A&E // 1973 // 237 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // May 1st, 2000
The imperfections of the original ANALOG Monty Python shows have been analyzed and painstakingly reproduced as DIGITAL imperfections.
If the first four sets weren't enough to warp your fragile little minds, A&E has ensured the brain damage is irreversible by releasing the third season of Monty Python's Flying Circus onto DVD.
The third wave of Monty Python continues the merry mayhem started by the madcap troupe in 1969. If this is your first experience with Monty Python, then you should also check out my previous reviews of Monty Python's Flying Circus Sets 1 and 2 and Monty Python's Flying Circus Sets 3 and 4. You may also find my review of Monty Python and the Holy Grail instructive!
For four all too short seasons on the British television, five natives (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) and an American cartoonist import (Terry Gilliam) were let loose to push the boundaries of sketch comedy as they had never been pushed before. As noted in the "useless tidbit" for Episode 31 (Disc 10), at one point the BBC censors forced Python to edit the sound to remove a reference to masturbation as a hobby (though apparently untroubled by a reference to strangling animals as a hobby). Considering just how much rude material they did get to air (which never would in these hyper-sensitive times), I am amazed that the censors bothered with editing such a brief comment.
The nature of the comedy is worthy of further comment since modern American audiences will not "get" a lot of the cultural references made or recognize the targets of the satiric barbs. After all, unless you are well acquainted with the cultural and political people and events of the late '60s and early '70s, this can hardly be helped. Nevertheless, if you stick with the series you should be able to figure out a lot of the references, and even if you don't quite get them the humor is so strong that you won't mind too much! It also helps to have a sound education (as clearly the Pythons did), for how else can you get the full value of skits about Jean-Paul Sartre, the leaders of modern communism, Icelandic sagas, and the life of Tchaikovsky? I doubt that this sort of intelligent silliness would get on to television these days, as some bean-counter would surely object to it as far too highbrow. (Now isn't that an ironic criticism!)
The third season is not quite as comedically brilliant as the second season, but this is a minor issue of quality that surely will not matter to any aficionado of the Pythonesque style of humor. Classic skits in this release such as the Cheese Shop, the Argument Clinic, and the Travel Agent sketch are particularly worthy of your attention. Sadly, Episode 39 in Set 6 marks the final appearance of John Cleese as a Python.
The sketch highlights (listed on the back of each individual disc) might begin to give you idea about the eclectic comedy assortment that lurks therein. They are:
Set 5, Disc 9 (Episodes 27-29): The BBC is short of money. Consequently, this volume contains SUCH RUBBISH as The Life of Tchaikovsky, Schoolboys' Life Assurance Company, Fraud Film Squad, one slice of strawberry tart without so much rat in it, Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion visit Jean-Paul Sartre and other perfectly normal medical phenomena. With Graham Chapman as Erizabeth L, John Cleese as Mrs. Premise, Terry Gilliam as Spaceman, Eric Idle as an Idealized Version of the Complete Renaissance Man, Terry Jones as Our Hero, and Michael Palin as Betty-Muriel Sartre.
Set 5, Disc 10 (Episodes 30-32): An ambitious and intricate masterwork, with memories of Everest Climbed by Hairdressers, Party Hints, Theory on Brontosauruses, A New Theory on Brontosauruses, The Minister of Not Listening to People, The Silliest Sketch We've Ever Done, and "The Pantomime Horse is...a Secret Agent Film." With Graham Chapman as Vice Admiral Sir John Cunningham, John Cleese as Miss Anne Elk, Terry Gilliam as The Studio Presenter, Eric Idle as Mr. Smoke-Too-Much, Terry Jones as Arthur Mee, and Michael Palin as Mr. Orbiter-5.
Set 6, Disc 11 (Episodes 33-35): A scrumptious blend of Runny Camembert, comma, Banana and Cheese Sandwiches, comma, Cheese Westerns, comma, lemon curd tartlet, comma, a self-ejecting tomato, comma, and Other Accidents Involving Food, comma, plus some Cheap-Laughs, period. With Graham Chapman as Señor Biggles, John Cleese as Chairman of the British Well-Basically Club, Terry Gilliam as Ginger, Eric Idle as Director of the Institute of Split-Crotch Panties, Terry Jones as Mr. Gulliver, AKA Clodagh Rodgers, AKA Trotsky, AKA Eartha Kitt, and Michael Palin as Mr. Pither.
Set 6, Disc 12 (Episodes 36-39): A rotten old programme, with a bit of 'Boxing Tonight,' What the Stars Foretell, A Party Political Broadcast, An Ideal Loon Exhibition, The Queen's Own McKamikaze Highlanders, A New Brain from Curry's, The Sherry-Drinking Vicar, and The Dirty Vicar. With Graham Chapman as Sergeant Maddox, John Cleese as Lord Kinwoodie, Terry Gilliam as Miles Yellowbird, Eric Idle as The 'No Time to Lose' Consultant, Terry Jones as The Reverend Ronald Simms, and Michael Palin as Dr. Peaches Bartkowicz.
Video continues in the commendable line established by prior discs. I did notice that the scenes where video quality was lowest (soft picture, loss of shadow detail, and bountiful bits of dirt) were invariably credit sequences or outdoor shots. In addition, the end credits tend to have a heavy degree of digital enhancement shimmering. For some reason, the scenes shot in studio are usually far sharper, almost totally clean, more saturated in color and in general exceedingly good for thirty year old television footage. However, there are a handful of instances where shimmering from digital enhancement flares up quite badly with motion exaggerating the problem, such as inside the shop during the Tudor porn merchant sketch in Episode 36, or a similar problem that blurs a few frames at the very start of the Prejudice sketch in Episode 37
A certain degree of video noise and grain is present, sometimes quite noticeably in dark backgrounds, but nothing to get too upset about. In any event, if you have only seen the show over broadcast or cable TV, then you will be firmly impressed.
Audio is much the same as well, about as good as we could probably expect from a nearly thirty year old British television series. Dialogue is quite clearly heard, but whether it is understood is a question for the viewer. Give the rest of your speakers the night off, only your center channel need report for work.
Extras are exactly as advertised from the first four Python sets. Each disc has its own assortment, including live sketches drawn from the movie Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl or the TV series:
Disc 9 reveals Meet the Chaps (bio/filmographies for each cast member, plus a short selection of their work), py*thon*isms (definitions of uniquely Python words), Gillianimations (a short collection of Terry Gilliam's work), Argument sketch Live! (from the movie), and Pet Peeves (a collection of pet themed sketch clips).
Disc 10 exhibits Meet the Chaps, a Trivial Quest (two short trivia games), Gilliam's Attic (sketches by Terry Gilliam), Travel Agent Live! (from the movie), and Amazing feats (TV clips of skits where great feats are attempted...).
Disc 11 offers Meet the Chaps, py*thon*isms, Gillianimations, Spriechen zie Python? (the "Stupid Olympics" skit from Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus), and Explosive situations (TV clips of skits where, well, things explode!).
Disc 12 presents Meet the Chaps, a Trivial Quest (two more trivia games), Gilliam's Attic (more sketches by Terry Gilliam), Spiechen zie Python? (the "Bavarian restaurant" sketch from Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus), Montykaraoke (the "Sit on My Face" song), and the Cleese Shop (clips of skits featuring John Cleese).
Also, each disc includes a "useless tidbit" of trivia for every episode, themed but static menus, and animated transitions. In a nice touch, the impatient viewer can skip directly to the individual sketches within a show.
Thankfully, A&E continues to use the preferred Amaray keep case for its packaging.
Other than the lack of time coding for the programs and extra features, I still can't find any fertile grounds for criticism. In my previous review for Season 2, I noted that inclusion of more background material and insight into the troupe's success would be very welcome. This is still true, and I can only hope that A&E could see fit for the release of the final DVD set to include the recently broadcast two-hour A&E Biography on Monty Python. That would be a real treat!
Though it may not tickle the funny bone quite as strongly as did the Season 2 discs, these two sets from Season 3 are a must buy for the Python fanatic ($25 per disc, or $45 for each two-disc set). The rest of you normal people should at least try a rental, for this sort of wacky blend of intelligent and sophomoric humor is unparalleled in the history of comedy.
Monty Python and A&E have so impressed me that I must curtail my reviewing activities and sally forth to infiltrate an establishment to negotiate the vending of some digital viewables. Court adjourned!
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
Running Time: 237 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Sketch and Animation Galleries
* Trivia Games
* Bonus Sketches
* Movie Clips
* Production Notes
* Monty Python Webring