of these days, one of these days…POW! Right in the kisser!" – Ralph

The Nortons have their apartment painted and need to stay over with their downstairs neighbors; inexplicably, this adventure begins in the middle of the night. Ralph and Ed attempt to share a cot in the kitchen whilst the girls get the bedroom. Gleason throws Ralph into his classic, physical histrionics.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 2
Rating: 3

Bonus Episode 1 (unlisted): Goodnight Sweet Prince (15m:36s)

Original airdate: not listed

Alice: If I don't breathe, I'll faint.
Ralph: That's all right, just don't make any noise when you hit the floor.

Ralph gets the nightshift and, if it is fathomable, he is crankier than ever due to lack of sleep. Norton tries to help—emphasis, as ever, on "tries." Ralph padding about in his jammies is comedy in itself.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 2
Rating: 2.5

Bonus Episode 2: Income Tax (10m:43s)
Original airdate: not listed

Alice: Do you have the answer?
Ralph: Are you kiddin'? I'm droppin' dead from the question!

Even though Alice's brother is willing to do it for a dollar, Ralph insists he works out his income tax himself. After ranting and raving, he actually does something generous and this becomes a bit of a moral tale.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 1
Rating: 2.5

Disc Three
Episode 1: Christmas Party (35m:51s)
Original airdate: December 19 1953

"I'm always good for a laugh." - Ralph

This episode is really a series of vignettes. Alice sends Ralph out to get the right kind of potato salad (from Krause's) while she and Trixie prepare for a party at the Kramdens. While Ralph is gone, the girls are visited by a series of characters, most of them played by Gleason: The Poor Soul, Al the Bartender and Reggie Van Gleason among others. A sort of topsy-turvy episode, as The Honeymooners sketch winds up hosting a variety show.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 2
Rating: 4

Episode 2: Forgot to Register (14m:22s)
Original air date: October 27 1956

"I forgot the depression? I didn't even know it was over!" – Alice

Ralph and Ed work hard on the campaign to elect Walter Penrose to the state assembly, and it's now election night. Ralph gets mad at Norton first, because after all their work, Ed says he never votes. Next, Alice says she is voting for the opponent. And just when he's had it "up to here," the news gets worse…

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 3
Rating: 2

Bonus Episode 1: Champagne & Caviar (14m:41s)
Original airdate: not listed

"Champagne… va-va-vavoom!" – Norton

Ralph plots to psyche out his boss when he comes up to the apartment by offering caviar, champagne and Havana cigars. Alice tries to tell him it will backfire—but does he listen?

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 2
Rating: 2

Bonus Episode 2: Finger Man (12m:25s)
Original airdate: not listed

Norton: Are those stories in Dick Tracy really taken from police files?
Ralph: Whaddaya botherin' the police chief for? Asking silly questions… certainly they're from the police files!

Ralph "fingers" a wanted murderer on his bus who then publicly threatens him. He plays the hero to the hilt—until he hears that the killer has escaped. The police plan a trap by luring "Bullets" to the Kramden's apartment and it is ever-bumbling Norton who saves the day.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 3
Rating: 4.5

Disc Four
Episode 1: New Year's Eve Party (37m:09s)
Original airdate: December 26 1953

"It was the craziest coincidence." - Alice

Early in the day, Alice had stumbled across a briefcase filled with sheet music and discovered it belonged to the Dorsey Brothers. Later, Ralph and Alice argue over what to do for New Year's Eve: she wants to go out, but he's too cheap and wants to stay in. When the Dorseys show up to retrieve their music, they solve the dilemma by inviting the gang to their show at a swanky club. All is well until Ralph is suddenly stuck with the night shift and lies to his boss to get out of it.

Includes the Dorseys' band performing for the final 10 minutes of the episode.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 4
Rating: 5

Episode 2: Two-Family Car (18m:12s)
Original air date: November 17 1956

Ralph: What could be bigger than sewing my bowling socks?
Alice: I was sewing your pants.

Ralph and Ed chip in on a raffle ticket to win a "1957 4-door sedan deluxe." Ralph gets the news that they've won and tries to dupe his friend. After quarrelling all evening about how to split it up, their prize shows up—Alice and Norton laugh it off, but Ralph has his feathers ruffled.

Lies, arguments and misunderstandings: 3
Rating: 2.5

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image quality goes from bad to worse across the board. Derived from tapes of the original live kinescopes, everything is soft, smeary, scratched and distorted. However, as this is the only source material that still exists, fans will forgive their condition. What seems less forgivable is the transfer itself, which it appears MPI did little to enhance; with so little on each disc, the extremely low bit rate in most cases seems a poor choice. Still, they are watchable, just don't expect much more than you might already have on VHS; the difference here is that the images won't degrade any further on DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio suffers here as well, mostly from the original medium and the show's relative age. While far from optimal, it is always coherent and does not detract much from the overall enjoyment. Jackie Gleason wrote the familiar theme song, You're My Greatest Love, which still sounds great after all this time.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Two bonus features
Extras Review: Disc One includes the bonus feature, Ralph Kramden's Greatest Schemes, a series of five shorts with voiceover introductions, including some rare, out-of-character sequences with Gleason as his rich cousins Wilbur and Reggie, featuring Carney as their father, and an another with Gleason as "The Poor Soul," in which Carney appears as a police officer.

These pieces are entitled: Ralph, the Schemer; Reggie Van Gleason III; The Midnight Move;The Poor Soul and Staging a Robbery.

"Halloooooooooooo there!" - Ed Norton

Disc Four is home to the bonus feature, My Man Norton (14m:41s), hosted by Joyce Randolph. Clips of various scenes featuring Carney and his various Norton-isms are showcased, as well as the unique, show-stealing physical comedy that made him a star.

A few episodes have brief (1-3 second) animated segues between them: don't blink.

Overall, the layout of this set is a mess. Some discs play the episodes in sequence; others return you to the menus for each one. What is nice is the care taken with the general menu design: the main menu animates in over the familiar opening segment, and the episode menus loop through a major bit of audio/video clips from the shows featured.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

"Hamina, hamina…"- Ralph

These shows were not exactly lost; Gleason had them all along, waiting for someone to ask for them. While not in great shape, it is a wonder they still exist in any form, a testament to Gleason's devotion to his creation. While far from a "best of" collection, true Honeymooners' fans and completists should be thrilled to upgrade their collection to the DVD format with these unusual episodes.


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