Dir: Ian MacNaughton, 1971
In the hope of cracking the American market, Monty Python’s first feature is a series of sketches derived from the first two BBC television series,Monty Python’s Flying Circus, re-recorded on film for theatrical exhibition.
Part-financed by the UK arm of Playboy magazine, And Now For Something Completely Differentsuffered from interference from the company’s head, Victor Lowndes.
Scenes were edited or altered at his insistence, with their famous sketch, Ken Shabby, removed entirely.
Nevertheless, what we are left with is an amusing mosaic of lunacy and absurdity, with some real laugh-out-loud moments.
As funny as though it is, the film struggles to keep up its running time of ninety minutes and begins to lag around the halfway mark.
Kept within the confines of a thirty minute episode, it’s fine. But when you take it out of those restraints, the funny moments lose the thing that made them funny.
But, having said that, the first half of the film is brimming with some classic pieces, such “Hell’s Grannies”, The Lumberjack Song, “How To Defend Yourself Against A Banana”, “The Funniest Joke In The World”, “Blackmail” and, the most famous of all, “The Dead Parrot”.
Director MacNaughton, helmed the original sketches for the TV show and knows exactly how it should play out. In a near scene for scene facsimile, MacNaughton just goes through the paces, seldom injecting anything new.
It has to be said, though, that some sketches do work a little better in the film than they did in Flying Circus. A group of parading soldiers which quickly turns into a camp March, is one such example.
Wisely, the Python’s voluntarily trimmed some of the sketches to maximise the potential for laughs, with the added bonus of making it easier to link the scenes together.
In the original transmission, “The Dead Parrot” continued with John Cleese leaving the pet shop and being sent to different pet shops, which are all the same and played by Michael Palin. The Lumberjack Song followed Palin’s murderous butcher, who had a fear of cutting hair because he couldn’t help killing his customers.
For the film, the latter sketch follows the aforementioned “Parrot” and is greatly improved by it, allowing Cleese to shout “what about my bloody parrot?!” while Palin sings about trees.
A very weak piece is the “Upper Class Twit of the Year”. An extended bout of silliness that merely irks rather than amuses.
All in all, a valiant effort to break the US but it’s no masterpiece. The boys’ best work was still to come.
It’s worth ninety minutes of your time.