Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Series One, Episode Six – It’s The Arts

frog

After some silly captions (Python always loved captions) we move to It’s The Arts, which is designed to see how many times the name of a forgotten composer can be recited before it becomes incredibly irritating.  His name?  Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crass-cren-bon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelter-wasser-kurstlich-himble-eisen-bahnwagen-guten-abend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwürstel-gerspurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-shönedanker-kalbsfleisch-mittleraucher-von-Hautkopft of Ulm.  Terry Jones is his only surviving relative who pegs out halfway through reciting his name.  Interviewee John Cleese doesn’t seem too concerned about this and pops off to grab a shovel to dig him a makeshift grave!

Michael Palin is very good as the boss of a crime syndicate that never actually breaks the law.

Right … this is the plan then. At 10:45 .. you, Reg, collect me and Ken in the van, and take us round to the British Jewellery Centre in the High Street. We will arrive outside the British Jewellery Centre at 10:50.  I shall then get out of the car, you Reg, take it and park it back here in Denver Street, right? At 10:51, I shall enter the British Jewellery Centre, where you, Vic, disguised as a customer, will meet me and hand me £5.18.3d. At 10:52, I shall approach the counter and purchase a watch costing £5.18.3d. I shall then give the watch to you, Vic. You’ll go straight to Norman’s Garage in East Street. You lads continue back up here at 10:56 and we rendezvous in the back room at the Cow and Sickle, at 11:15. All right, any questions?

It fits into a familiar pattern for Python – visually they look and sound like criminals, so the reveal that they aren’t is the key.  It maybe should have been more of a throw-away, but it’s worth it for Palin’s hysterical reaction when he discovers that one of his gang has left their car five minutes overdue on a parking meter.

Five minutes overdue. You fool! You fool! All right … we’ve no time to lose. Ken – shave all your hair off, get your passport and meet me at this address in Rio de Janeiro Tuesday night. Vic – go to East Africa, have plastic surgery and meet me there. Reg – go to Canada and work your way south to Nicaragua by July. Larry – you stay here as front man. Give us fifteen minutes then blow the building up. All right, make it fast.

Crunchy Frog is one of Python’s stand-out sketches – which is no doubt reinforced since it featured during most of their live performances, up to and including the O2 gigs earlier this year.  It’s possible to imagine it being performed by Cleese/Palin with Palin acting shifty and defensive as the Whizzo Chocolates boss (like the Dead Parrott/Chesse Shop sketches) but whilst that would have worked quite well, what we actually had was even better.  Terry Jones is proud of his confectioneries and puzzled as to why anybody could find them at all problematic.  Add in John Cleese’s pernickety high-pitched policeman and you have a classic sketch.

Most members of Python faced the possibility of a life in a dead-end job after they left University, so it’s not really a surprise that so many of their sketches feature grey little men who tend to be either Stockbrokers or Chartered Accountants.  One of these is Michael Palin in The Dull Life of a City Stockbroker who blithely ignores all the excitement around him (a wonderfully made-up John Cleese as Frankenstein’s monster killing people at the bus-stop and a topless lady in the newsagents, for example) and instead retreats into the excitement of his DC-style comic.  This leads into some nice Gilliam animation which then segues into the theatre sketch.

Graham Chapman is an inoffensive chap waiting for the curtain up and Eric Idle is a Red Indian who sits next to him.  This bizarre culture clash (“Me heap big fan Cicely Courtneidge. She fine actress … she make interpretation heap subtle … she heap good diction and timing … she make part really live for Indian brave. My father – Chief Running Stag – leader of mighty Redfoot tribe – him heap keen on Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray”) is the motor which drives the sketch. It’s also of interest, since Chapman and Idle appear to be sitting in the Python audience which allows us a quick look at the people who came to these early recordings.

Graham Chapman (as in the Theatre sketch) tended to play the more normal, grounded characters (see The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian for further examples of this).  So Twentieth Century Vole allows him a more grotesque character – the despotic film producer Irving C. Saltzberg.  This sketch allows us to see all six Pythons together (as well allowing Terry Gilliam his most lines to date) plus guest Ian Davidson.  The premise is simple – Saltzberg is a tyrant and his employees are all frightened yes-men who attempt to interpret their boss’ whims and provide him with the answer they think he wants.

Twentieth Century Vole has some good moments, although once you understand the premise of the sketch there’s no real surprises and it doesn’t spin off into an unexpected direction.  But it’s worthwhile for Saltzberg’s increasingly bizarre story ideas and, of course, “Splunge”!

Well now we’re getting somewhere. No, wait. A new angle! In the snow, instead of the tree, I see Rock Hudson, and instead of the dog I see Doris Day and, gentlemen, Doris Day goes up to Rock Hudson and she kisses him. A love story. Intercourse Italian style. David Hemmings as a hippy Gestapo officer. Frontal nudity. A family picture. A comedy. And then when Doris Day’s kissed Rock Hudson she says something funny like…

Next Up – Episode Seven – You’re No Fun Anymore

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