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Fawlty Towers

1975, 1979. John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs; dir. John Howard Davies, Douglas Argent, Bob Spiers. 4 cas. 90m. ea. $29.98 ea. CBS/Fox. Image: good.CleeseCleese



from VIDEO, March 1987

Everyone has stayed in a bad hotel at one point or another, but it's unlikely anyone has ever had the ill luck to check into a seaside resort hotel as horribly run as Fawlty Towers. The Spanish waiter speaks no English; guests die; and there is sugar in the salt shaker. And if you try to complain you could get involved in an exchange like this:

Guest: "These prawns are off."

Hotel Manager: "But you've eaten half of them."

"Well, I didn't notice at the start."

"You didn't notice at the start?"

"Well, it was the sauce. I wasn't sure."

"So you ate half to make sure. Do you want another first course?"

"Well, cancel it."

"Cancel it! Deduct it from the bill is what you mean."

"As it's inedible."

"Only half of it's inedible, apparently."

"Well, deduct half now and if my wife brings up the other half during the night we'll claim the balance in the morning."

That's the kind of place Fawlty Towers is, primarily because that's the kind of man hotel manager Basil Fawlty (Cleese) is-a toadying, bullying, hilarious hotelier who can turn a fire drill into an exercise in insanity and can never, ever get anything right. To Basil, hotel guests are an encumbrance, people who "expect to be waited on hand and foot while I'm trying to run a hotel...poking around for things to complain about." Basil is hindered and helped by Manuel the nitwit waiter (Sachs), whose broken English is only' matched by his broken intelligence, waitress/maid/aspiring artist Polly (Booth), and his wife, Sybil (Scales), a sharp-tongued engine of efficiency.

The 12-episode BBC series is pure genius, a show that alternates between side-splitting farce (Basil and Manuel trying to find a runaway rat while a hotel inspector prowls about) and cutting dialogue. To call Fawlty Towers the funniest series ever made may be an overstatement, but not much of one. It is certainly the funniest show ever made about a hotel-a wild, terrific comedy feast that is nearly flawless.

CBS/Fox has released the entire series on four cassettes of three episodes each. Check in!