Anthony's Film Review

Fawlty Towers
(TV Series, 1975-1979)

Fawlty Towers is a brilliant sitcom thanks to John Cleese's genius as an actor and writer...

In any public business deal, we want the best service. Often, we can settle for good service or one that is at least acceptable, if that is what's available. But bad service is a no-no. Nobody wants to be treated like dirt when they pay for something. If there's one type of place where this is especially true, it's a hotel. Whether for business or pleasure, we want to be comfortable with whatever lodging we choose. Horrible service can mean the difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Speaking of which, here's a story I read somewhere. There was once a hotel manager in England named Donald Sinclair. It has been said that, while running the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, Sinclair would treat his guests in a very rude manner. This is according to John Cleese and the rest of his Monty Python comedy troupe, all of whom had stayed at the hotel at one time. Apparently, Sinclair had insulted Terry Gilliam, the American-born Python, for not eating like the British and believed that Eric Idle's suitcase had a bomb in it. I'm sure the six Pythons were offended by this man.

And yet, Sinclair served as an inspiration. John Cleese turned these awful experiences into comedic material, writing and starring in the sitcom Fawlty Towers. The show stars Cleese as a hotelier named Basil Fawlty, a man who is clearly disgruntled, arrogant, and ill-tempered. He and his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) run the Fawlty Towers hotel, a place that is fairly understaffed. Their only assistance comes from Polly (Connie Booth, who was also Cleese's co-writer) who helps out as the waitress, among other roles, and Manuel (Andrew Sachs) the Spanish porter and waiter with an ongoing language barrier. Later, a chef named Terry (Brian Hall) joins the staff.

Now, you would think that Basil Fawlty is a character you would hate. Well, believe it or not, one can still relate to him. You see, a lot of his behavior can arguably be explained by the chaos of running a hotel. There are phone calls to answer, meals to serve, rooms to clean up, guests who check in or complain about something, and so on. In every episode, there is always something to do. When one task is complete, another one needs immediate attention. Sometimes, a task is interrupted in order to do another. Even the Fawlty Towers is a busy place, which is surprising considering that nobody in their right mind would want to stay at a place whose name suggests the risk of structural collapse. Plus, the Fawlty Towers sign outside (seen during the opening credits of all but one episode) is always being vandalized with its letters crooked, missing, or rearranged into rude anagrams (e.g., FLOWERY TWATS).

There are a total of 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers: six episodes in 1975 and six more in 1979. Each one follows a somewhat fast pace as Basil and the staff handle various situations in the hotel. There is a central plot in each, and just about all of the events in the episode connect with each other in clever ways. From the audience point of view, there is a continuous sense of anticipation that something funny will happen, and there is always one or two hysterical moments in each episode, often involving Basil finally exploding in unbridled rage. Overall, the show is written very well with humorous wit and physical slapstick.

So what kinds of things happen at Fawlty Towers? Well, here's what I consider to be some of the most memorable moments of the show and the episodes they appear in. A partially blind and deaf woman complains about every aspect of her hotel stay ("Communication Problems"). The hotel chef gets drunk, forcing Basil to get food from an outside restaurant as if the chef is really preparing it ("Gourmet Night"). A hotel fire drill gets awfully confusing in many different ways, then Basil tries to serve some German guests without offending them ("The Germans"). Manuel's pet rat runs around the hotel as a public health inspector makes a visit ("Basil the Rat"). A horribly rude American guest demands dinner despite arriving at the hotel past the latest serving time ("Waldorf Salad"). A guest dies at the hotel, and Basil has to try to hide the corpse to avoid scaring the other guests ("The Kipper and the Corpse").

Actually, I should sum it up this way: ALL the episodes are funny. I cannot think of one episode where I laughed less than the others. Each one made me hold a constant smile, then burst out laughing at certain moments. I first enjoyed it as much as Monty Python's Flying Circus, but as I watched more episodes, I found the show to be increasingly funny and even better than Monty Python. Then, halfway through the 12 episodes, I knew I was watching a comic masterpiece. Among British comedies, comedies in general, and works by John Cleese, Fawlty Towers ranks near the top. It's so good that there should be way more than 12 episodes, but if Cleese prefers quality over quantity, then I totally understand.

With that, I am officially giving Fawlty Towers my highest rating. Call me crazy, but if the Fawlty Towers and its staff were real, I would go on holiday and check into that place. It would be a lot more fun to see the hilarious antics up close.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Fawlty Towers, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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