The third of four hour-long specials that marked the final appearances of Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Jane Kean as Ralph Kramden, Ed Norton, and their wives Alice and Trixie, The Honeymooners - Valentine Special (1978) is as derivative as the first, The Honeymooners - Second Honeymoon (1976), yet for some reason this special comes off much better. For one thing, where in the earlier show Gleason croaked out his dialogue and gave a dispirited performance, here he appears much healthier and his performance is more relaxed.
And with good reason: Gleason had just come off the biggest commercial success of his career, playing redneck Sheriff Buford T. Justice opposite Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit (1977), a character as far removed from Ralph Kramden as Minnesota Fats had been 16 years earlier. That his movie career was enjoying an unexpected resurgence while The Honeymooners had become something of an American institution must have been gratifying.
For the Valentine's Day show (airing the night before, actually), which onscreen simply was called The Honeymooners, Gleason and the other cast members seem to be enjoying themselves and this feeling is passed on to the viewing audience. On The Jackie Gleason Show, the Great One would sometimes address the audience at the end of the show, allowing for brief curtain calls from the cast, but only on the broadcast versions of shows he felt came off well (at least that seems to have been his thinking). There's no curtain call following Second Honeymoon, but Gleason beams with pride at the end of this show.
Like Second Honeymoon, the Valentine's Day special reworks previously done material though this time it's expanded to 50 minutes with some funny concepts. (Longtime Honeymooners writers Walter Stone and Robert Hilliard are credited with the script, which Gleason directed.) Alice has been secretly working at a telephone answering service in order to save up for Ralph's Valentine's Day present, a new suit. Ralph, meanwhile, has pulled out all the stops for Alice, putting a down payment on an "electric kitchen," complete with color television, noiseless washer and dryer, and - gasp! - a refrigerator to replace their ancient icebox.
However, Ralph stumbles upon workplace notes Alice has hidden away, including multiple messages from one of her clients, a professional escort named "Armand," and a life insurance policy she's taken out on Ralph. Ralph and his best pal, sewer worker Ed Norton*, become convinced Alice is carrying on an affair with Armand and is plotting to kill Ralph. In a very funny scene that follows, Alice surreptitiously tries to measure her husband for his new suit but Ralph, horrified, believes she's measuring him for a coffin. Later she happily tells the by-now bug-eyed Ralph that his present is, "bigger than a breadbox and it'll cover you from head-to-toe!"
Later on, Ralph decides to size up Armand by dressing himself and Ed as women in order to engage his services. Ralph, pretending to be "Virginia's" (Ed's) mother, sports colossal sagging "breasts" the size of watermelons.
The special has many nice touches. In one scene Ralph amusingly recalls how he proposed to Alice on Valentine's Day, taking her to a "classy jernt" with a $4 minimum, and how "their song" became "Yes, We Have No Bananas." Ralph's reactions to Alice's innocent behavior - he's convinced in one sequence that she's trying to poison him - are priceless, and Gleason generously gives his co-stars plenty of opportunity to generate laughs on their own.
Indeed, where Second Honeymoon had an air of a once-great comedy series long past its prime, the Valentine Special is much more a nostalgic, fleeting return to the series' glory days. Only the absence of "You're My Greatest Love," The Honeymooners theme music (composed by Gleason), is off-putting, replaced with weirdly inapt Dixieland-style jazz, also by Gleason.
Video & Audio
Shot on tape in Miami in the manner of the earlier Jackie Gleason Show, The Honeymooners - Valentine Special looks fine despite some age-related video wrinkles, and overall is about par with such shows from the mid- to late-1970s. It runs 50 minutes and is complete and unedited. The Dolby Digital mono, English only with no subtitles, is adequate.
The only supplement is a not very good Honeymooners parody sketch from something called The Kopycats Kopy T.V. dated January 20, 1971, featuring Shelia MacRae as Alice, George Kirby as Ralph, and Rich Little as Ed Norton.
Unlike Second Honeymooners, a special likely to appeal only to hardcore fans, Valentine Special is at least as good as the better Jackie Gleason Show "Honeymooners" from the '60s and pretty funny overall. Recommended.
* Carney at this time has a positively enormous gut and looks at least 20 pounds heavier than Gleason. He couldn't button his trademark vest if his life depended upon it. Nevertheless, at one point both he and Gleason engage in a comical dance, both as lithe as they were two decades before.
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