Steptoe and Son/Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1972 & 1973)

 “If anyone ever tries to sell you a talking parrot, you’d better look for a tape recorder stuffed up its khyber. “

steptoe1Steptoe and Son was an extremely popular comedy programme that aired on British television from 1962-1974. Its immense popularity led to the creation of the American version–Sanford and Son. In the original British version, Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett) and his elderly father Alfred (Wilfred Campbell) are London rag-and-bone men. The films Steptoe and Son and Steptoe and Son Ride Again are both full-length films created thanks to the popularity of the television series. This double-sided DVD from Anchor Bay is decent quality–with the sort of picture you’d expect from films made in the 1970s.

The series revolves mainly around the Steptoes’ decrepit, filthy rubbish-filled home where conflict continually rages between father and son. Harold feels trapped by his father’s attempts to control his life, and he talks about breaking away. According to Harold, he’s ‘held back’ by his commitment to his father, so he blames his father for his lack of opportunities and bachelorhood. Albert, on the other hand, is much more intelligent and crafty than his hapless son who can be pathetically guileless at times. A great deal of the comedy–which is crude rather than bawdy–focuses on Albert’s filthy habits. So the father and son pair–who at times seem more like an old married couple–need each other to survive–but strenuously deny it. If it ever seems likely that Harold may break his familial ties, then Albert plays the pathetic old man card, and this brings Harold to heel.

These themes are also dominant in the Steptoe and Son/Steptoe and Son Ride Again films. In Steptoe and Son, Harold meets a stripper and falls in love. The result is a hasty marriage with a subsequent honeymoon in a partially completed hotel in Spain. And of course, Albert goes along for the honeymoon. In Steptoe and Son Ride Again, after their horse retires, Harold and Albert scrape together every last penny they have to buy a new one. Harold, however, out of his father’s clutches for a few hours uses his independence to buy a racing greyhound. Without a horse to pull their cart, the Steptoes face financial ruin–a state they’re never very far from anyway.

Yootha Joyce, and Diana Dors (a very lonely widow) both appear in small roles, and Milo O’Shea stars as a doctor whose house calls begin only when the pub closes. Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the scriptwriters for the television series, also wrote the screenplays for the films. Unfortunately, both films lack the consistently biting humour of the television series and slide into the occasional sentimentality. Nonetheless it’s wonderful to see these two comedians once again.

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