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Saturday, January 27, 2018


Riding in on a wave of nostalgia for those of us who first watched the show back in the 60s is Time-Life's new DVD  THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW IN COLOR, featuring 4 newly-remastered episodes of the classic variety series.

The expansively rotund Gleason, known as "The Great One", is a natural who obviously revels in the thrill of entertaining a big, appreciative audience.  He puts on a genuine live show, not just something that's being taped as a product for home viewing.  The result is a real audience/performer dynamic and actual, not canned, crowd responses.

Like Johnny Carson later on, he begins each monologue by joking about the flamboyant attire of his bandleader, Sammy Spear.  Then a celebrity guest appears and they trade one-liners. 

Topping things off in grand style, there's usually a segment of "The Honeymooners" with Gleason as bus driver Ralph Kramden, Art Carney as his sewer-worker pal Norton, Sheila MacRae as Alice Kramden, and Jane Kean as Norton's wife Trixie.

The disc features three screamingly funny "Honeymooners" segments that haven't been shown since first aired. In the first, Ralph intercepts a note from Alice's vet and thinks the dire news about her mother's dog is in regard to his own health.

The second is another delightful exercise in miscommunication as Ralph thinks that a birthday present Alice sent to herself on his behalf is from a secret admirer.  In the third, Ralph's plan to sue the bus company for an on-the-job injury backfires big-time.

Gleason and the comedy pros he hosts during each show are actually funny as they play expertly off each other instead of just reading tired lines churned out by hack writers on cue cards (something that would drag down Bob Hope's TV specials).

In three of these four episodes, Red Buttons comes cavorting onto the stage like a wisecracking firecracker, dancing around and rattling off his usual "never got a (dinner, plaque, etc.)" routine as well as other comedy bits which, surprisingly for those who don't usually care for him, are often hilariously funny.

Both Red and legendary top banana Phil Silvers yak it up with Jackie in episode one.  Then, Frankie Avalon, a teen idol with a winning personality who could actually sing, does a snappy number.

The second show's guests are Morey Amsterdam, who trades quips with Jackie and then regails the appreciative audience with a rapid-fire series of jokes in between playing the cello, and a young pre-"Brady Bunch" Florence  Henderson sings a number. 

Red Buttons returns for some ethnic humor that really brings back feelings of nostalgia for a time when people didn't automatically get offended over everything.

Show #3 features Nipsey Russell doing his act complete with trademark rhymes, and comedy veteran Jan Murray.  The final episode (which doesn't include a "Honeymooners" segment) offers up a young George Carlin doing his early "straight" stand-up, a wacky rendition of "Cabaret" by Edie Adams in which she imitates Zsa Zsa Gabor and Phyllis Diller, and an extended comedy duel between Jackie and "Mr. Television", Milton Berle.

Each show clocks in at somewhat less than the usual hour's entertainment for the era (minus time for commercials), so it's apparent that some material, most likely the song and dance stuff, has been excised.  Which is just as well, since I'd probably just fast-forward through the June Taylor Dancers anyway. 

Whether you still have hazy memories of seeing these shows first-run or just want to enjoy some good old-fashioned variety entertainment by a showbiz legend and his talented guests, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW IN COLOR is a dose of pure fun. 

Type:  DVD/Single
Running Time: 165 mins.
Rating:  N/A
Genre:  TV DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (4:3)
Audio:  Stereo


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