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And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)

| May 16, 2012 | 0 Comments

A man walks into the office of a guidance counselor and takes a seat. The counselor advises the man that he has looked over his aptitude tests and concluded that the best position suited to him would be in accounting. “But I am an accountant,” the man says, “I have been one for the past 20 years. I want something exciting that will let me live.” He reports that his current job is desperately dull, to which the counselor informs him that his tests reveal that he is desperately dull. The job the man wants: lion tamer. This despite the fact he has no training and seems to have mistaken lions for aardvarks.  The man is happy to report, however, that he is in posession of a proper hat.  The counselor then turns to the camera and informs us that “THIS is what accountancy does to people.”

That’s the grand anarchic spirit of Monty Python.  Grab a normal scenario and whip it into something so over-exaggerated and silly that we almost have to laugh at the concept.  I think the British are experts at this.  There’s a drollery to their delivery that allows a scene like that to work.  Week after week, this was what made up the best parts of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.  They adopted a sort-of shotgun approach to their sketches, firing every idea at us no matter how ridiculous and hoping that one of them would make us laugh.

The laugh ratio on the show was about 40%.  Some sketches worked but many did not.  Their first feature film And Now for Something Completely Different culls their best sketches into a kind of “Best of” collection.  These sketches are not just replays from the show, but actually reenactments on film without a laugh track.  The laugh ratio in the film is about 70/30.  Many of their ideas work if you’re willing to stretch your imagination.

The troup, which is comprised of six players – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and the late Graham Chapman, – work exhaustively throughout this film to play more than 100 different characters, are so willing to make us laugh that they will come up with nearly anything, which would explain an opening scene featuring a man who claims to have a tape recorder up his nose.  He presses one nostril and the tape plays “La Marseillaise”.  He presses the other nostril and he can rewind the tape.  Even stranger is the follow-up act featuring the man’s brother who suffers from the same affliction, this time the song plays in stereo.  Far from classic comedy, but you get the idea.

My favorite is a sketch called “Hell’s Grannies”, which involves a news report dealing with a roving gang of little old ladies who beat young men over the head with their pocket books.  We see them in their flowered hats, swinging their purses and roaring around on their motorcycles while wrapped in shawls.  One nervous citizen in a leather jacket and a Jolly Roger helmet informs us that “It’s not even safe to go out to the shops anymore.”  The news reporter lets us know that their domain is “a world in which the surgical stocking is king”.  Only slightly worse are a roving gang of baby snatchers, grown men in diapers who snatch adults from in front of grocery stores.

One of the best creative touches in the film is the way in which the sketches are linked together.  One sketch leads into the next in a way this oddly fitting.  For example the scene with the accountant ends with a fairy waving his magic wand and giving the accountant something more exciting.  That makes him the host of the game show that is the next sketch.  It is called “Blackmail” a sadistic game show in which privately obtained films of adultery are shown, and the person on the film has to call in with a cash offer so the show will stop running the film.

All of this is very subjective and no one laughs at exactly the same thing.  That’s pretty much what makes Monty Python work.  Either you are in on the joke or you’re looking for laughter elsewhere.  Either the sight of an armed bank robber committing his crime only the discover that he has walked into a lingerie shop is funny to you or it isn’t.  For me, I laughed most of the time, the rest I was left scratching my head. Maybe that was the point.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1971) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy