- "The Great Gleason Express featurette
The Color Honeymooners: Collection 1 is more alluring than it would seem at first glance, even if it lacks anything like the seminal popular-culture impact of the classic '50s Honeymooners shows. Released by MPI as a triple-DVD set covering the 1966 revival of the series by way of The Jackie Gleason Show, the nine episodes from that season look a little faded, as one might expect from videotape material of 40 years' vintage; the color is a bit muted as is some of the detail, and the sound is a little soft. But those minor flaws can be overlooked in favor of the energy that Gleason and fellow players Art Carney, Sheila MacRae, and Jane Kean (as well as guest stars Madeleine Sherwood, George O'Hanlon, Rita Gam, and Howard St. John) bring to their roles. Gleason and Carney still had all of the classic timing and the body English that made them a stitch to start with, and they manage to overcome the lack of invention in the scripts, which were a rehash of a "lost episode" plotline from the previous decade. (One heartily wishes that Madeleine Sherwood had been allowed to sing a bit more, based on the little snippet of vocalizing that she does here.) It's also interesting to see Kean's work again -- in 1966, not many people could have been aware that she was the woman that, 15 years earlier, Walter Winchell had been seeing on the side, and quietly boosting in her act with her sister Betty as part of the Kean Sisters. And Carney was just coming off his Broadway success as Felix in The Odd Couple. One also wishes that Gleason could have aimed a little higher in his aspirations, which -- in the context of the show -- never ascended higher than the kind of kitschy between-the-two-wars kind of musical revues that he knew from his youth. The June Taylor Dancers' work and the choreography seldom changes much from show to show, and when one mixes in the lackluster songs that help extend these scripts (originally written for half-hour time slots), it makes the viewing a chore. In fairness, some of the dance numbers are more interesting than others, with the last episode, "Petticoat Jungle," demonstrating some flashes of freshness; the songs are less interesting, even if Gleason, Carney, et al. perform them.
In terms of today's viewing, some of the unexpected moments come from reading the titles of the nine episodes and realizing that the producers kept making reference to old Gleason projects (including the disastrous You're in the Picture) and Carney's recent stage triumph (The Mod Couple), among other allusions. Each program gets six chapters corresponding to the commercial breaks in the original broadcasts (one also wishes there were an original sponsor commercial or two). The only bonus feature is a documentary called "The Great Gleason Express," which tells of Gleason's decision to move his entire production company from New York to Miami Beach in 1966 (a move made because he wanted to play golf all year round), by train no less -- all on the dime of CBS, in addition to getting the network, the local station, and the city of Miami Beach to cover the cost of renovating the Miami Beach Auditorium, where he would do the show. Each of the three discs opens to a two-layer menu that's easy to use and allows for the selection of individual shows, with the bonus documentary on disc three. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi