A beloved American TV comedy from the 1950s gets an update and a makeover for the big screen. Alan Silverman has a look at this new version of The Honeymooners.
Ralph Kramden drives a municipal bus in New York City; but he knows someday he can leave his route behind when one of his moneymaking schemes finally pays off.
Ralph's partner for these often outrageous enterprises is neighbor and best friend Ed Norton, a proud sewer worker for the city sanitation department; and putting up with the dreamers are their long suffering wives Alice and Trixie.
The characters debuted 50 years ago: first as a sketch on Jackie Gleason's TV variety show and then for one year - 1955 to 1956 - as a half-hour series. Those 39 episodes of The Honeymooners have been rerun over the decades, winning new generations of fans for the slapstick humor and homespun warmth. Updating The Honeymooners meant dropping some of Ralph's trademark threats like "one day, Alice, pow! right in the kisser;" but the film does give him a shrew of a mother-in-law with whom to trade insults.
This new film version makes another big change: the central characters are black, with Cedric Kyles, better known by his stage name Cedric the Entertainer, starring as Ralph. The original TV series is part of American popular culture and Cedric knows his portrayal of the portly protagonist will be compared to Jackie Gleason's.
"He did it in such a magical way and had such a distinct voice and attitude about playing Ralph, so I thought it was important to develop a combination of those things that the true purist can recognize and identify with, but at the same time do my own thing with," Cedric says. "It was a struggle because you never know when you're using too much of the voice or too many of the attitudes or whatever; so I was trying to come up with things that I felt were natural for me to do, but also show some respect for the original character and the way it was developed."
Comic Mike Epps co-stars as Norton (played by Art Carney in the original TV show); and Gabrielle Union plays exasperated Alice Kramden, adopting postures and even a voice very reminiscent of how Audrey Meadows did the character on TV.
"I watched every episode, including the 'lost'
episodes and behind the scenes footage," she says. "You kind of want to take little things from the amazing work that she did and bring it to our version, so people who are fans of the original can go 'oh, that's an homage to Audrey Meadows' ... still maintaining the charm and integrity of the original piece and, at the same time, paying tribute to this icon. So, yes, I did pilfer from Audrey Meadows. Ralph!
The Honeymooners joins a growing list of feature films adapted from TV situation comedies. Star and producer Cedric The Entertainer has misgivings about the commercial motivations, but he does think the old ideas can reach a new audience.
"It seems like it is a little cliched after a while, but it is very much the cycle that Hollywood is in now. All of the studios are just more comfortable green lighting [starting production on]a remake of something they know already worked," Cedric says. "You hear a few original ideas, then you go in and the people say 'yes, it's all right, but we want you to do 'Get Smart' or 'The Beverly Hillbillies Movie.' Okay, that's great.This was from the 50's, it was early television and I thought they were great characters. The theme of the show, with the guy really loving his wife and wanting to do more for her, but at the same time always screwing up: I thought that still worked and was applicable today, so it just made sense to do a modern version."
The Honeymooners also features Regina Hall as Ed's wife Trixie and John Leguizamo plays a scam artist in their biggest scheme ever. Although the story takes place in New York, most of the film was shot in Dublin, Ireland.