Directed By: Roger Graef
Starring: John Cleese, Peter Cook, Rowan Atkinson
Trivia: Two vinyl soundtrack LPs for the film were released, one for the comedy sketches, and and one for the musical acts
I first came across The Secret Policeman's Ball back in 1984, when my brother and I were on a mission to watch anything and everything that starred one or more members of the Monty Python troupe. Filmed over four nights in June of 1979, The Secret Policeman's Ball features highlights from a series of live comedy/musical concerts put on to raise money for Amnesty International. Originally aired as an hour-long special on Britain's ITV, the film was eventually released to theaters as a 75 minute documentary, and starred such well-known comedians as John Cleese, Michael Palin (both of Python fame), Peter Cook, and, in one of his first screen appearances, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, Blackadder), all doing their part to support a worthy cause.
Some of the jokes are dated (one skit references "the Shah of Persia", a hot topic in 1979, yet one many modern viewers won't understand), but plenty still hit the mark, and are as hilarious now as they were back then. A few of the funnier sequences include the opening skit, where Peter Cook discusses some "interesting facts" with John Cleese; an updated version of the Python's "Cheese Shop" routine, with John Cleese as a frustrated customer trying to buy cheese from store owner Michael Palin; a one-man sketch featuring Rowan Atkinson as a schoolmaster; and the grand finale, in which Peter Cook plays a cult leader who convinces his followers that the world is coming to an end in a few minutes time. Every now and again, The Secret Policeman’s Ball treats us to some music as well, like Pete Townsend’s acoustic rendition of The Who’s hit song Won't Get Fooled Again, during which he's accompanied by classical guitarist John Williams.
If you're a fan of Monty Python, Mr. Bean, or British comedy in general, then The Secret Policeman's Ball is a movie you won’t want to miss.