A tall, dark-haired British man sits behind a desk that is rather oddly sitting in the middle of a field. He wears a dark suit and he looks quite serious as he says, “And now, for something completely different….”
Cut to a short film about a man with a tape recorder up his nose, followed by another short film about man who has a tape recorder up his brother’s nose.
A Hungarian man tries to buy cigarettes while using an inaccurate English phrasebook. The publisher of the phrasebook is later brought before the court.
Poor old Arthur Pewty goes to marriage counseling and can only watch impotently as the counselor seduces his wife. Having filed to stand up for himself, Pewty is crushed by 16-ton weight.
A self-defense instructor teaches his students how to defend themselves when they are attacked by a man with a banana.
A loquacious man in a pub says “nude nudge” and “wink wink” until his drinking companion is finally forced to slam down his drink.
A man who sees double recruits a mountaineer to climb the two peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Hopefully, they’ll be able to find last year’s expedition, which was planning on building a bridge between the two peaks.
There’s bizarre, almost Dadaist animation, featuring classic works of art interacting with cartoonish cut-outs.
Uncle Sam appears to explain how communism is like tooth decay. A toothpase commercial explains how taking care of your teeth is like racing a car. A motor oil company shows how it can destroy darkness and grim.
A prince dies of cancer but the spot on his face flourishes until it falls in love and moves into a housing development.
A man tries to return a dead pigeon. The store clerk insists the pigeon is merely stunned and then sings about wanting to be a lumberjack.
A general complains that things have gotten much too silly.
The narrator appears randomly, announcing, “And now for something completely different….”
Okay, okay, you get the idea. First released in 1971, And Now For Something Completely Different was the first film to be made featuring all of the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was their initial attempt to break into the American market, a collection of surreal sketches that they had previously performed on television for the BBC. Unfortunately, at the time, no one in America really knew who Monty Python was and the film failed at the box office, to the extent that many in the UK advised against Monty Python even allowing their program to later air on PBS because it was felt that Americans just wouldn’t get it. Of course, Americans did eventually get it. The show remains popular to this very day. Countless Americans are convinced that they can speak in a perfectly convincing British accent, as long as they’re quoting a line from Monty Python. The previous 4th of July, when the town band played John Philip Sousa’s Liberty Bell, I saw hundreds of people stamping down their feet at the end of it. As for And Now For Something Completely Different, it was re-released in 1974 and became a bit of a cult favorite in the States.
That said, the members of Monty Python were never particularly happy with the film. They were convinced to make the film by Victor Lownes, who was the head of Playboy’s UK operation. Lownes, however, alienated the members of the group by trying to exert control over the material. He particularly objected to the character of Ken Shabby, a perv who probably had a stash of sticky Playboys back at this flat. Lownes also put up very little money for the production, meaning that the Pythons had to resort to shooting the film, without an audience, in a deserted factory. Apparently, even the deliberately cheap-looking special effects of the television show were considered to be too expensive to recreate for the film. Michael Palin and Terry Jones both later complained that the film itself was series of scenes featuring people telling jokes while sitting behind desks.
Of course, Lownes’s biggest sin was trying to insinuate that he was somehow the Seventh Python. (One can only imagine how many people were guilty of the sin over the years. Claiming to be the Seventh Python was probably a bit like claiming to be the Fifth Beatle.) When Terry Gilliam was animating the film’s opening credits, the names of the cast were shown in blocks of stone. Lownes insisted that his name by listed the same way. Gilliam reluctantly acquiesced but then redid the names of the Pythons so that they were no longer in stone. Fortunately, Victor Lownes would not involved in the subsequent Python films.
All that said, there’s no denying that And Now For Something Completely Different is a funny movie. I mean, it’s Monty Python. It’s John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, all youthful and at the heights of their considerable comedic talents. Even if all of the sketches are familiar from the show, they’re still funny and it’s impossible not to enjoy discovering the way that the movie threads them together. (Combining the Lumberjack song with the dead parrot sketch worked out brilliantly. “What about my bloody parrot!?” Cleese is heard to shout as Palin walks through the forests of British Columbia.) Personally, my favorite Python is Eric Idle but I also love any sketch that involves Michael Palin getting on John Cleese’s nerves. Everyone knows the dead parrot sketch, of course. But I also like the vocational guidance counselor sketch. It’s hard not to get caught up in Palin’s excitement as he discusses his lion tamer’s hat. Almost as wonderful as Palin’s turn as Herbert Anchovy, accountant was Michael Palin’s turn as the smarmy host of Blackmail. Actually, maybe Michael Palin is my favorite Python. I guess it’s a tie between him and Eric.
And Now For Something Different has been on my DVR for quite some time. I’ve watched it several times. I’m not planning on deleting it any time soon.