Saturday, 5 October 2019

50 Years of Something Completely Different


...50 years since Monty Python's Flying Circus began.

It arrived fully-formed on BBC television in the shape of the first episode, featuring such sketches as Italian lessons for Italians, 20th century painters on bicycles, and The Funniest Joke in the World.

"Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!"

Monty Python's Flying Circus didn't grow into its 'Pythonesque' humour, it was all there from the very beginning. Perhaps this is to do with the fact that the first programme broadcast was really the third one they made, but I think it is more because their style was not utterly new for this series, but a continuation of the style already in progress in their earlier radio and TV series I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, At Last the 1948 Show and Do Not Adjust Your Set.

This helps explain why the BBC management let them go straight into a 13 episode season instead of requiring a pilot - and it is hard to imagine a show starting out in the modern TV landscape leading with something as baffling as It's Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, where Mozart (John Cleese) introduces clips of the deaths of famous historical characters.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Man in Room 17

Richard "Slartibartfast" Vernon seems hardly younger here than he was in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Sandbaggers or Yes Minister despite this being from about 15 years earlier than any of those series. Here he's the lead, ably assisted by Michael "Percy Alleline" Aldridge (season 1) or Denholm "Marcus Brody" Elliott (season 2), as they go about solving crimes and catching spies without ever leaving the titular Room 17 - a secret government department with a wide-ranging security brief that allows them to get involved in whatever the plot requires them to this week.

There's a lot of humour evident in this series, presaging some of the later telefantasy double-acts such as Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) or The Persuaders! (and contemporary with The Avengers just as it was taking that shape). In the first season it is largely confined to the interplay between the two leads as their egos clash, and perhaps also in their condescending attitude towards their notional superiors at Scotland Yard (usually in the form of Deputy Commissioner Sir Geoffrey Norton, played by Willoughby Goddard in a similar style to how he would later play Sir Jason in The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder), while the stories themselves were pretty straight detective or spy plots for the most part.

I feel this changed in season two, as the plots grew more outlandish and the limits of the format were tested, the comedic side came to prevail. All this leaves season one the better of the two in terms of story, but the second season is the funnier. Also, they funked up the theme music for season two (though not to the same extent as they did with The Power Game, thankfully!), and so it has the more dated title sequence as a result.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

"I want to make a deal with the darkness..."

My friend Scary Cat has been increasingly confused by manny politics recently. This week there have been rumours that the Prime Minister wants to do a deal with Nigel Farage, which sounds to us cats like when Steel tried to do a deal with the darkness in Assignment Two. If you recall, this went badly for Sapphire and Steel.

Also it has been reported in some so-called-newspapers* that Jeremy Corbyn is a scaredy cat, when the real scaredy cats mannys are obviously those who claim Brexit is the "will of the people" but are too cowardly to prove it in a confirmatory referendum - if it is really the "will of the people" (by "people" they don't mean cats, they mean mannys... well, some mannys...) then such a referendum should surely pass easily, with only a tiny number of "Liberal Elites (TM)" and those who have been fooled by "Project Fear (TM)" voting against it.

The Prime Minister, shown here along with The Coward Boris Johnson.

* Although not so much in Scotland, which had different headlines that day. It's almost as if they're making up lies because they have an agenda to push, instead of merely reporting the news...

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

If he makes Dilyn a Lord...

...then we'll know that Johnson has gone full Caligula.

Monday, 2 September 2019

To lose is to win and he who wins shall lose

Rest in peace Terrance Dicks, who helped more kittens (and little mannys) "develop a lifelong love of reading than almost anyone else who's ever lived." You see, he may not have got an OBE, but he did know very well that immortality was a curse, not a blessing.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Big Gay Longcat and Expensive Luxury Cat review James Bond: Dr. No

Now my friend Expensive Luxury Cat wants to join in and do some reviewing of his own, so I'm going to help him review his favourite series of expensive luxury films - the James Bond films. We shall start by going all the way back to the very beginning and take a look at 1962's Dr. No.

It's a lion! This is a promising start. There's also a bit where a manny shoots at the camera, but it is unclear what that has got to do with anything.

I have a theory that Doctor Who may have been named Doctor Who to try and cash in on the success of Dr. No from only the year before. There was apparently a big craze for spy stories in the 1960s, so maybe Verity Lambert said "Dr. No? More like Dr. Who?" while clicking her fingers and doing a strange jerking movement with her head.

Anyway, the theme music turns into a song about three blind mouses who are supposedly looking for a cat. They're not really mouses though, they're assassins, and they shoot a couple of mannys to steal a file on Doctor No. Interestingly, this shows that the character is called "Doctor No" not "Dr. No," which is only the name of the film.

We are introduced to Bond, James Bond. This scene is meant to be iconic, but I think it has dated badly because Bond is smoking a cigarette while delivering his lines, which means he has to mumble them so that the cigarette doesn't fall out of his gob and ruin his cool.

Bond works for MI7 (as confirmed by his boss, M) and is sent to investigate the three blind mouses - maybe he is the cat!? (Metaphorically speaking, that is, he is not really a cat.) After he has arrived and dealt with the first manny who tried to capture him, Bond does some proper investigating, and even does some spy stuff with his suitcase and cupboards and things. I somehow don't think we'll be seeing a lot more of this kind of procedure in the series in the future.

When he first meets Quarrel and Felix, Bond has a fight with them until they make up and become best friends. Felix is a great character and has a name which sounds like felis, so maybe he is the cat? Either that or he is cat noms, which seems unlikely.

The scene where Professor Dent speaks with the disembodied voice of Doctor No is very suspenseful, and effective at building up the mystery and power of Doctor No... at least until he gives Dent a pider. This is clearly meant to be scary but the pider is really fluffy and cute. If they wanted to scare Bond then maybe they should have set a hoover on him? (No, that would have been too scary for a family film.) Anyway, the pider can't get to Bond because there's glass in the way, so has to settle for going on his stuntmanny for a bit instead.

Bond finds enough clues to point to the island of Crab Key being Doctor No's base. Quarrel says he doesn't want to go back there because there's a dragon.

A dragon!?

It seems we have piqued Dragon's interest.

Not only are the three blind mouses not mouses, they aren't blind either. That just goes to show you can't trust mouses! They have a car chase with Bond until they crash and then their car explodes for no reason.

Then there's a bit where Bond shoots Professor Dent even though Dent has no bullets left in his gun. Bond even says
"That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six."
Was Bond ever more needlessly ruthless than here? He's not really a sympathetic character at all in this film, but Connery's charisma is enough to carry you along with him.

With Dent and the other henchmannys taken care of, Bond and Quarrel go off to Crab Key where they meet Honey Ryder. When Quarrel sees Honey for the first time he is surprised, but she's not a dragon, she's a manny. But she does say she has seen the dragon:
"He had two glaring eyes, a short tail and pointed wings. He was breathing fire. You don't believe me, do you?"
Bond doesn't believe in dragons.
"Listen, both of you, there are no such things as dragons. What you saw was something that looked like one."

Dragon took against Bond when he said that, but he was even more annoyed when he saw that it was not a real dragon. Typical mannys, he says, think they can make a dragon. A real dragon would be much better than that. If it had been a real dragon then it would have been in charge and it would have been So-Called-Doctor-No who would have been out doing patrols. Huff.

The fake dragon does breathe fire (which Dragon claims he can do, although I've never seen him), and kills Quarrel. It captures Bond and Honey and takes them to Doctor No's secret lair. Bond keeps his cool throughout their decontamination and unexpectedly benevolent treatment - more like guests than prisoners, the first of many experiences that Bond will soon get used to - until he gets made to sleep by drugged noms.

They are woken up to have dinner and a chat with Doctor No, where we first hear of the organisation SECTRE:
"Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion."

This is only a short scene, alas, but the dialogue between Bond and Doctor No is the high-point of the film. Some expensive luxury quotes chosen by Expensive Luxury Cat:

"East, West, just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other."

"World domination, that same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they're Napoleon... or God."

"I misjudged you. You are just a stupid policeman."

Bond is then put in a (decidedly non-luxury) prison cell, from whence he escapes through the ventilation system, helping to establish that great cliché of spy films and TV series. Having done so he proceeds to blow up Doctor No's base and kill Doctor No in a fight (Doctor No by this point wearing the costume that would later be mocked in Austin Powers: International Manny of Mystery), then he rescues Honey and they escape with only help from their stuntmannys.

Dr. No has an enormous legacy, but because so many of its plot points have passed into clichés of the genre, and because it has been surpassed by so many of its sequels and imitators, it feels somehow lacking now.
It was only the start of something greater.

Expensive Luxury Cat's rating: Expensive (but not Luxury)

Wednesday, 14 August 2019