This is an ex-parrot!
And Now for Something Completely Different is the ironic name of the Monty Python comedy troupe's first movie. I say ironic because nearly all of the material in the movie had been seen before in the group's television show, Monty Python's Flying Circus. This movie version of some of the best sketches from the first season of that show, along with some from the then upcoming second season, was to be the group's introduction into the American market. However, the movie did far better business in the United Kingdom than it ever did in the U.S.A, which they wouldn't break into for a few more years.
This movie is a series of sketches that are, as in their series, linked together in a stream-of-consciousness manner so that rather than stopping and starting, each sketch flows into the next, oftentimes with the help of animator Terry Gilliam, the only American in the group. This manner of connecting the sketches does help the flow, but this movie, despite being incredibly funny in parts, suffers from not having a plot. Sketch comedy is great and can be an art form, of which the Pythons are masters, but it's best digested in 30 to 60 minute increments.
It has been so many years since I first saw Python that I can no longer remember what it was like to see them for the first time. I know that my first experience with them was through their second feature, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and that Flying Circus was shown on PBS station WTTW from Chicago every Sunday night at 11PM, Michigan time, just before Dave Allen at Large and Doctor Who, which I watched regularly all through high-school during the 1980s. I also remember that at first I didn't quite get the humor of their series. It grew on me quickly though and soon I had (and indeed still do) many of their classic sketches memorized. Even to this day, some 25 plus years since my first exposure, while watching this movie again, I could say the lines right along with the cast.
And some of the group's most famous sketches are present in this movie. The Dead Parrot, the Lumberjack song, Nudge-Nudge, Marriage Guidance Counselor, Self-Defense against Fresh Fruit, Blackmail and two of my personal favorites, Upper Class Twit of the Year and Hell's Grannies. There are many others as well, some less known and less funny, although in everyone of them there is something original and something to laugh at.
Not all of the sketches are improved by the transfer to film. Self-Defense is trimmed considerably from the television version, for instance, but all of them are crisper and clearer from having been shot on 35mm instead of the video tape of the series.
While most of the sketches hold up admirably, I find that Gilliam's animations don't. When he first did them they were original in style, but they've since been imitated so many times that they've lost that fresh feeling and are definitely the weakest part of the movie and there's a little too many of them.
This movie would serve as a great introduction to Python. If someone had never seen any of the group's movies or television shows, this would be something you could show them as a sampler. If they laugh at this you could move them on to the show itself, if they didn't laugh at it, well they're probably not worth knowing anyway.
Eric Idle in drag in And Now for Something Completely Different.
As a cinematic compilation of some of the best -and most famous- Python sketches, it's a priceless record, but as a movie And Now for Something Completely Different is lacking. It's interesting to note that of the four feature films all six members of Monty Python made together, they began and ended with sketch comedies, with two more plot-driven vehicles in between. I much prefer Meaning of Life, which to me is a far more cohesive series of sketches, many of which are also thought provoking, to this movie. And Now for Something Completely Different, as Graham Chapman dressed as a British Officer protests, is just plain silly.
Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. And Now for Something Completely Different is often hilarious, it just doesn't work well as a feature length movie.
I hadn't watched this movie, or any of these sketches on Flying Circus, in many, many years. Like Scott, I remembered several of them vividly. The celebrated Dead Parrot sketch holds up quite well and I also still cracked up at Hell's Grannies. The sight of these guys in old lady drag menacingly stalking the streets has lost none of its humor. I think I laughed hardest at the Nudge-Nudge sketch though. Eric Idle is truly a comic genius in this simple, and brief, but incredibly funny bit.
Although I didn't remember it as well, I loved the Camp Square-Bashing bit. These prancing soldiers making like girly cheer-leaders is definitely funny stuff. “Ooh get her! Whoops, I've got your number ducky, you couldn't afford me dear, two three. I'll scratch your eyes out!” I well remembered The Lumberjack Song and could still sing along to it after all these years.
Not all of the sketches work though. The Marriage Guidance Counselor idea would be taken to another level in Meaning of Life in the sex education class. It is funnier there than here. The Self Defense Against Fresh Fruit idea has wilted over time. It is amusing at first but goes on a bit too long. Ditto The Restaurant Sketch, which, like the Marriage Guidance Counselor idea would be done funnier in Meaning of Life. Perhaps my least favorite sketch of all was Expedition to Mt. Kilimanjaro, which goes absolutely nowhere.
I disagree with Scott about Terry Gilliam's animation sequences. I don't care how much they've been copied they remain groundbreaking and I think they fit this movie the best out of all the Python films. It's true their irreverent, radical impact has diminished since 1971 but they remain visually interesting and often quite amusing. My favorite by far is the Rampage of the Cancerous Black Spot. It features some of the funniest dialogue in the movie, “Agnes? Did you see who moved in next door?” “Yes. Black as the ace of spades, they were.” “Oh, well. There goes the neighborhood!”
And Now for Something Completely Different may be the weakest feature film made by Monty Python but it does contain several timeless comic nuggets.
Michael Palin, Eric Idle and John Cleese in And Now For Something Completely Different
Like Scott, I recall watching Monty Python late at night when I was a teenager. I remember "The Lumberjack Song" being performed by some students during a talent show in high school. There were the kids who watched and enjoyed British humor and those who did not. Another show that Scott did not mention, but was popular with some at the time was the bawdy humor of Benny Hill.
I watched this with my nineteen year old. He laughed often but he found the film to be very dated. In one sketch involving a finger up someone's nose, my son asked, "What's a tape recorder?" He also laughed at the hairstyles of the cast. He even went so far as to make fun of me by digging out an old photo of me and comparing it to Eric Idle in the dirty fork sketch. For the record, I disagree with his appraisal.
I was not looking forward to watching this as I had seen it all before. However, it had been long enough that I found plenty to enjoy. Some sketches seemed completely new while others I recited along with the cast. I have met people over the years who adore Monty Python and some who memorized much of their jokes. You either get this humor or you don't.
Watching And Now For Something Completely Different brought up memories for me, but seeing that my son enjoyed it shows that much of their humor may be timeless.
Photos © Copyright Python (Monty) Pictures (1971)