Sony // 1972 // 364 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // September 10th, 2002
"It's the big one! Do you hear that Elizabeth? I'm coming to join you honey!"
Before George Jefferson, before Cliff Huxtable, and before Bernie Mac, there was Fred Sanford -- "That's S-A-N-F-O-R-D period." -- junkman extraordinaire and noted 20th Century philosopher. Together with son Lamont (AKA Dummy), Fred took audiences on five seasons of hilarious adventures through South Central Los Angeles, as one of NBC's highest rated prime-time series. Columbia TriStar brings us the complete first season (14 episodes) with, unfortunately, nothing in the way of extras. Still, it's a great visit back through time.
Based on the long-running BBC comedy Steptoe & Son, by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, sitcom kings Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin adapted the concept for American audiences, creating Sanford and Son to showcase the talent of comedian Redd Foxx. Fred and Lamont Sanford own and operate "Sanford & Son Salvage" -- the collection and resale of second hand items, antiques, and junk. Their many personal adventures and business dealings set the stage for some classic television comedy.
* "Crossed Swords"
When Lamont (Demond Wilson) buys a valuable porcelain statue for $15.00, he auctions it off to make enough money to start his own business. Too bad his effort to drive up the bids drives the others away.
* "Happy Birthday, Pop"
Lamont tries to make Fred's 65th birthday special, but it's not going to be easy to please the old man. In the meantime, Fred tries to find out how much social security he's getting to retire on.
* "Here Comes the Bride, There Goes the Bride"
It's Lamont's big day and he's left at the altar by a bride with cold feet. The family convenes back at the house for a would-be reception, where the main topic of conversation is who gets to keep the gifts. Note: First and only appearance of Fred's sisters Rosanna and Hazel.
* "The Copper Caper"
Another one of Lamont's moneymaking schemes backfires when he and Fred are duped into buying stolen copper. The situation goes from bad to worse after they find a way to dispose of the hot merchandise. Note: First appearance of Officers Smitty and Swanny.
* "A Matter of Life and Breath"
Lamont's plan to get Fred to give up cigarettes goes up in smoke when he joins him for a free test at the Breath Mobile and receives alarming results -- from his own chest x-ray.
* "We Were Robbed"
When Fred accidentally knocks over Lamont's cabinet of valuable collectibles, he concocts a story of assault and robbery -- only to become a hero to the police and the community.
* "A Pad for Lamont"
After Fred scares off yet another of his son's dates, Lamont decides it's time for a place of his own. Unfortunately, his new bachelor pad is seeing less action than the now available home of "Ready Freddy."
* "The Great Sanford Siege"
For weeks, Fred has been putting bills he can't pay back into the mailbox. Now he and Lamont are trapped in the house with no heat, no gas, no electricity, and an advancing gang of angry bill collectors. Note: Guest appearance by Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough) as a furniture repo man.
* "Coffins for Sale"
Lamont sees dollar signs in reselling coffins, but superstitious Fred wants nothing to do with it -- sleeping outside until the caskets are sold. Courageous Lamont quickly loses his nerve when his imagination takes over. Note: First appearance of Fred's best friend Melvin, played by comedian Slappy White.
* "The Barracuda"
Fred decides after twenty years of being a widower it's time to get remarried. The news doesn't set well with Lamont, who makes his feelings known to both Fred and his betrothed. Note: First appearance of Fred's lady love Donna.
* "TV or Not TV"
Melvin convinces Fred to ask his son for a new color TV set -- but there's no money left after Lamont buys a brand new convertible. Fred, the master of guilt, comes up with a plan to make sure he gets his way.
* "The Suitcase Case"
A discarded briefcase containing $70,000 could be the answer to the Sanford's dreams, but it turns into a nightmare when the crook who lost the money shows up to reclaim it.
* "Return of the Barracuda"
The marriage is back on as Fred and Donna reconcile -- but Lamont has a plan to make sure they won't go through with it.
* "The Piano Movers"
A rich socialite hires Lamont and Fred to remove his ex-wife's grand piano from his high-rise apartment. The job turns out to be quite an adventure, as the owner is more than they bargained for.
