(As a lead-up to Monty Python’s final concert performance on July 20, each day prior to that, I will post a review of a Monty Python movie. First up, their film debut.)
Most likely, if Britain’s Monty Python comedy troupe hadn’t hit it big in America in the mid-70’s, And Now for Something Completely Different wouldn’t even be considered in the annals of movie comedy.
When “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” became a British hit in the early ’70s, British Playboy entrepreneur Victor Lowndes convinced the Pythons to commit some of their best sketches to film in an attempt to win over an American following. The movie was done on the cheap (much of it was filmed at a dairy farm), and it initially laid a huge egg in America (as did a notorious Python appearance on “The Tonight Show” at that time). The movie was revived for American audiences only when Monty Python and the Holy Grail became a surprise hit.
Python’s John Cleese was the most vocal about a plotless sketch movie wearing out its welcome halfway through. That said, you couldn’t ask for a better introduction to Python comedy. Most of “Flying Circus'” best sketches from the first season are here, from “Nudge Nudge” to “Dead Parrot” to the famous “Lumberjack Song.” And Carol Cleveland, the only woman allowed in Python territory (most of their female roles were played by Python’s males), is in full, bosomy blossom here. (Sketch-wise, the movie also paved the way for cult hits such as Kentucky Fried Movie, the first film effort of the Airplane! creators.)
For die-hard Python buffs, the only complaint is that the material is often too benign. One almost wishes for some of their “meatier” sketches from their later seasons, when Python hit its stride, were represented here. (As to Cleese’s complaint about sketch comedy wearing out its welcome, a perfect closing for the movie would have been “The Cycling Tour,” a “Circus” sketch that filled an entire half-hour and was one of their funniest outings.)
But this is nit-picking. If you’re in the mood for a worldview gone askew, you can’t get much more different than And Now for Something Completely Different.