DVD Review: The Secret Policeman's Private Party, featuring Monty Python's John Cleese, Michael Palin, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie

[image-1]The Secret Policeman’s Ball has been a staple of British comedy for over 30 years, after being developed as a benefit program for Amnesty International by Monty Python alum John Cleese. A variable who’s-who of the comedy world have taken part in the live shows over the years, creating a folklore that's relished by comedy fans to this day.

The Secret Policeman’s Private Party presents a collection of acts from the early years of the event and is a great introduction for the uninitiated. Forty different skits are presented here, starring among others: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Neil Innes, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Fans of Python will be at home here, as classic skits like "The Dead Parrot," "The Lumberjack Song," and "Cheese Shop" are presented live. Most interesting is watching unique pairings, such as Atkinson taking part in the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch, and Cook playing alongside the Pythons in "The Court Room." When these comedy legend get together you can feel the joy they were experiencing working together in the air.

On paper, this collection appears to be a must-own for fans of comedy — or, more specifically, British humor. But The Secret Policeman’s Private Party ultimately disappoints due to technical difficulties, enough to make this a forgetful collection. The audio and video quality on display is comparable to VHS releases from 20 years ago, leaving the crisp and cutting quips of the masters at work on stage ambiguous. I knew I was supposed to be laughing, but if pressed I wouldn’t be able to cite just why.

The DVD’s menus and introduction to the film lack the polish of most modern releases and seem rather unprofessional. There are no special features to be had, save for perhaps a small treat after the credits are done rolling that actually surprised me and made up a little for the lackluster presentation.

If you are a die-hard Python-head or collector I’m sure you’ve already purchased The Secret Policeman’s Private Party. If not, it might make a decent rental from Netflix if you need a few laughs. Just don’t expect a top-notch presentation. You can’t make a dead parrot squawk, after all.

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We have plenty of cheese.

Britain, Britain, Britain, your comedy how I love thee. With your bollocks and your bloody this and that, you get me every time. There’s no finer a way to coerce laughter from the pit of my belly. So when The Secret Policeman’s Private Party crossed my desk, I may have gotten a little silly in the knickers. Combining the major forces of British comedy, ranging from Monty Python to Rowan Atkinson to Hugh Laurie (House M.D.) and Stephen Fry, should be a United Kingdom laugh factory. Note I used the world “should.”

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