Steptoe And Son Double Bill Review
It was a comedy? Odd...because my overriding memory of Steptoe And Son was the misery of the piece, not just in the grime in which they lived but in the failure of Harold (Harry H. Corbett) to leave home. Each week and in these two films, Steptoe And Son appeared to conclude with Harold standing by the fireplace, leaning on it for support with such a look of defeat on his face that, no matter what he said to his own father, Albert (Wilfrid Brambell), one still felt sorry for him. Actually, one felt sorry for the pair of them, joined as they were in misery, with neither one afforded a way out of their situation so long as they were tied to the other.
Of course, there were laughs but there was more than a touch of gallows humour about Steptoe And Son, as though it was inevitable that the two of them, as recession bit, would freeze together in their home, huddled together for warmth around a small fire. And there are plenty of laughs in Steptoe And Son, the 1972 spinoff that saw Harold get married and almost - almost! - leave the Steptoe home. The film opens with Harold and Albert leaving their house for a night in the football club, where they're entertained by a stripper Zita (Carolyn Seymour). Unlikely as it sounds, Zita looks through the crowd of cheering men and eyes Harold, who's hiding at the back nervously sipping a pint of bitter. As the night's entertainment draws to a close - it ends prematurely when Albert fells the crowd by climbing up to get a better look - Harold is joined by Zita. Returning home the next morning, Harold announces that he and Zita are engaged. Albert adds the feeling of shock to the surprise he experienced the night before when the lantern-jawed lady he'd been wining was found to be packing a lot more than he'd banked on. But in spite of his father's warnings, Harold's wedding goes ahead but the younger Steptoe can't escape his father, who joins Harold and Zita on their honeymoon. Will Harold's marriage succeed or will Albert continue to draw his son back home and alone again.
Needless to say, Harold and Albert return without Zita in Steptoe And Son Ride Again, which begins with the two continuing to eke out a living in the rag-and-bone business, with Albert more worried about his horse than his son. This doesn't help Harold as he leaves for a day's work without a bite to eat - the horse gets a bag of food - but things look up when he's invited into a flat owned by a sexy widow (Diana Dors). These same things take a sudden turn for the worse when he discovers that the reason why she's a widow is still lying in the bed next to them. To cap it all, Harold falls asleep in the cart and ends up inside a Pickfords removals lorry, ending up in York. Four long days spent travelling down the A1 later and Harold returns home but the news isn't good as regards the horse, which is taken to a retirement home, leaving Albert and Harold to buy another.
Unfortunately, when a drunken Harold returns home, it's with a less-than-impressive steed. Actually, Harold comes home with a dog, bought from local villain Frankie Barrow (Henry Woolf) but with some of it still needing to be paid off and only a few days to do so. Strapped for cash, Harold begins putting the greyhound into the races but he won't even leave the trap so he takes the dog training, running it in the park and home but nothing encourages to dog to get running. Until, that is, Harold hits on a brain wave...perhaps the dog needs glasses. Or contact lenses. Anything to get it to run! Albert and Harold flog everything they own and bet it all on their dog but, as you might expect, things don't go according to plan, least of all when Albert must feign death to cash in his insurance policy.
There's plenty of scope there for comedy but what writers Galton and Simpson clearly try to do is to match each laugh with a moment of pathos. This reaches a peak roughly halfway through Steptoe And Son, when Harold, returning alone from his honeymoon and contemplating divorce, looks utterly shattered by the experience. Albert hovers behind him, appearing to console his son but secretly looking happy at how things have turned out. Unfortunately, where Steptoe And Son is less successful than its sequel is that this mix of comedy and misery isn't particularly well handled, lurching between one and the other rather than being edging smoothly between them. On the contrary, Steptoe And Son Ride Again is funnier as well as offering moments of utter sadness. Chief amongst these is the grim look around the house when Harold and Albert have sold absolutely everything to bet on their dog and end up with nothing. However, for every such moment, there's a moment in which Diana Dors shows off her knickers as she reveals her charms to Harold. Films of a certain era are much better for having Diana Dors in them and this is no exception, with her having a certain lusty appeal even with a dead body lying beside her. As Harold scarpers, there's yet more of that gallows humour in Steptoe And Son, which has its laughs but which, to this viewer, tends towards the tragic.
Something of a mixed bag, Steptoe And Son looks almost as bad as both Love Thy Neighbour and Ooh, You Are Awful but is at least presented in a wide aspect ratio. However, all the problems of those other releases - scratching, spotting and variable contrast and colour throughout - are back for Steptoe And Son but its sequel is much better entirely. With a decent print, it's clear that Optimum have done what they can with the material they've picked up as Steptoe And Son Ride Again doesn't look at all bad. The picture is clear and though there's a small touch of noise, it's very watchable. However, Optimum clearly haven't done a great deal with either print meaning that they're no better than what BBC might once have broadcast. The audio track is about the same, which ensures the dialogue is clear but which is no better than simply it doing what it's called upon to do. Finally, with this being an Optimum release, there are no subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD release.