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Reviewed by Will Harris
riginally developed as a sketch within “Cavalcade of Stars,” a variety series on the long-defunct DuMont Television Network, “The Honeymooners” has since gone on to be recognized as one of Jackie Gleason’s greatest comedy creations, with the characters of Ralph Kramden (Gleason), his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows), and their neighbors Ed and Trixie Norton (Art Carney and Joyce Randolph) easily rivaling the television immortality of the Ricardos and the Mertzes. After “Cavalcade” called it quits, Gleason moved over to CBS and incorporated the sketch into his new variety series, “The Jackie Gleason Show,” before spinning off the characters into their own program.
While the majority of the love offered to “The Honeymooners” is in conjunction with the material produced within the 1950s, which is as it should be, Gleason did revive the characters throughout the ‘60s on the various incarnations of his variety show. Far more often than not, however, it was without Meadows at his side, and with Randolph having pretty much bowed out of acting altogether in 1957, that only left Carney reprising his role. Not that it wasn’t enjoyable to see Norton and Ralphie-boy together again, but frankly, it just wasn’t the same, for a number of reasons. (Was anyone really clamoring for the addition of musical numbers to “The Honeymooners”?)
In the mid-1970s, however, Gleason managed to corral both Carney and Meadows for a quartet of “Honeymooners” specials, and while they don’t manage to rival the classic material, they can comfortably be called a return to form. Filmed in Miami and directed by Gleason himself, the specials embraced viewers’ cherished memories of the original series by being set almost entirely within the Kramdens’ apartment. It’s a little weird to see Gleason playing the role of Ralph while sporting his Buford T. Justice ‘stache – he would’ve been filming the “Smokey and the Bandit” films right around the same time that these were done – but he falls back into his familiar character so quickly that you almost forget about it. Well, until he puts on a dress, that is. But we’ll get to that.
The first special, “Second Honeymoon,” finds Ralph and Alice celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, with the couple planning to renew their vows in a special ceremony at the Raccoon Lodge, home of the International Order of Friendly Sons of the Raccoons, or something like that. (The full name of the organization had a tendency to be somewhat fluid.) Every sitcom plot needs a misunderstanding, though, and this one involves Ralph becoming convinced that Alice is pregnant. You can see this development coming up Main Street when Alice tells Trixie that the neighbor boy’s pet rabbit has died, but who cares? You’ve got two classic comedy duos together again and playing off each other perfectly without missing a beat.
“Valentine Special” doesn’t reach the same heights, unfortunately. It’s another crazy misunderstanding – Alice tries to surreptitiously measure Ralph for a new suit as a Valentine’s Day present, but he’s convinced that she’s measuring him for his coffin because he’s found a life insurance policy – but by the end, it’s a little too crazy, with both Ralph and Norton trying to pass themselves off as women to bust Alice’s purported new beau. You will hate yourself for laughing when Ralph first emerges in his dress, but you’ll do it anyway.
These two “Honeymooners Specials” discs aren’t the way you should begin your education into the magic of the Kramdens and the Nortons, but they’re fun to watch, and it’s good to have them available on DVD at last. There’s one major complaint, though, and that’s that all four specials could’ve fit onto a single disc, so there was never any need to release them individually – except, of course, to try and make a little more money. (Boo! Hiss!) Given that the remaining two specials are both Christmas-themed, the least MPI can do for fans is to release both of them on a single disc.
Special Features: With three of the four members of the cast no longer with us (as of this writing, Jane Kean still remains among the living), there was every reason to expect these discs to be completely bare-boned, but it’s nice that MPI at least took the time to offer a small but fun bit of bonus material on each one. On “Second Honeymoon,” we’re treated to a fun “Honeymooners” parody from “Hollywood Palace,” where Audrey Meadows gets to be the bus driver in the Kramden family, with Ray Bolger taking on the role of Ralph as a henpecked househusband. Meanwhile, over on the “Valentines Special” disc, there’s another “Honeymooners” parody, but this time it’s George Kirby as Ralph, Rich Little as Norton, and Sheila McRae – who replaced Meadows for most of the ‘60s “Honeymooners” sketches – as Alice. There’s no clarification about the origins of this sketch, but given the presence of Kirby and Little, it’s a fair bet that it’s taken from an episode of “The ABC Comedy Hour.”