Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett) has just been divorced. It was not a happy marriage, and as he leaves the courts with his father Albert (Wilfrid Brambell) he pins the blame for the failure firmly on him for sabotaging what he viewed as his one chance at happiness. Pausing briefly to deal with a parking ticket they have noticed stuck on the horse of their rag and bone cart, they begin the weary journey home, and on the way Harold grows ever more discontented, flicking V-signs at drivers irate enough to beep their horns at them - whoops, they were nuns. As they continue he cannot help but reflect on what brought him to this sorry state of affairs...
By 1972, every sitcom worth its salt was being translated into a big screen effort, and the recognised classic Steptoe and Son received not one but two chances in that area, which should indicate what a huge show it was at the time. On television, the essential pathos of a man nearing middle age but stuck by circumstances to live out the rest of his life with his manipulative parent as his dreams evaporated was balanced out by some truly excellent character comedy, with both Brambell as the "dirty old man" of legend and Corbett as the underachiever's underachiever absolutely perfect in their roles.
So perfect that they apparently began to deeply resent being identified so strongly with them, but the fact remains they shone in what is now rightly regarded as one of the all time great sitcoms. The movie versions, alas, didn't quite make the grade, as was the case with many of these adaptations, but that's not to say they were complete disasters, actually there was some very worthwhile business in each. This, the first one, is where Harold got married, and is the more maudlin of the two, but as they were written by the creators, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, just as they had brought Tony Hancock to film ten years before, they did at least have a handle on the material that other writers might not have done.
In keeping with the downmarket tone, the woman who captures Harold's heart is a stripper, Zita (Carolyn Seymour), he meets at a football club night out, and she is charmed by him when he buys her a large gin and tonic in the near-empty bar while she prepares for her act. They get to talking, and before you know it he is seeing her after she's performed as well, and he escorts her home while Albert thinks he has a chance with what he does not realise is a female impersonator (Patrick Fyffe, a few years before he became famous as half of the witty drag act Hinge and Brackett). With unlikely haste, Harold and Zita are in love and engaged, so you can imagine how well the prospective father-in-law takes that news.
After a mishap with the ring on the wedding day leads dad and son to attend the service stinking of horseshit, the happy couple go off on honeymoon, so as happened in so many of these sitcom movies, the characters are lifted out of the environment that was so much a part of their comedy, and plonked down on some kind of holiday. Fortunately, here that episode doesn't last long as Albert tags along to Spain too, gets food poisoning and forces Harold to take him home, thereby breaking up the marriage before it has even had a chance to bloom. The narrative familiar from the original is therefore blown up to ever more tragic heights, with the result that after a while you've noticed you haven't been laughing too much at it, as the mood tips over into depressing. If there had been a few more funny lines it would have been the humour you'd recall from this instalment, but as it is this is just that bit too dejected. Music by Roy Budd and Jack Fishman, with Acker Bilk's take on the famous theme song over the end credits.