Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Monty Python’s Flying Circus Erupts With (Mostly) Enduring Laughs With "Volume 3!"

The Good: Often hilarious and irreverent, Decent-enough DVD bonus features, Well-performed
The Bad: A few dated references, A few sketches that hold up less well over multiple viewings.
The Basics: With "Volume 3" of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, classic sketches like "The Lumberjack Song" and "Dead Parrot" arrive on DVD!

When one considers the masters of comedy, it is no surprise that the acting troupe that was known as "Monty Python" is considered one of the greatest collections of comedic minds to ever assemble. Indeed, over thirty (forty by the end of this year!) years later, much of the humor is still engaging, laughable and illustrate minds that see the world in very different ways from most people.

Those minds include Graham Chapman, who on this disc masters the deadpan for roles that seem serious like military commanders who are disgruntled over not getting the good lines, and John Cleese, who screws his face up and does a Spanish accent that one might never guess he could pull off . . . while singing! There are Eric Idle and Michael Palin, who play off one another perfectly, be their impersonations of cavemen, lounge singers, gangsters or gameshow hosts. There is Terry Gilliam who is creative with old photographs to create animated bits that are visually exciting and funny. And there is Terry Jones, an underrated as both a physical and verbal comedian who is able to assume the widest array of guises with complete plausibility.

"Volume 3" of Monty Python’s Flying Circus contains the third trio of episodes from the sketch comedy show's first season. The episodes "You're No Fun Anymore," "Full Frontal Nudity" and "The Ant, An Introduction" appear with a fair amount of their original 1969 grainy filmstock on DVD. Still, the show is hilarious and the three episodes include some of the best sketches the series ever produced.

In "You're No Fun Anymore," the disheveled old man runs down a long hill, forgets his line and has to be prompted for the "It's . . ." that opens the show. After the credits, John Cleese interviews a camelspotter who has worked for seven years to spot a camel in England and write its number in his book. The interviewer probes to reveal that the man is actually a trainspotter, the title line is delivered and an animation follows. Then, there is a sketch involving a multi-million pound company that has its director's meeting and it is revealed that their profits the year before were a shilling and the accountant is revealed to have embezzled a penny. There is then a collage of punchlines cutaways where the punchline is always "You're no fun anymore!"

Then, Monty Python’s Flying Circus does something very different for the show; it spends the remaining twenty-plus minutes on a single sketch, "The Sci-Fi Sketch." Like a little movie, aliens come to Earth and begin turning everyone into Scotsmen. This diabolic plot continues until most of England is emptied and a lone scientist and his dippy girlfriend try to expose the alien conspiracy and understand what is actually going on. When the aliens turn out to be giant blancmanges and the timing of the invasion and conversion of Brits into Scots is nailed down to the fortnight before Wimbleton, the alien conspiracy becomes clear: they mean to win Wimbleton!

After being handed an ignited bomb by a beautiful woman, the disheveled old man opens "Full Frontal Nudity." At that point, a new enlistee in the army attempts to get out of service because the job is dangerous. His commanding officer is then visited by two civilian, mobsters who offer him a protection service for his military base for a fee. An animated bit provides a little nudity then, followed by an art critic who bumbles through evaluating nudes. This is followed by a ridiculous sketch in a department store where newlyweds attempt to buy a bed. However, those they are purchasing the bed from multiply estimates by ten, divide measurements by three and put a bag over their head when the word "mattress" is said!

The episode continues with a sketch involving hermits who are sharing gossip and ways to decorate/insulate their caves before the sketch is broken up by the General from the protection racket sketch. Then comes the famous "dead parrot" sketch. In that bit, a man attempts to return a parrot he purchased an hour prior because he discovers it is not "just sleeping," but rather is dead and stapled to its perch. This is followed by a flasher and finally by a roving gang of violent grandmothers who are mugging locals.

In "The Ant, An Introduction," the disheveled old man runs through a series of bombings to introduce the show, which then starts with a song about llamas that includes quite a bit of information that is patently false. This moves into a recurring bit "a man with a tape recorder up his nose" before a mountaineer is interviewed by a man for an expedition up Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, the leader of the expedition sees double and interviews the man as if he were a pair of people, despite the interviewees protests. Then comes a barber who has homicidal urges and those urges lead him to reveal to his client his true passion which introduces . . .

"The lumberjack song!" The famous, hilarious song about a man wanting to be a cross-dressing lumberjack is followed by a "song" by Professor R.J. Gumby. A lounge act begins with a sycophantic introduction to an act that does not show. Gilliam then provides an animation of absurd dancing. This is followed by a group of witless hunters and then a sketch wherein a man an a woman begin to get romantic on their couch when a man from a bar stops by because the guy had said "we should have a drink sometime." He brings with him several friends, who make a ruckus and throw a party of their own.

The men of Monty Python’s Flying Circus play most all of the roles in their sketches, male and female (in drag) and the back and forth between their normal personas and their falsetto-squeaking alter-egos is often funny beyond description. On "Volume 3," men hit their stride, but they also have a few references (in "Full Frontal Nudity," someone is referenced as being played by a piece of wood and the specific allusion is lost on me) that are dated or specific to Britain that might not be known by American viewers in the new millennium.

"Volume 3" has the standard DVD bonuses for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which include a series of definitions to specific bits in the show. As well, there are biographies for the Pythons and a little featurette illustrating how Terry Gilliam made some of his animated features for the show. This disc also contains a clipshow of a few sketches (from throughout the entire series) involving people behaving in a wacky fashion. The best DVD bonus feature, though, would have to be the performance of "The Lumberjack Song" live from one of the "Monty Python" stage shows!

The DVD's capacity is underused with this set, but it is still worthwhile, worth picking up for the three episodes that are on it and fans of sketch comedy and Monty Python’s Flying Circus are likely to find is an indispensable set for their collections!

[For a much better value, check out Monty Python's Flying Circus Season 1 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has the complete season, with nothing left to search for!]

For other works by Terry Gilliam, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
The Brothers Grimm
12 Monkeys
The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen
Monty Python And The Holy Grail


For other Television and Movie Reviews, be sure to visit my Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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