Sanford and Son ran for five seasons on NBC, earning four Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe for Redd Foxx, and the distinction of being the highest rated show on the network for four years -- the "Must See TV" of its day. While the show took a little while to find its footing -- only two original scripts in the first season, the rest adaptations of BBC episodes -- the character of Fred Sanford and his relationship with son Lamont was clearly evident from the start. The spry, 65 year-old widower pulls no punches and tells it exactly like it is -- or at least how he sees it. Fred's not the most hardworking guy but he is insightful, a bit overdramatic, and most of all funny. Lamont, on the other hand, is a 30 year-old bachelor, living at home and running the family business. He tries hard but his lack of patience and short temper only masks the love he has for his father.
The Sanford and Son formula was not very complicated. The first season had two types of episodes: 1) Lamont has a big idea that winds up backfiring, 2) Fred does something stupid and tries to cover it up. In retrospect, the real power of the series is not in the writing but rather in the comedic genius of Foxx. If the secret of great acting is to make what you are saying and doing appear genuine and honest, Foxx was at the top of his game. From all appearances, the script was only the foundation for Foxx. His facial expressions and ad libs were enough to get his co-stars to break character and audiences to bust a gut. Demond Wilson did all he could to keep up. After all, Wilson was more of an actor than a comedian, which is clearly evident in several of these early episodes. Lamont is a character who takes everything seriously and Wilson appeared to approach his job in much the same way. Despite it all, the relationship the two actors shared on screen as father and son, to this day, remains fresh, believable, and endearing.
Since much of the first season was based on previously written material, the series had yet to create many of the great supporting characters we all remember -- Aunt Esther, Grady, Bubba, and Rollo. However, in "The Copper Caper" (episode #4), we meet Officers Smitty (Hal Williams -- 227) and Swanny (Noam Pitlik -- The Bob Newhart Show) for the first time. The uncanny duo of neighborhood beat cops -- one white, one black -- provide for some truly classic moments here, as well as in "We Were Robbed" (episode #6) and "The Suitcase Case" (episode #12). Swanny was replaced by Officer Hoppy (Howard Platt) for the remainder of the series. In "The Barracuda" (episode #10), we are introduced to Fred's on-again off-again girlfriend Donna Harris, played with style and grace by Lynn Hamilton. Interestingly enough, Hamilton had a cameo three episodes earlier in "A Pad for Lamont" as Lamont's overzealous landlady. In "Here Comes the Bride..." (episode #3), we meet Fred's two sisters, Hazel and Rosanna, as well as other members of the Sanford clan, who we never see or hear from again -- although they did pave the way for Fred's sister-in-law and arch-nemesis Esther (LaWanda Page). Watch for a cameo by TV veteran Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough) as a frustrated repo man in "The Great Sanford Siege" (episode #8).
As for the physical evidence, the 1:33:1 full frame transfer is 100 times better than what you'll see on local and cable TV reruns. There are some interesting and noticeable moments where the lighting and video combined for a strange contrail of color on certain character movements. However, these are few and far between. The audio is equally as good, aside from what sounds like a somewhat muddied version of the opening theme by the great Quincy Jones, whose funky underscore was used sparingly and often only on bumpers or transitions. One last technical observation -- the running time on each episode (including credits) is a full 26 minutes, leaving only four minutes for commercials. A far cry from the 22 minutes sitcoms of today.
Disappointingly, there is nothing in the way of extras on this two-disc set. It would have been nice to have a short featurette on the show, remembrances of remaining cast and crew, outtakes, or clips of past interviews with creators Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin. Even bios on cast members would have been a welcome addition. A suggestion perhaps for Columbia to consider on future releases.
Sanford and Son was ahead of its time in many ways and the genius of Redd Foxx has long gone underappreciated. I strongly recommend getting your hands on this set to view "Coffins for Sale," "Piano Movers," and "We Were Robbed" -- the strongest episodes of the collection -- although the $29.95 price tag may place it in the rental or borrow category for all but the die hard fans of the series.
This court absolves Sanford and Son of any criminal intent and commends creators Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin for giving TV audiences access the comedy of the late, great Redd Foxx. This court now stands in recess.
Review content copyright © 2002 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 364 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated