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Thursday, November 5, 2015

'Steptoe & Son' DVD: Feature Film Version of 'Sanford and Son' Father

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This DVD from Australia will not play in a standard U.S. player. It requires a (well worth buying) international player.]

Australia-based DVD producer/distributor Madman Entertainment, which makes scads o' affordable DVDs of Australian and U.K. films and television series available to U.S. viewers, deserves special thanks regarding the (oft-reviewed) Britannia film collection that it operates. This division releases both feature-film versions of classic British programs and movie-length pilots of "shouldabeen a series" concepts.

The latest batch of Britannia releases includes the 1972 comedy "Steptoe & Son," which is the first of two films based on the long-running series that is the basis for the classic U.S. sitcom "Sanford and Son." The British version has hilariously crude widowed rag-and-bone man Albert Steptoe making life miserable for his single son/co-worker Harold Steptoe. (A review of "Steptoe and Son Ride Again" is scheduled for November 2015.)

The following rough YouTube clip of a scene from "Steptoe" nicely illustrates the theme and the style of the film.

"Steptoe" immediately starts with scenes that seem very consistent with the humor (or humour) of the series. The opening scene has the horse-drawn wagon of our heroes getting a parking ticket outside the divorce court where the marriage of Harold is formally ending. We then see Albert engaged in behavior that would make even gross-out comedy legend John Waters cringe.

The action next shifts back several months to the events that lead to the courtship that leads to the aforementioned divorce. This sequence commences with father and son cleaning up ahead of a night on the town. Once again, Albert engages in thoroughly disgusting behavior and continues being a man behaving badly while attending the strip show that is the entertainment for that evening.

The scenes that lead up to the wedding offer further gross-out humor and plain ole hilarious mayhem. One spoiler is that a crystal clear omen is far stronger than rain on the wedding day.

True to both "Steptoe" and "Sanford," the comically intense interference of Albert with the relationship between Harold and his fiancee (and subsequently wife) places enormous strain on that relationship. A prime example of this is Albert tagging along on the honeymoon and being incredibly disruptive during that trip. One scene in this portion of the film is far too perverted to even be funny. One difference between this show and "Sanford" is that Albert never feigns a heart attack.

The third segment of the film can be considered two men and a baby; the extent to which the finding of an infant in the stable soon followed by a hilarious variation on the tale of another babe in a manger ties into the rest of the film remains unknown throughout most of the remainder of the movie. The reveal regarding this is at least as hilarious as anything on "Sanford."

Two  of the nicest things about "Steptoe" are that it facilitates a comparison between the show that spawns it and "Sanford" and offers further proof that U.K. fare kicks the arse of what airs in the U.S. The chemistry and comic interplay between "Steptoe" stars Wilford Brambell and Harry H. Corbett far exceeds the still very good interplay between their respective counterparts Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson. Further, the greater degree of comic conflict in "Steptoe" among the working-class father-and-son team in which the elder of the pair constantly sabotages the efforts of the younger of the pair to escape that life is much more realistic than a comparable "Sanford" story line in which Lamont finally moves out, enters a serious romantic relationship, etc.

The sad news is that no one on either side of the pond make 'em like "Steptoe" or "Sanford" any more.

Anyone with questions or comments about "Steptoe" or "Sanford" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.