This review was guest-written by X. Nigel Jones IV. Wait a minute...that's Appellate Judge James A. Stewart. He just visited John Cleese's Web site.
"Come the revolution."
That was the week that was. Or rather That Was the Week That Was. And John Cleese was there as a writer back in 1962 when David Frost brought topical comedy to BBC audiences as part of the 1960s satire boom in Britain.
Although TWTWTW and the satire boom fizzled quickly, Cleese went on to join the cast of a revolutionary comedy program that you've no doubt heard of: I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again. I'm sorry, I won't read that again. Cleese had a knack for joining revolutionary comedy programs, so he still had a couple of other revolutionary comedy programs to join before joining Monty Python's Flying Circus in 1969. This final revolution was not only televised, but ended up on the big screen and in video games as well.
Before joining Python, Cleese married Connie Booth, who collaborated with him on numerous projects, most notably as a co-writer and co-star on Fawlty Towers.
Somewhere in there, John must have been idle. No, Eric was Idle. John was Cleese. Nevertheless, Cleese had time to get involved in three one-off TV programs, rounded up by White Star as The John Cleese Comedy Collection. They are:
• How to Irritate People, 1969
Cleese's introductory asides, as when he asserts that bankers' hours are tailored for "the unemployed and bank robbers," almost steal the show from the sketches, which include the airline pilots bit which Cleese scares a planeload of passengers with the line, "There is absolutely no cause for alarm."
The quiz show and discussion show parodies kind of stretch the premise, but they're funny. Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, and Connie Booth share the bill with Cleese. You'll almost wish they'd go back and update How To Irritate People, since so many new irritations—like cell phones and cable news networks—have come along since 1969.
• Romance with a Double Bass, 1974
Smychkov takes a nude dip in the river. He's not the only one; Princess Costanza (Connie Booth) is in the water without a stitch of clothing as well when a thief steals their garments from the shore. Hiding the princess inside his bass case, the naked Smychkov endeavors to return the princess safely and discreetly to the castle.
The one joke that carries this one is nudity, so the shots of Cleese's rear and Booth's breasts aren't brief. The pair does a lot to make that one gag work, helped by the fact that their broad style is balanced with an old-fashioned story. The ball scene, with Cleese and Booth exchanging glances across a crowded room, is a gem.
• The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as we Know
A lot of good stuff could have been done with this setup. It was, in Neil Simon's Murder by Death and in USA Network promos. When Watson (Arthur Lowe) finally confronts the disguised villain, there's a funny bit, but The Strange Case… is mostly just tired, with then-trendy gags about drugs and Gerald Ford, except for the occasional obnoxious bit, such as the one involving a U.N.-style translation device and ethnic stereotypes.
Connie Booth does an Emma Peelish turn as Mrs. Hudson.
How to Irritate People has the best surviving print, with occasional flaring but no problems, despite the show's apparent low budget. Romance with a Double Bass and The Strange Case… are plagued with lines, spots, and other debris on the picture. Sound quality is adequate for all of these, although it doesn't look like anything was done to shape them up.
The only extras are a biography (heavy on Cleese's early career) and a filmography. Both are text features.
Cleese fans should go with The John Cleese Comedy Collection because you'll want Romance with a Double Bass and How to Irritate People, and The Strange Case… is essentially free, when compared to the cost of buying separately. You'll probably be surprised at how Romance with a Double Bass holds up better than the others, perhaps because it is the exception to the rule, sweet and timeless rather than edgy and current.
Overall, though, White Star is guilty of slapping a collection together without doing anything to clean up the prints and little to supply context.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: SRO Entertainment
• Text Biography
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