Picks and Pans Review: The Great Gleason

updated 11/21/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

There is some canonization going on—"the greatest all-around talent ever to emerge from TV"—but it's mercifully limited. This is mostly just two hours of smartly edited clips from Jackie Gleason TV shows, and they play as funny as they did when they were first broadcast more than 30 years ago. A lot of time is devoted to Honeymooners episodes, but that series, perhaps our most defensible national obsession, is familiar. More enjoyable is the chance to see the other running characters Gleason used on his 1952-57 CBS show: the Poor Soul, Joe the Bartender, Rudy the Repairman, Reggie Van Gleason III, Charlie Barton (the Loudmouth), Fenwick Babbitt and Stanley R. Sogg. The tape should also be required watching for acting students. Gleason was a big performer in every sense of the word: physical size, aggressive tone, dominating presence. He was like a landmass with wisecracks. Yet sidekicks Art Carney and Audrey Meadows were far from being blown off the stage. In a Loudmouth bit, for example, Gleason is cavorting wildly to put body English on a pinball machine. Carney, as that Milquetoastiest of men, Clem Finch, is next to the machine, barely on-camera, but he goes through a subdued, miniaturized version of Gleason's contortions, like one great jazz musician responding to another. Then there's the Honeymooners segment in which the Kramdens adopt a baby. In the last scene the baby's mother has surfaced. As Ralph and Alice are deciding they must return the baby, Gleason paces, delivering a monologue that mixes bluster and compassion, Meadows just sits at a table, reacting with her face and body in a performance as striking as Gleason's. TV producer Jeff Forrester, who wrote and narrated this made-for-VCR tape, doesn't credit Gleason's writers or directors. He did, however, have the sense to basically stay out of the way and let the work of this vastly entertaining man speak for itself. (Fusion, $29.95; 800-338-7710)

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