AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, 1971
A collection of sketches from Monty Python’s first and second TV series, re-filmed for the big screen.
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“Now, I would just like to point out that this film is displaying a distinct tendency to become SILLY. Now, nobody likes a good laugh more than I do...except, perhaps my wife...and some of her friends. Oh, yes, and Captain Johnson. Come to think of it, most people like a good laugh more than I do, but that’s beside the point! I’m warning this film NOT to get SILLY again! Right!”
And Now For Something Completely Different doesn’t listen to this warning. Shot after the first series of the brilliant Monty Python’s Flying Circus, it also contains several sketches written for the second series but not as yet performed. The movie debut for the Monty Python boys, this film was intended to introduce American audiences to their comedy. With a small budget, the sets were built in an abandoned dairy rather than a soundstage in order to save costs.
It is basically some of the Pythons’ funniest sketches loosely linked together by other scenes or short animations courtesy of Terry Gilliam. The result is rather disjointed, but the random madness adds to the Pythons’ very anarchic style of comedy. The title itself suggests this lack of continuity, although it was something of a misnomer for British audiences, who had seen most of it before on the TV series. Early episodes of Monty Python feature John Cleese in a suit sitting behind a desk in a number of different locations. He would state, “And now for something completely different” before the action would switch to another scene. This was used as a transition and also as a way of introducing the next sketch.
The film includes forty sketches and animations, with the six Pythons taking on a large number of different characters. Although each member can play many diverse roles, they do have certain popular traits they are particularly good at portraying.
I like Graham Chapman as the straight man, something he perfected while playing the lead in The Holy Grail and Life of Brian. He often plays the authority figure; someone who is perceived to be serious, but who then does something uncharacteristically silly. John Cleese is at his best playing angry, intimidating figures of authority, put-upon customers, or foreigners with silly accents. Michael Palin has the widest range and is equally effective playing the straight man as he is being wildly over the top. Whether portraying weak and boring types or strong authority types, his characters are usually likeable. Terry Jones excels as middle-aged housewives, with his shrill impression and dishevelled appearance. He is also good as upper-class, reserved businessmen. Eric Idle is great playing the cheeky, suggestive characters. He also has a knack for reeling off long speeches. Terry Gilliam, who created all the animations, sometimes appeared in front of the camera as grotesque characters, with lots of make-up or uncomfortable costumes. He generally played the parts the others didn’t want to!
The sketches in And Now For Something Completely Different are some of the funniest of the early Python era. Monty Python sketches often don’t sound funny when you try to explain their premise. Even the Dead Parrot sketch, which is their most famous and frequently voted as one of the best British comedy sketches ever. A man going into a pet shop to return a dead parrot doesn’t necessarily sound like the recipe for comic gold. With Monty Python, it is often more about the characters and their lines than the situation itself. John Cleese’s increasingly irate customer, using lots of euphemisms for death, while the shopkeeper claims the parrot is simply pining, is what makes it a gem. “'E's kicked the bucket! 'E's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!”
My favourite sketch is also included in this film: The Restaurant sketch, sometimes known as The Dirty Fork sketch, is anarchic and hilarious. “No apologies I can make can alter the fact that in our restaurant you have been given a dirty, filthy, smelly piece of cutlery.” It’s such a simple situation that anyone could be in, but then all hell breaks loose and at the end Graham Chapman delivers a rare Monty Python punch line: “Lucky I didn’t tell them about the dirty knife.”
And Now For Something Completely Different also has The Lumberjack Song, Hungarian Phrase Book, Nudge Nudge, Blackmail, Hell’s Grannies, Upper Class Twit of the Year, Self Defence Against Fresh Fruit and The Funniest Joke in the World. They are all classic moments, lovingly reprised. If you already own the TV series, then this film may interest you simply as a kind of Greatest Hits of Python sketches. If you are new to Monty Python (what have you been doing with your life?), this is a perfect introduction for the uninitiated.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT