The Top 10 Monty (Python) Sketches (part 3 of 1)

It's about time for another Top 10, it's been so long since the last one. For a while I've considered writing something about Monty Python. While I ponder this a little more, I figured I could start by making a collection of my favorite sketches.

These are in no particular order. I'm not even sure these are my favorite sketches, but they are quite good. Well, when I say good, I mean I like them. Not in the same way I like coffee or Asian girls, but certainly more than I like dead badgers or cleaning crumbs out of those round brown straw mats.

Anyway, if this was a nice ordered list that made sense, it wouldn't really be in the spirit of Monty Python, right? Right! So here we go...


1) Theory on Brontosauruses by Anne Elk (Miss)
- from episode 31 (YouTube)

A less than knowledgeable lady, Anne Elk (Miss), is interviewed about her stunning new theory about Brontosauruses. Elk (Miss) is not very cooperative.

"You have a new theory about the brontosaurus."
"Can I just say here Chris for one moment that I have a new theory about the brontosaurus."
"Exactly. What is it?"

Who knew that a simple little sketch like this would later inspire entire networks, but it is in fact true that most 24-hour news channels had to buy the rights for this sketch to be able to interview uninteresting people, who have wild theories on subjects they know little or nothing about. Creationists also pay a monthly fee to the Pythons.

2) Buying a bed
- from episode 8 (YouTube)

A newlywed couple has some problems buying a new bed, when they realize there are certain words they can't say.

"You have to say dog kennel to Mr. Lambert because if you say mattress he puts a bag over his head. I should have explained. Apart from that he's really all right."

Well, we've all dealt with difficult shop assistants at one point or another, and of course you can always go on Facebook afterwards and cry about how unfairly you were treated. You can also watch this sketch and realize that maybe it's all your own fault.

3) It all happened on the 11.20 from Hainault to Redhill via Horsham and Reigate, calling at Carshalton Beeches, Malmesbury, Tooting Bec, and Croydon West aka The Agatha Christie Sketch (Railway Timetables)
- from episode 24 (YouTube)

A murder in a posh country house and the following investigation is derailed by everyone's attention to the railway timetables.

"All right, nobody move. I'm Inspector Davis of Scotland Yard."
"My word, you were here quickly, inspector."
"Yes, I got the 8.55 Pullman Express from King's Cross and missed that bit around Hornchurch."

Yet another one of those wonderful "a policeman enters"-sketches, like the one with Inspector Tiger (Tiger? What? Where?), and another poke at the stiff Brits and their devotion to rules and timetables. This sketch also allowed the Python's to indulge in one of their passions: Trains. Every one of the Pythons were avid trainspotters, except Eric Idle, so this was also a way to share this pastime joy with their fans.

B) Climbing the Kilimanjaro
- from episode 9 (YouTube)

Arthur Wilson wants to join an expedition to Kilimanjaro, but finds the leader of the climbing party... erhm, somewhat challenged.

"We are leading this expedition to Africa."
"And what routes will you both be taking?"
"Good questions... shall I? Well, we'll be leaving on January 22nd and taking the following routes. The A23s through Purleys down on the main roads near Purbrights avoiding Leatherheads and then taking the A231s entering Rottingdeans from the North. From Rottingdeans we go through Africa to Nairobis. We take the South road out of Nairobis for about twelve miles and then ask."

The Pythons' fascination with the achievements of mortal men shines through in this fascinating mystery skit - A precursor to the work of David Lynch, perhaps? In any case it's the chilling twist at the end that brings this around, and makes it unique.

5) Hijacked plane (to Luton)
- from episode 16

A man bursts into the cockpit of a plane in an attempt to hijack it.

"All right, don't anybody move! Except to control the aeroplane ... you can move a little to do that.
"Can I move?"
"Yes, yes, yes. You can move a little bit. Yes. Sorry, I didn't mean to be so dogmatic when I came in. Obviously you can all move a little within reason. There are certain involuntary muscular movements which no amount of self-control can prevent. And obviously any assertion of authority on my part, I've got to take that into account."

This probably started from the brilliantly simple idea that "don't move" doesn't actually mean "don't move", combining this with the idea of "what would happen if someone went through the wrong door in a plane" (which was the earlier part of the sketch, where Graham Chapman mistakes the cockpit for the bathroom. Maybe I should have mentioned that before, and not just put it in brackets here at the end, but such is the way of the world. Not everything can be outside the brackets).

7) Lifeboat
- from episode 33 (YouTube)

A sailor enters the kitchen of Mrs. Neves, only to learn that things are not as they appear.

"Oh it's terrible up on deck."
"Up on deck?"
"Yes on deck. It's diabolical weather."
"What deck, dear?"
"The deck, the deck of the lifeboat."
"This isn't a lifeboat, dear. This is 24, Parker Street."

The mind-bending brilliance of this sketch cannot be understated. They say assumption is the mother of all f*ckups, this was never truer than in the world of Python. Never take anything for granted. Doubt the world, the very fabric of life. Doubt everything, even your own eyes.

7) Confuse-a-Cat Ltd.
- from episode 5 (YouTube)

A concerned couple calls in a vet to look at their cat, which is just sitting there motionless on the lawn all day.

"Well, I think I may be able to help you. You see, your cat is suffering from what we vets haven't found a word for. His condition is typified by total physical inertia, absence of interest in its ambiance - what we vets call environment - failure to respond to the conventional external stimuli - a ball of string, a nice juicy mouse, a bird. To be blunt, your cat is in a rut. It's the old stockbroker syndrome, the suburban fin de siecle ennui, angst, weltschmertz, call it what you will."

All the Monty Python members were big cat lovers, except for Eric Idle, which is why cats are prominently featured in every single sketch. If you're a cat-lover too, you're already familiar with the concept of trying to get a cat to do anything, in which case the extreme lengths Confuse-a-Cat Ltd. will go to, to achieve their goal, is not at all surprising.

Despite overacting and looking at dramatically at the camera all the time, Graham Chapman inspires instant confidence as the vet, and the interplay between Terry Jones and Michael Palin is a masterclass of subtlety.

8) Cheese Shop
- from episode 33 (YouTube)

John Cleese attempts to buy some cheese. That is all.

For no apparent reason, here are the 43 cheeses mentioned in the sketch: Red Leicester, Tilsit, Caerphilly, Bel Paese, Red Windsor, Stilton, Gruyere, Emmental, Norwegian Jarlsberger, Liptauer, Lancashire, White Stilton, Danish Blue, Double Gloucester, Cheshire, Dorset Blue Vinney, Brie, Roquefort, Pont-l'Évêque, Port Salut, Savoyard, Saint-Paulin, Carre-de-L'Est, Boursin, Bresse-Bleu, Perle de Champagne, Camenbert, Gouda, Edam, Caithness, Smoked Austrian, Sage Darby, Wensleydale, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Mozzarella, Pippo Crème, Danish Fynbo, Czechoslovakian Sheep's Milk Cheese, Venezuelan Beaver Cheese, Cheddar, Ilchester, and Limberger.

Sheep) Dennis Moore & Lupins
- from episode 37 (YouTube)

The tales of little-known highway robber Dennis Moore have been brought to life during several segments of episode 37.

"Stand and deliver! Drop that gun!" (He shoots a man) "Let that be a warning to you all. You move at your peril, for I have two pistols here. I know one of them isn't loaded any more, but the other one is, so that's one of you dead for sure...or just about for sure anyway. It certainly wouldn't be worth your while risking it because I'm a very good shot. I practice every day...well, not absolutely every day, but most days in the week...I expect I must practice, oh, at least four or five times a week at least...at least four or five, only some weekends...like last weekend, there really wasn't the time, so that moved the average down a bit...but I should say it's definitely a solid four days' practice a week...at least"

Once again the Pythons' take a sharp knife to the potbelly of historic complacency, with this searing portrayal of how the real highway robbers probably behaved. Later in the show Moore even takes to stealing flowers off the rich, and did I mention there's a song too?

10) Face the Press
- from episode 14 (YouTube)

"Hello. Tonight on 'Face the Press' we're going to examine two different views of contemporary things. On my left is the Minister for Home Affairs who is wearing a striking organza dress in pink tulle, with matching pearls and a diamante collar necklace. The shoes are in brushed pigskin with gold clasps, by Maxwell of Bond Street. The hair is by Roger, and the whole ensemble is crowned by a spectacular display of Christmas orchids. And on my right - putting the case against the Government - is a small patch of brown liquid."

Ah yes, had to fit in one of those panel/news shows the Pythons' are so fond of spoofing. I could also have chosen the one where Terry Jones attempts to interview a duck, a cat and a lizard, but that one doesn't make me cramp up with laughter the way this sketch does. It's the voice that does it.

11) Dirty Hungarian phrasebook
- from episode 25 (YouTube)

A foreigner enters a tobacconist and attempts to buy some cigarettes, with the help of a somewhat misleading phrasebook.

"Er, do you want ... do you want to come back to my place, bouncy bouncy?
"I don't think you're using that right."
"You great poof."
"That'll be six and six, please."
"If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me? I am no longer infected."

Coming in at the very last spot, I have to mention this fantastic sketch, which carries with it a frightening, mind-blowing, eye-opening realization: What if they made a wrong phrasebook? How would you ever know? You put your entire life in the hands of phrasebook-makers, what if they were up to no good?

The sketch also contains three of my favorite Python lines: "My hovercraft is full of eels," "Drop your panties, Sir William, I cannot wait till lunchtime," and the exquisite "My nipples explode with delight." You can get far in this world with just those three lines.


Not the list you expected, eh? Well, The Parrot sketch, Ministry of Silly Walks, the Spanish inquisition, and all those other sketches everybody knows... I figured they were in the penalty box.

There's not much else to say is there? Never trust anybody who can't appreciate Monty Python, and watch the show as often as you can.


The Matte Paintings of The Birds

After a well-earned summer vacation, it looks like we're back at it again.

Right now I'm gearing up to record an unofficial audio commentary for Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds for CommentariesOnFilm, with my buddy Dennis Rosenfeld. Part of my research was going through the film, trying to spot the work of Albert Whitlock.

Mr. Whitlock is a matte painter and visual effect wizard.

With nothing more than a piece of glass and some paint he has created some of the most impressive visuals in cinema history. Often, though, his work will go completely unnoticed, because it's so damn good. Even 50 years later, with the enormous advances in visual effects, some of these shots still hold up. They are, quite simply, flawless.

This post is partly for my own benefit - to get an overview of Mr. Whitlock’s work on The Birds. At this point I should acknowledge the help of Peter Cook, from the Matte Shot blog (more on this later). Without his help this post would not have been possible.

So, without further ado, here is what may or may not be a complete rundown of the matte paintings of The Birds.


This beautiful shot establishes the sinister mood of the film, as Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hendren) drives to the town of Bodega Bay. The sky and the top of the mountains have been added by Mr. Whitlock.

The town of Bodaga Bay was created by combining several locations. This view, for example, did not exist in real life, so Mr. Whitlock had to lend a hand. Only the middle section of the image is real.

Melanie takes a boat across the bay. In both of these shots, the sky and the town have been added.

This nighttime shot includes painted sky, birds on the wires, and hills.

In this follow-up shot the entire background is an Albert Whitlock painting.

For the gruesome demise of a local farmer, Mr. Whitlock added hollow eyes to enhance the makeup.

Here’s the same shot, without the painted portion:

For this epic God’s eye view of the doomed town, only the parking lot and the fire in the center are real. The rest of the town is painted. Separately shot birds were added on top of this, to complete the illusion.

Mr. Whitlock reportedly painted the backgrounds to this sequence as well.

Once again the town, the hills, and the sky have been added to the shot.

The final haunting shot of the family leaving Bodega Bay features 32 elements, including a painting by Mr. Whitlock. Only the road and the car are real.

And finally, Peter Cook caught this painting, which I never in a million years would have spotted. The town in the distance and possibly the two last poles seem to have been added with a painting.
Also notice the artifact in the top left of the frame. This is a reflection in the glass used to create the painting, and when the image is in motion, you can make out a person moving past the camera.


Going through an old film like this, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the work these talented filmmakers accomplished. With no computers, mind you. The art of matte painting is especially fascinating and probably worthy of a dedicated post in the future.

For more information about Albert Whitlock and his impressive body of work, visit Peter Cook’s Matte Shot blog. Here you can also see some before-and-after stills from famous matte shots, and pictures of Mr. Whitlock working.

It’s my desire to post more about old school effects in the future, so stay tuned for that, and head over to CommentariesOnFilm to subscribe to the podcast.

Until next time, watch out! The Birds is coming.

PS: I’ll update this post if I come across additional information.