Top positive review
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All the fixins and a couple of heels in the breadbox.
on October 6, 2011
Restored? Well, not entirely. Nevertheless, a great effort was made to create a worthy boxed set of Honeymooners material and this deserves a top rating. This is the most complete 'Lost Episodes' collection ever (and perhaps to ever be) offered. Of course, the series itself is not complete without the 'Classic 39' (not included here, but available separately), but for all else classic black and white Honeymooners, this is it.
Let's start from the beginning ...
This set includes the first Honeymooners skit (without Audrey Meadows, but with Art Carney as a police officer) from 5 October, 1951. As a nice added touch, the original host introduction precedes it. From this and other early skits, we witness the initial incarnations of some of television's most famous lines of dialog. "Don't steam me, Alice" was there from the beginning, but "'cause I'm already steamed" would only be added in later routines. "One of these days, Alice" was also not yet accompanied by "Pow! Right in the kisser". The earliest surviving Joyce Randolph appearance (as Trixie) is in The Ring Salesman from 7 December 1951. The earliest surviving Audrey Meadows (as Alice) can be found in The New Bowling Ball from 20 September 1952. Both are also included in this impressive set. The kiss at the end was there from the start, but the true magic between actors was yet to take shape.
This collection was pieced together into an impressive 15-DVD set. And no double-sided discs, so that's a big plus. The booklet is nice and colorful, giving you a brief bio, basic information about the skits, and features some nice images. In fact, all skits appear to be listed, whether or not the films still exist. For what no longer exists (or otherwise could not be found), a chronological placement and identification is included in the list along with the episodes found on the respective discs of this collection.
The content is as good as you would hope, tracing Honeymooners back to the very beginning and garnishing it with several special features of which many had not been seen since their original airing decades ago. Beyond the obvious, you will find 1954 radio episodes, several interviews then and now, commercials, cast appearances on other shows, additional non-Gleason skits, and even Honeymooners scripts which were never filmed. And in the case of Stand-In for Murder, in which the first airing had an aborted ending due to original TV time constraints, we get those few extras seconds not previously seen, as well as an explanation (of sorts) from Jackie Gleason about the intended ending and why it wasn't performed. Furthermore, we have the option of seeing a complete re-working of the skit shot the following week. This is a particular treat to see two versions of that particular skit.
The quality and restoration? Certainly not much can be expected from these early days of television, so one must look at the previously-available material and compare. From the previously unavailable works, some have audio anomalies such as a ringing noise and 'tin-can' sound. In many cases, the source is likely as good as it gets. In others, there certainly are improvements, but they're not always welcome. At times, audio was de-hissed to the point where select spots are nearly lost and others are too loud. To give an example, the video on Lucky Number has been greatly improved. The image has been steadied and sharpened, the audio louder and clearer, but for some reason, it now has static.
The original Lost Episode collections were cheaply put together and disc space was not well utilized. Twenty-four (24) discs were needed to complete the original MPI Lost Episodes collection. Not the case with this new, 60th anniversary collection. Each disc is loaded with material. For example, the first disc includes nine (9) surviving Cavalcade of Stars (1951-52) Honeymooners skits and the first nine (9) from The Jackie Gleason Show (1952-53).
In total, there are 107 Honeymooners skits from various sources (1951-57) as well as dozens of other features both old and new. Many sketches and full length shows are seen for the first time in over 5 decades. As noted, everything outside of the 'Classic 39' filmed between 1951 and 1957 (which is known to exist) is included in this set. Interestingly, several of the missing skits are available here in alternate aired versions which utilized the same script. What you won't find is the premiere episode of Jackie Gleason: American Scene Magazine from 29 Sep, 1962 which features Gleason and Carney in an air raid shelter sketch entitled Two Below; a 10th anniversary Honeymooners special from another episode featuring Gleason and Carney revisiting their Dial J for Janitor sketch; and at least two others filmed in the early 1960s but believed lost forever. Of the 1951-57 period, 21 known sketches which are believed to no longer exist are noted in the booklet.
A nice little bonus which will likely be welcomed by all is that once you place a disc in your player, it almost immediately goes to the main menu and is ready to play. This feature was included in all but the first disc.
I used to watch Honeymooners every time I had a chance on NY's WPIX 11 back in the 1980s and 90s. First at 11pm, then 11:30, midnight, 12:30 and so on until it nearly disappeared except for the 24-hour marathons a couple of times a year. I copied and collected episodes from TV and enjoyed them until I was able to get the original 'Lost Episodes' on VHS, then DVD, and eventually, the 'Classic 39' on DVD (and now Blu-ray) as well. I've viewed every skit from those sets many times over and memorized most of the dialog. I was excited to hear about this 60th anniversary set but was skeptical about the level of restoration.
Though the improvements are not always obvious, the clear improvement for me is in the sheer breadth of this collection. A welcome improvement to previous collections and so much more to enjoy and learn to love. Perhaps there are some new favorite moments to experience. No matter what, this is an impressive set and a worthy purchase for any and all interested in early television, Gleason, Carney, Meadows, Randolph, and of course, The Honeymooners.
I realize this was a rather long review, so I thank you kindly for reading.