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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

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The Long Haul Review: Only Fools and Horses Episode 3

Okay, so we’ve had sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia during our opening two episodes, but I’m really hoping that we’ll have moved away from having to address issues like that soon, I await episode 3 with glee, I wonder what it was called….

Episode 3: Cash and Curry

Original airdate 22nd September 1981
7.3 million viewers
Running time: 30 Minutes

…oh boy.

A little bit of trivia to begin, apparently this episode was written title first; the whole plot developed after that pun was dreamt up. Also worth noting is the bounce of 1.2 million viewers returning, which had to settle some nerves after the decline for episode two. Anyway, on with the review:

For the first time, we don’t open at the flat, instead we look on as Rodney parks the three wheeled van in a car park with a bassy, jazzy soundtrack playing. He pauses to look at a car, a Vauxhall by the look of it, with a playboy logo on the front and shakes his head. All the while he’s being watched by two Indian gentlemen in another car. Rodney is at the Camberwell Chamber of Trade to collect Del from a dinner dance, which he’s presumably attending to schmooze and network some deals. Rodney’s furious though as a clearly drunk Del staggers slightly down the steps to meet him, Del rang him late at night to demand Rodney come and get him. Del mentions he drove in “the Vauxhall Velox” which was the car Rodney stopped to look at on the way in. I don’t recall this being mentioned before this episode and I don’t remember it ever coming up again, so presumably it’s plot relevant. Del was going to call a cab as he was too drunk to drive, but trying to impress a new business contact, wanted Rodney, his “driver” to come and pick him up to make an impression. We get some great drunk acting here from David Jason, it’s in no way over the top, instead peppered with the slightly too deliberate, over exaggerated gestures of someone trying to hide how much they’ve had to drink, and the overly affection contact with Rodney as he enthuses about the potential for making money out of this evening. Rodney is unimpressed though, he had to cut a date short for this.
Del’s new contact Vimmal Malik makes his first appearance and the three men walk out to the car park with Del cracking jokes until they’re interrupted by the men who were previously watching from the car, one smaller man in a suit and the other a much larger man, clearly ‘the muscle’. They accuse Vimmal of avoiding them, but Vimmal is dismissive of them despite the threat. This is played dead straight, no hint of comedy, and the aggression is palpable; quite intimidating really. Del steps forward, fearless and protective of both Rodney as his new friend, and responds to their threats with one of his own. From an excellent comedic performance in the previous scene as drunk Del, we now see David Jason as confident, street smart, hard man Del. We haven’t seen much of it yet, but from what we know of the family backstory so far, Del has had to scrap and stand firm virtually his whole life, it makes sense he wouldn’t take respond to intimidation in this way, at least not in a scene where things aren’t being played for laughs. We’re informed the larger of the two men is in fact a “Second  Dan in Karate” (an actual thing according to Google), but Del responds that he’s a black belt himself, in origami. The line is a joke obviously, but even in the face of a huge, imposing bodyguard, Del doesn’t back down. We get some exaggerated karate poses from our as-yet-unnamed attacker, but Del doesn’t flinch, instead using some quick thinking to distract everyone and deliver a swift knee to the unmentionables, leaving the larger man in a heap. I was quite critical of some lazy slapstick in episode two, but this was pitched just right; no ‘wacky’ side and the actual strike being off camera. Del is now into his full, cocky, controlled swagger. He calmly but firmly orders Vimmal and Rodney into his car, all the while facing down the smaller of the two men. As Del heads to leave, the smaller man offers Del the chance to talk and smooth things over, but he refuses, with some dismissive parting words, only to have his composure somewhat ruined by Rodney speeding off without him, leaving him with no choice but to speak with this man in exchange for a lift.
We rejoin Del having a curry with his former adversaries. Subtitles of the smaller man’s conversation with the waiter in their mother tongue show he’s actually very dismissive of Del, but he’s obviously retaining a civil front. Rodney arrives, worried for Del’s safety. Del queries why it’s taken Rodney over an hour to come find him, after all, he rang Grandad (absent from this episode) ages ago, but Rodney has a good excuse, Del didn’t tell Grandad which restaurant he was in! We then get Rodney’s first truly memorable line of the series…
I’ve been crashing through the doors of every Curry House and Takeaway from Battersea Bridge to Collier’s Wood Tube Station! I can now leap out of that Vauxhall Velux ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ style, make a chapati and say “Get stuffed” in Urdu!*

The Velox gets another mention here too.

Del introduces Rodney to Mr Raam and “Oddjob” the bodyguard. Raam owns the restaurant. He sells how well he’s done since coming to Britain, he owns 18 restaurants and a lot of land. He explains the problems between himself and Vimmal Malik, a family feud going back over 100 years. During the British colonial invasion of India, Malik’s family sided with the British, Raam’s fought against them. When the war was won, the Raj removed Raam’s family’s land and possessions and gave it to the Maliks, who built a business with the proceeds. Malik has Raam’s one remaining family heirloom, a statue of Kubera, the Hindu God of wealth.  It’s not worth much money but has great sentimental value to Raam. He doesn’t want to intimidate anyone as he had tried previously, but the Indian Caste system prevents him sitting down to negotiate with Malik in person. Del pitches himself as a go between for the deal, with Raam promising £4,000 for the statue, but he’ll only part with the money when the statue is in his possession, but Del is hopeful that won’t present an issue. The scene ends with another well executed piece of physical comedy as a casual flick of the arm catches Oddjob, returning from the bathroom, right in the uh…Oddjobs…again. This comes as a genuine surprise, it wasn’t telegraphed at all, you don’t see Oddjob’s return until Del throws his arm, and Del’s movement wasn’t exaggerated. It’s a fun ending to the act and stands out in complete contrast to the lazy ‘antics’ of the previous episode.
Del and Rodney are at Vimmal’s flat next, to try and push on with the deal. Vimmal speaks disdainfully of his rival, leaving Del lost for words for once, trying to effectively sugarcoat Raam’s offer to buy the statue, until Rodney just blurts it out. Vimmal says he won’t sell, but asks what the offer is. Del says £2,000 despite Rodney’s best attempts to be honest. Del points out that Vimmal’s flat isn’t that plush, he’s not doing as well as he’d implied at the function they attended. Vimmal says it would be hard to part with the statue anyway, his Father left it to him, but Del tells a story about a gift left to him and Rodney by their Mother. Quoting this scene won’t do it full justice, but the interaction, both physical and verbal from Del and Rodney here is outstanding…
Del: [Standing up and walking behind the sofa] Our late Mother, well she’s dead now, she left us this family heirloom [Walking behind Rodney] it was this Victorian globe [stroking Rodney’s hair as though this story is difficult for them to recall]
Rodney: [Wearily] Meant the world to us [Del glares at Rodney, pulls his hair a little to warn him]
Del: As he said, it meant the world to us. But their came a time we fell upon stony ground
Rodney: [Looks up in disbelief] We fell on stony ground did we?
Del: Yes, we fell on stony ground [Rodney nods sarcastically] And the only thing we had of any value was this Victorian globe we cherished!
Vimmal: You sold it?
Del: No I raffled it down the betting shop
Vimmal: But of course you know the feeling of loss?
Rodney: [Dripping with scepticism] Well not really because by some stroke of luck Del had the winning ticket [Del subtly thumps Rodney on the head]
Del: Yeah I fink it was God or summin’
Try and locate this scene online if you can. It’s almost perfectly structured and choreographed.
With a little further persuasion, Vimmal agrees to the deal and we get the first airing of a Del catchphrase “You know it makes sense”. Vimmal leaves the room to get the statue, and Rodney immediately pounces on Del’s immoral dealing, leading to more conversation between the brothers that absolutely lights up the screen. Del tries to blag his way past Rodney’s objections using his gobbledygook french and the same patter he used on the Australian with the terrible accent in the last episode, but of course Rodney is wise to it, and calls Del out on it, he knows his older Brother too well. Despite this though, the chance to make £1000 each is too good to pass up and Rodney folds to go along with Del. Vimmal returns with the statue, only to throw a spanner in the works. He’ll only give the statue up when he has the money.
After they leave, Del suggests to Rodney they put the money up themselves, knowing they’ll make a profit in the end. Rodney points out they don’t have that money to give, but Del mentally tots up everything they could sell, self sacrificing too, even his own jewelry getting sold to make this deal happen. This episode has had less character building so far, episodes one and two established enough that we’re on board with the main characters and understand them by now, but this was a lovely extra touch for Del’s character. This had none of his earlier cocky facade, this was pure enthusiasm and entrepreneurship, establishing his unrelentingly positive nature when it comes to making deals. Rodney doesn’t question this for a moment either, drawn along by his Brother’s conviction that they can make this happen.
You may remember that when I reviewed episode one, we got a musical montage and I said that I didn’t remember many being used throughout the series? Well we have another in episode three, so apparently I was wrong there, but we’ll see how frequent they are as we continue throughout the episodes. This one shows Del and Rodney selling everything to acquire the money they need. The version I’m watching had a generic jazzy piece, but apparently the original airing had Money by Pink Floyd which was a nice touch. I don’t recall much licensed music being used in OF&H but it does pop up here and there. I guess this would have proven too expensive early on to use on any repeat viewings however, hence the redub. The Velox is sold during the montage too, which explains where that went anyway. That’s probably the first element of a script and a plot that has felt forced, purely because they had to mention it an unnatural amount of times during the episode. It’s not really a black mark, but it does feel out of keeping.
Oh, speaking of things being out of keeping, after Del collects the statue from Vimmal, we’re treated to a jarringly bad visual gag, as Del trips at the top the steps walking out to the van, and we’re ‘treated’ to a slow motion fall, complete with ridiculous facial expressions, only for Del to catch the statue at the bottom. This is the polar opposite of the earlier physical comedy, feeling like a square peg in a round hole. All that it missed was David Jason standing up and giving jazz hands to the camera. I just don’t get it. You’ve built this sharp, cleverly scripted, energetic story and you punctuate it with lazy clowning? It doesn’t sit right, but at least it’s not happening frequently in this episode.
The Brothers return to Raam’s restaurant to complete the sale of the statue, but the waiter from the other night claims the establishment is his! Del and Rodney think he doesn’t understand what they’re asking, but what could have turned into the kind of scene I’ve criticised thus far is pulled off very well, as both Del and Rodney become the butt of the joke due to their own assumptions the owner doesn’t understand them, without falling into any unpleasant stereotypes or assumed accents. The owner does remember Mr Raam, his cheque for the meal bounced and he has long since left the address he’d left on the payment, disappearing without trace.
As it dawns on the boys what has happened, Rodney can only manage a strangled, slightly scared “Del Boy”, which as an aside is one of the few times I recall him using that nickname for Del. Del himself is in denial, recounting Raam’s story to the restaurateur.
We cut to a scene of both Vimmal and Raam in a car being driven by Oddjob, celebrating and laughing about their con, they’ve done the same thing in Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton and now North and South London. They intend to go on too, with a statement that seems bizarrely prescient given some of the rhetoric commonly used in parts of the press…
“We can go anywhere where people think they can exploit the religious bigotry of two stupid immigrants”
They’re definitely the smart ones in the episode, and you can’t even begrudge them fully for getting one over the Trotters.
Rodney is waiting for Del as he leaves Vimmal’s now deserted flat. In a nice callback to Del’s opening scene, he staggers down the steps towards his younger Brother, this time due to shock instead of alcohol. Rodney suggests they go to the police, but Del couldn’t face the humiliation. He says he needs something to eat, to which Rodney jokingly suggests a curry, only to have the episode end with the offending statue being launched towards him.
This episode, the falling-down-the-stairs scene aside was outstanding. My fears regarding the potential for racism were unfounded and plot, while being a little obvious in places due to various cliches, was extremely well put together with very strong performances of very well written scenes. The interaction between Del and Rodney has been great from the beginning, but this episode took it to a superior level. Their interaction is almost symbiotic at times, you can believe they’re brothers, they feel like real people when they’re not being clowns; as I mentioned before, the globe scene absolutely begs to be watched.
Again, there weren’t huge amounts of laughs to be had, but that didn’t matter in the slightest because of how wildly entertaining the whole package was. I was left reminded of quite why I loved the series and wanted to start these  reviews. Episodes one and two, both with their plus points (one more than two) had left me a little cold in places, but Cash and Curry was joyous. I know the quality won’t always sustain, but this episode needs to be held up as one of the best.

*That distance is about 5.7 miles according to Google maps.

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