|Jackie Gleason and Art Carney|
"The Honeymooners" began as a series of sketches on Cavalcade of Stars, then on Jackie Gleason's own program. In 1955 the sketches metamorphosed into a half hour series, The Honeymooners, that lasted one season and 39 episodes. Gleason decided to go back to a variety format, The Jackie Gleason Show, and returned again to the Honeymooners. Several of the episodes were turned into a musical story in which Ralph, Alice, Ed and Trixie win a trip around the world. In these Audrey Meadows revealed that she had a lovely singing voice, and Joyce Randolph could carry a tune as well.
About a decade later Gleason revived The Jackie Gleason Show complete with all of his old characters and the June Taylor Dancers, and also decided to do color remakes of the musical trip around the world. While Art Carney came back as Norton, Alice and Trixie were now played by Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean. These remakes essentially used the same scripts and the same songs. When these episodes proved successful, Gleason took a variety of old non-musical scripts (from the "Lost Honeymooners" episodes) and added new tunes to make additional episodes.
This story line has Ralph (Jackie Gleason), Ed (Art Carney), and their wives (Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean) going on an around-the-world tour after the boys win a slogan contest for the Flakey Wakey cereal company. As usual, the boys treat their much smarter wives abominably (you have to wonder why either woman would stay with them, but that's show biz!) Gleason and Carney could do no wrong for the Miami Beach audience, who ate up every double-take, fat joke, and put-down with delight, and much of the material was genuinely funny, although much was also routine. Gleason and Carney make an unbeatable team, and there's good support from the gals, although one misses Audrey Meadows' acerbic delivery in her performance as Alice in the original series. The first episode, as well as the second -- which has the group traveling on a cruise ship when the boys fall overboard -- are excellent, and the rest are hit or miss. There's a very funny segment with Robert Coote [Theater of Blood] in London where the gang do a television commercial (shades of the "Happy Housewife's Handy Helper," or whatever it was called) and the Jackie Gleason show is itself spoofed; and amusing moments when they encounter counterfeiters in France; blackmailers in Spain; a huge gorilla in Africa; a conniving "ghost" in an Irish castle (an especially silly episode); and when Ralph thinks Alice has an Italian lover who turns out to be a little boy (Jomar Cidoni). The songs are by Lyn Dudddy and Jerry Bresler, and they are at least serviceable, and often much better than that. (MacCrae and little Cidoni have a very charming and pretty number in the Italian episode, a new version of the same song from the black and white episode with Audrey Meadows and another talented young boy.) One could easily quibble about some of the things in these shows, but they are undeniably charming and well-acted and often very, very amusing.
All of the black and white musical shows were redone in color except for the episode in Berlin, where Ralph and Ed wander into Russian-controlled territory and wind up in prison. This is not one of the better episodes, but as usual it does have some pleasant tunes and funny material, such as when Ralph does a Russian dance for the assemblage. Overall, the color versions are somewhat better than the black and white originals; all are available on DVD.
Verdict: The Great One, his equally great sidekick, and lots of funny stuff. ***.