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 Michael Bergeron
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DVD slight return 8.2

DVD slight return 8.2
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The 1955-1956 season of The Honeymooners was the only actual season where the show was called The Honeymooners and those 39 episodes constitute the show proper. But Jackie Gleason performed Honeymooners skits on his variety show from 1952 through 1957 and The Honeymooners Lost Episodes contains all extant segments in a massive 15 DVD set.

Pert Kelton was first Alice Kramden in the earliest skits but was a victim of blacklisting. In fact those debut episodes are almost violent in the intensity of the squabbling between Ralph (Gleason) and Alice (later played by Audrey Meadows). It’s more like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. A lot of the wife bashing jokes don’t work like they did in the 50s, but what is funny revolves around the slapstick humor provided by Art Carney as Gleason’s neighbor, a union sewer employee. Some great extras showcase Carney: Carney being interviewed as Norton on Ed Sullivan (1954); Carney receiving an award from Sewer’s Union members; Audrey Meadows on the Jack Benny Show with Benny playing Ralph; Chesterfield cigarette commercials with Gleason and Carney; and an especially hilarious take-off of The Honeymooners from the Red Skelton show with Peter Lorre playing Ralph and Skelton playing Norton.

On disc 5 a show titled “Stand In For Murder” (April 17, 1954) ended not as written but with the CBS logo because the live television broadcast had exceeded its time slot. Gleason explains the finale in the next episode (April 24). Some of the scripts were recycled so “Stand In For Murder” was done live again (June 4, 1955) and this time the show ended a few minutes early. The main customer for this set would be those seriously engaged in television history. The episodes have been digitally restored, based on kinescopes from Gleason’s collection.

The Trip skews a peculiar kind of dry British humor but I found it laugh out loud funny. The premise is nothing more or less than Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon driving through the UK, eating at fine restaurants (which Coogan playing himself is reviewing for a newspaper) and bickering. Along the way they do impersonations of everyone from Michael Caine to Michael Sheen, with Pacino, Hopkins, Connery, Moore, Burton and others thrown in for good measure. Stops at historical sites related to Coleridge and Wordsworth give The Trip a purpose and food segments spark interest in culinary delights.

The Captains explores the world of the actors who’ve portrayed commanders in Gene Rodenberry created series. Plus, William Shatner who not surprisingly brings a sense of completion and depth to the project helms the documentary. There’s honest confrontation as when Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager) tells Shatner she didn’t know who he was when she got the role. Other cast members of Captains include Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine. There’s even Christopher Plummer who played an enemy alien general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Issues raised include the toll a working actor pays when they’re trying to raise a family while working 15-hour days. For fans of Star Trek it’s a must.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was a John le Carre espionage novel and then a BBC six-hour series and has recently been made into a film (opening next month). TTSS gives viewers the opportunity to see Alec Guinness playing the role of George Smiley, a retired British spy who’s brought back to duty. The objective – find a mole in the organization. Gary Oldman plays the role in the upcoming movie.

TTSS unfolds in a suspenseful dramatic fashion that defines subterfuge and betrayal. Even while we’re following the clues with Smiley we recount previous missions that went wrong. Some characters disappear only to pop up hiding in plain sight (as say a teacher at a boarding school). This kind of spy drama operates on a cerebral level with a minimum of guns and fights and emphasis on characters and dialogue. The cast includes Ian Bannen, Ian Richardson, and a brief role of a Soviet operative played by a young Patrick Stewart. A 28-minute interview with le Carre is included.

While Father of Invention appears middle of the road, it’s more a reflection of the times that a comedy with this kind of great cast would find itself on DVD rather than theatrical, especially compared to some current movies. Kevin Spacey plays a former millionaire inventor who’s been in prison for a faulty exercise product that injured its owners. Meanwhile his estranged daughter takes an upper hand when Spacey broke and just out of the stir has to move into her apartment while devising his next marketing idea. Heather Graham, Camilla Belle, Johnny Knoxville, Craig Robinson, and Virginia Madsen co-star. Hilarity ensues, father and daughter bond, and everyone goes home happy.

The Guns of Navarone Blu-ray reminded me of the thrill of seeing this men (and women) on a mission movie when I was a kid in the 60s. Haven’t seen it since then but it’s now obvious after a couple of viewings (one for the Steve Rubin, war historian commentary) that this 1961 action adventure set in WWII formed the template for a succession of action 60s movies like The Professionals and The Dirty Dozen. As for the original author, Alistar MacLean, other films made from his novels were never as well constructed as Navarone, although I personally dig Where Eagles Dare.

Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn star with additional turns by James Darren, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Irene Papas, and Gia Scala. As written and produced by Carl Foreman, Navarone was a statement on both the futility and honor of armed conflict and a return to form for Foreman who’d been blacklisted despite being the screenwriter of High Noon. Foreman was given a posthumous Oscar® for his writing work on Bridge Over the River Kwai since his collaboration on that film was credited under the name of the book’s author due to the blacklist. The Guns of Navarone has been restored to the point that scenes that had previously been at night but looked like day due to fading have been corrected. Extras are plentiful.

– Michael Bergeron

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