April 2, 2018  (Web Review)

The Jackie Gleason Show in Color

Time Life, 165 min., not rated, DVD: $9.95

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

The Jackie Gleason Show in Color compiles four episodes from Jackie Gleason’s Miami Beach-based variety show that have not been seen since their original broadcasts in 1966-69. In terms of content, however, the show often feels more like the late 1940s, as guests including Milton Berle, Morey Amsterdam, Phil Silvers, Red Buttons, and Jan Murray aggressively (and, mostly, successfully) pursue Borscht Belt-style humor, often using the rotund host as the butt of their corny jokes. Music guests such as Florence Henderson, Edie Adams, and Frankie Avalon are obviously aimed at Gleason’s mostly mature audience and not the Age of Aquarius demographic. The relatively few concessions to then-contemporary popular culture are standup routines that include George Carlin envisioning an FBI-produced talk show and Nipsey Russell offering a sly parody of then-popular dance crazes (fleeting references to Tiny Tim, Rosemary’s Baby, and Hubert Humphrey also punctuate some of the jokes). Also featured are Honeymooners sketches with Gleason and Art Carney reviving their Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton characters, albeit in curiously restrained performances (Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean fill in adequately as Alice and Trixie). The real surprise here is the art direction and costume design for the color broadcasts—even for that era, the garish vibrancy of the color palette is startling. Gleason’s sense of charismatic showmanship and the energy level of his old-time hambone guests keep the action moving, making this time-capsule curio worthy of attention. Recommended. (P. Hall)