Always the most tightly wound of the Monty Python crew, John Cleese managed to find an even better fit for his pressure-cooked fury in Fawlty Towers, the 1975?79 Britcom that posited him as the sadistically put-upon proprietor of a small-town hotel. Created and written by Cleese and costar (not to mention then-wife) Connie Booth, it’s based on a real-life hotelier Cleese encountered while shooting the Python series in the sleepy burgh of Torquay.
”Nothing nice about him,” says director John Howard Davies of Cleese’s Basil Fawlty on the discs’ commentary track. And he means it — Fawlty is rude, bigoted, and prone to occasional bodily assaults. God help the genteel foreigner, whinging child, or haughty dowager who gets in his crosshairs. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to sympathize, given the persecution he suffers from wife Sybil (who, as rendered by Prunella Scales, gives a new meaning to shrewishness), sub-literate Spanish bellhop Manuel (Andrew Sachs), and the assortment of dotty, exasperating patrons who walk through the ”Towers” doors. (Need an American analog? Think the exquisite Job-like pain of Eddie Albert’s Oliver Douglas in ”Green Acres.”)
Most of all, though, it’s Cleese’s sheer loose-limbed abandon and the series’ door-slamming anarchy that have formed a comedic legacy deservingly disproportionate to its mere 12-episode run. As for the extras, although interviews with Cleese, Scales, and Sachs are a nice informational garnish, Davies’ comments — riddled with dead air, heaving breaths, and throat-clearing — are a rough, if edifying slog, recommended only for ”Fawlty” fanatics.