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A&E Home Video presents
Monty Python's Flying Circus: Set Five—Volume 9 (1972)

"I was worried by the time we got to the second half of the second series that we were repeating ourselves, though it didn't seem to be a worry that bothered the others at all. I didn't really want to do the third series because I felt it was getting like a sausage machine; I mean we were just turning the handle and shows were coming out the other end, and I didn't feel any more a sense of excitement or that we were really exploring new territory."
- John Cleese (from Monty Python Speaks!)

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: May 09, 2000

Stars: John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam
Other Stars: Carol Cleveland, Connie Booth
Director: Ian McNaughton

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, partial nudity)
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s (approx)
Release Date: May 02, 2000
UPC: 733961700480
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+CB B+

DVD Review

By the time taping of the third series began in late 1971, tensions were growing both within the group and without. By the middle of the second series, Cleese had determined that he didn't want to do a third series, but no one took him seriously and he begrudgingly signed on for half of the episodes and was guilted into staying for the entire set. Also, by 1971 the BBC had begun to take a more active role in examining the Python's shows before air, and more so than ever the chaps found themselves in censorship squabbles, sometimes not just with the higher ups but with Cleese—the conservative, er, self-appointed realist—as well. While these shows are still very amusing, and host several interesting elements, I agree with Cleese's assessment that these don't seem up to the same standards the first two series. On the other hand, you can see the beginnings of Python's experimentation with the long narrative, which would become the format of choice for their later film career.

A rundown of the show follows:

Disc#9
Episode 27: Whicker's World

Recorded: 01/14/72
Aired: 10/19/72

Episode 27 centers around an Icelandic saga (circa 1126), the story of Erik Njorl, son of Hrothgar. This also marks the airing of the new title sequences, and leads not to Erik but a courtroom where a man (Eric Idle) stands convicted of killing over a dozen people "on or around the morning of the 22nd". When given his chance to speak at his sentencing hearing, the appreciative serial killer not only apologizes "for his horrible crimes," but begins to ingratiate himself by schmoozing the judge, the prosecuting attorney, the police "who worked very hard to catch" him—even the jury. The result is brilliant.

Gilliam's animation follows as a Scotland Yard inspector and officer Davis chase Spider the crook when he tries to escape through his own body, and this week's linking device has begun. The story of Erik's epic trek is recalled but quickly leads him to the small British suburb of North Malden, where his scene is usurped by local businessmen marketing investment in the town.

Back to the courtroom, where we find Erik bandaged head-to-toe on trial for being "willfully and persistently a foreigner" amongst other things, having been framed (and apparently beaten) by constable Pan Am, who seems more like Punch of he and Judy fame, and other not so seemly policemen. Followed by the body part stock market report, and an ensuing Gillianimation, we find ourselves in a launderette with Pepperpots Mrs. Premise (Cleese) and Mrs. Conclusion (Chapman). Before embarking, ironically, on the longest trek of the show—to Paris to see John Paul Sartre (who just happens to live in an apartment building with Marcel Marceau and every other famous French star) to settle a philosophical argument the two are having about freedom and the meaning of his trilogy, Rues A Liberte (Road to Freedom)—comes this hilarious exchange:

"Busy Day," asks Mrs. Conclusion.
"Busy? I just spent four hours burying the cat," replies Mrs. Premise.
"Four hours?"
"Yes, he wouldn't keep still..."


Finally, we arrive on Whicker Island from where the episode gets its name, inhabited solely by dying race of announcers, ex-international foreign correspondents always on the prowl for interviews.

This show rates: 3 Dead Parrots out of 5.


Episode 28: Mr. An Mrs. Brian Norris' Ford Popular

Recorded: 01/28/72
Aired: 10/26/72

The strangely myopic "epic journey" Mr. An Mrs. Brian "Wrong-way" Norris to determine if the people of Houslow were descended from the people of Surbiton a few miles to the south. Followed by the overachieving school boys, who as extracurricular activities are running insurance schemes, winning Italian Grand Prix, performing medicine, and so on.

A stunningly simple "wipe" transitions the show into "How To Do It," a spoof on how-to shows that claims it will teach the audience how to cultivate the Sahara desert, cure all diseases, play the flute ("by putting your fingers on the holes"), how black and white people can live in harmony, as well as reconciling the Russians and Chinese.
The next scene finds Mrs. Shazam and Mrs. Nigger-Baiter tickling and pinching her son, the Minister for Overseas Development (Cleese), just prior to the latter lady exploding. The scene is interrupted by a vicar (Idle) selling enclopedia, which is called back in the following scene.

One of the best moments for me comes when they push the "third wall" a skeleton escapes from the chart and despite warnings goes teetering off the edge of the frame.

"Oh my god," a voice exclaims, "He's fallen off the edge of the cartoon!"

"Oh well, there goes that link."


The "Farming Club" show then presents an intimate look at the life of composer Peter Tchaikowsky, followed by Sviatoslov Richter who plays the composer's First Piano Concerto in B-flat Minor while escaping a padlocked canvas sack. This is essence of what is Python humor, taking the erudite and juxtaposing the weirdest situation possible.

Next comes the "Trim-Jeans Theatre" which purports to help people reduce weight while wearing the "slenderizing garment" and then watching classic plays or listening to poetry. This segues into a production the Great Escape. Between Gilliam cartoons is the famous "Fish Slapping Dance," 20 seconds beloved by Python fans worldwide.

When Gilliam's animated fish takes a bite out of a fish, we cut to live action to discover it's the Titanic, where the crew is dressing up as different people like women, children, Red Indian, Spaceman, Flemish Merchant, etc. to save themselves from going down with the sinking ship.When the crew is discovered walking along a Venezuelan beach, they are brought to the police station. In a typically demented turn most of the players are not allowed to speak because the BBC has to pay people 28 guineas for speaking parts, and there isn't enough budget for all the actors to speak, but they do in order to make more money. As each actor speaks or performs a stunt like jumping through a window, workman begin to repo parts of the set until the credits are shown on scraps of paper, A wonderful turn is the post-credits show "It's Man Chat Show" in which Ringo Starr of the recently disbanded Beatles and Lulu (To Sir With Love) appear with the disheveled chartered accountant normally from the show opening...which would have made a tremendous final show ending, by the way.

This show rates: 2.5 dead parrots out of 5.


Episode 29: The Money Programme

Recorded: 12/04/71
Aired: 11/02/72
Eric Idle at his spindly, half-used car salesman, half-lounge lizard breaking into song and dance On "The Money Programme," with singing and dancing pilgrims backing him up in a Broadway Musical spoof. Never losing an opportunity to give it to their favorite targets, the song tells how wonderful money is and that "It's accountancy that makes the world go round..."

Terry Jones appears as the Nude Organist, although it was Terry Gilliam who played the role once in series two. Strangely, contrary to most if not all earlier captioning (my mind is growing soft), the end of Sousa's Liberty Bell March is denoted as "ends with a fart," not the usual "ends with raspberry." Yes, very interesting. Nearly an episode of Seinfeld in itself.

Next is the performance of : "Frizabeth," called so because the actors are taking orders from the asian director (Snicker-eyes Yakomoto (Jones), masquerading as Italian director, Luchino Visconti,), so because must exchange all "R's" for "L's" and visa versa. This odd show also includes the use of vespas instead of horses. The actors grow suspicious, and when he claims, "I am a vely impoltant Itarian Dilectol," Elizabeth (Chapman) replies, "You are a nip!" It's quite amazing the amount of politically incorrect racial references in these few shows that were then able to get away with (abortion is even mentioned later). Try that now. On the other hand it's impressive that they were able to get through all of the inverted dialogue—and with straight faces. Then, borrowing from Gilliam's animated link from episode 27, Inspector Leonard (Cleese) from Scotland Yard barges in to arrest Yakomoto, but lets the latter escape as he begins a critique of Visconti's films.

Gillianimation of a robbery foiled because the man has 20 hands, transitions into a scene about a wife (Jones) who cooks the most horrible meals for her husband (Idle), mostly rat, that seems entirely to reminiscent of the "Spam" sketch from series 2. When there's "another dead bishop on the landing," the "Church Police" are called.

Following a silly animated piece (is there any other kind) Python presents a wonderful pieces of juxtaposition that has the British Explorer's Club expedition moving in the jungle, only to discover—a fine dining establish filled with other explorers. When the narrator comes on to explain that a scene from the show must be replaced because it contains violence and nudity, it is replaced by a scene from "Ken Russell's Gardening Club for 1958," which ironically includes a man dressed up like a big bird and a naked woman.

When the expedition is rejoined, they find the lost world of Rouirama...but mostly this scene is thick with the Python playful toying with convention as they always have: by having the native (Jones) forget his line ("Which page in the script?"), symmetrically doubled by Hargreaves (Palin), back in London, forgetting his lines or saying them out of turn, or the lost expedition team determining they can be saved if they find the camera crew that's filming them (or the one filming the camera crew that's filming them). When it all breaks down, Inspector Baboon of the Yard comes through a door in the jungle to arrest Akarumba for impersonating director Antonioni Michelangelo, but who like Leopard before him begins to espouse about the director's films...right through the credits.

By some miracle from the gods of laughter we are given "Another 6 minutes of Monty Python's Flying Circus," we are treated to the wonderful "Argument Sketch," where Palin comes in search for an argument only to get contradiction instead, but must first get though the maze of offices housing "Abuse" (Chapman) and later upon leaving "Complaining" and "Getting Hit on the Head Room"(Idle). This time the sketch is stopped by Inspector Flying Fox of the Yard (Chapman) come to arrest the actors because of the strange sketch act. This is then stopped by Inspector Thomson Gazelle for offenses including the "getting out of sketches without the proper use of the punchline act," which of course, is ironically one of the few things that ALL of the Python's ever agreed upon—never to use the punchline format.

This one was spared a two dead parrot rating by the "Argument Sketch" alone. 2.5 Dead Parrots it is!



Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: In some ways this is the best and worst this set has to offer. The color of interior shots is much better than the older shows, as well for Gilliam's animation, but there seems to be a lot more dirt and scratches appearing in this set than in the others, and it as times distracting. Part of me wants to beg A&E to truly remaster these all, but the budget for that alone would probably be more money than their entire DVD budget, Monty Python's series and film budget, and my accumulative life salary as a cherry on top. It's better to have the to have not.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English monono


Audio Transfer Review: The audio holds up better than the image transfer, and is typically center channel pinned. But the dialogue is well understood and there aren't annoying pops or hissing (at least without being on purpose). It wouldn't matter if they were able to remaster this into a DTS 5.1 track—I'd still have trouble figuring out what the Pepperpots say half the time anyway!

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Useless tidbits and "pythonisms" (definition of Python terms)
  2. Weblink to http://www.pythonshop.com.
  3. "Argument" sketch from Live at the Hollywood Bowl
  4. Pet Peeves ("Fish license sketch" from episode 23)
  5. Gillianimation preview from episode 38
Extras Review: The usual suspects again, some more useful than others. Other may like the previews (or post-views as it were), but I prefer them in "context," as if that were possible with Python. Still, another nice effort, considering I don't think we'll ever get commentary or outtakes in our lifetime at least.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

This may not be the greatest season of Monty Python, but these two, no three! episodes are still solid with funny sketches, interesting segues, and disturbed thoughts. Recommended.

 


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