After The Jackie Gleason Show was canceled by CBS in 1970, The Honeymooners was infrequently revived. Gleason was unhappy, despite good Neilsen ratings, that by the late-'60s the network pressed him to continue playing bus driver Ralph Kramden but none of his other famous variety show characters. At the same time, those weekly Honeymooners musicals seem to have damaged Gleason's once-promising film career, which peaked in 1961 when he starred opposite Paul Newman in The Hustler. By the end of the decade, however, Gleason was offered only lesser comedies, bad movies like Skidoo and Don't Drink the Water. When director William Friedkin suggested Gleason for the role of "Popeye" Doyle in The French Connection (1971), the actor eagerly accepted only to have the studio reject the entire concept. Ralph Kramden? Busting a drug ring?
His prospects dwindling following a 1973 special (which marked Shelia MacRae's last appearance as Ralph's long-suffering wife, Alice), The Great One reluctantly agreed to bring back The Honeymooners for a series of non-musical, one-hour specials - but on the ABC network, not CBS.
The first of these was The Honeymooners - Second Honeymoon (1976). For fans of the "Classic 39," the infinitely repeated filmed shows from 1955-56, this special conjures up a mixture of emotions. It's not very funny and its stars are way too old for the unoriginal material (see below), and yet there's an undeniable poignancy seeing these wonderful characters back together again, especially Audrey Meadows, the best of the various Alices and Gleason's co-star on those classic 39. But how bittersweet it is!
Like many of the later Honeymooners musicals, the special's script mines material previously done (and done better) back in the 1950s. As they prepare to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, Ralph and Alice accept an offer from his fraternal Raccoon brotherhood to renew their vows at the local lodge. At the same time, little clues around the house - a special diet "for mother" (actually intended for Alice's ulcer-stricken mother), "baby clothes" (actually something knitted by Alice to protect Ralph's bowling ball), and a message that "the rabbit died" (actually news about a neighbor's pet) - convince Ralph that Alice is expecting a baby and that she plans to announce her pregnancy at the ceremony.
This leads to an extended scene where Ralph's best friend and upstairs neighbor, Ed Norton (Art Carney), offers to teach Ralph the basics of baby care using a child's doll as a model. Ralph's dreaded mother-in-law (Templeton Fox) shows up, but neither she nor the truth about Alice's "condition" can put too much a damper on Ralph and Alice's Silver Anniversary celebration.
Though it's fun to see Gleason, Carney, and Meadows back together again, the script is highly derivative and distractingly inappropriate. The entire concept centers on Ralph believing Alice is pregnant and his childlike enthusiasm at the prospect of becoming a first-time father. But Gleason was 60, and more urgently Meadows was 54; both look and sound even older. (They were heavy smokers and by this time both had deep, gravelly voices like Lawrence Tierney.) At the end of the show when all is revealed Alice, with a come-hither twinkle in her eye, turns to Ralph and say, "We can still try!" Instead of being funny the line is almost disturbing.
Gleason lost a lot of weight prior to The Jackie Gleason Show's last season but five-and-a-half years later his hard-living was starting to catch up to him - he struggles to croak out his lines in a few scenes. I suspect the absence of musical sequences was because Gleason was no longer up to such performing rather than a creative decision. Living in Miami and spending his days on the golf course, Gleason sports a tan as if dipped in bronze and, for the first time, a pencil-thin mustache he'd wear for the rest of his career. The script makes constant references to it and Ralph makes quite a fuss over it, brushing it constantly.
The absence of all the song and dance numbers was probably an incentive for Meadows to return to her old part. Jane Kean, who played Ed's wife Trixie on The Jackie Gleason Show reprises her character. (Joyce Randolph, Trixie on the "Classic 39" had retired from show business though reportedly was hurt that she wasn't asked.)
The show has its moments. Demonstrating diaper changing with the baby doll, Art Carney accidentally snaps off one of the dolls legs but ad-libs, "Don't worry about a thing, Ralph. He heals very rapidly!" At the wedding ceremony Norton, at the piano, precedes the Bridal Chorus with a bit from Old Folks at Home, a funny reference to the classic 39 show "The $99,000 Answer."
Video & Audio
Shot on tape in Miami in the manner of the earlier Jackie Gleason Show, The Honeymooners - Second Honeymoon looks okay, about par with such shows from this era. It runs 50 minutes and is complete and unedited. The Dolby Digital mono, English only with no subtitles, is adequate.
Included is a strange but interesting excerpt from a 1967 episode of Hollywood Palace, a role-reversal skit featuring Audrey Meadows as a bus-driving Alice Kramden, and guest host Ray Bolger as a homemaking Ralph Kramden. It's not particularly funny but Meadows does a good imitation of Alice imitating Ralph, and the dialogue is just right.
This DVD is recommended for Honeymooners completests only, and even they are likely to have the same mixed reaction this longtime Honeymooners fan had to these lesser but nostalgic specials.
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