This movie is an embarrassment of humorous riches.
Holy Grail is the movie that Monty Python will be remembered for most. Structurally, Life of Brian is a better movie. It has more of a plot and it carries a message of thinking for yourself. Holy Grail, on the other hand, is really just a series of medieval sketches linked together. Laugh for laugh though, Holy Grail is the funnier of the two and is quite possibly my favorite comedy of all time.
The very loose plot follows King Arthur and his knights and their quest for the Holy Grail, but with several surreal modern moments thrown in, including the murder of a modern historian and the eventual arrest by the police of Arthur and his army for the murder.
Watching this movie for me is like listening to an album of favorite songs. Each sketch is like a classic song and you want to sing along. Some are better than others, but all of them contain laughs. And all of them are ridiculously quotable.
Some of the best and most classic scenes come at the beginning of the movie. The constitutional peasant, "Strange women lying in ponds is no basis for a system of government!" The bring out your dead, "He's not dead." "No, but he will be soon." The swallow/coconut argument, "Swallows are non-migratory." "It could be carried by an African swallow." The black knight, "Your arm's off!" "Tis but a scratch." The French Taunter, "I fart in your general direction."
A part of what makes this movie so special is the way it is filmed. The production values are quite high for a comedy. The entire movie is filmed on location, in fields, lakes and castles. Gilliam's visual style is all over the movie as well. The comedy is in the words and the performances, but they're enhanced by the fact that the world these surreal events are happening is realistically filmed. It makes it seem less jokey. I remember watching this movie as a young boy and taking it all quite seriously.
This movie is an embarrassment of humorous riches. Every scene contains a comic gem and very often there are little jokes going on in the background behind the main joke. In the opening of the Bring Out Your Dead scene, there is a little old lady whacking a cat against the wall for no other reason than its funny. During the Witch Burning sketch, one of the men in the crowd has a face covered in shaving cream. Even the opening credits contain jokes in the form of humorous subtitles. For jokes for your money, this movie is a bargain.
Part of what makes this movie so great is that it is just pure silliness. If you don't laugh during this movie you must be dead, or at least nearly dead.
It gets better the more you watch it.
I had a great father/son moment the other day. My oldest son asked if I had ever heard of a movie called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He said a couple of his friends had told him it was a good movie, and could we go rent it? This may sound meaningless to most people, but my Dad was the one who first introduced me, as well as Scott, to Monty Python. He took us to a tiny theater showing it when we were young. Now I was going to introduce my son to their daft sense of humor.
Like Scott, I found myself quoting most of the lines. Scott did not mention my favorite part. The King of the swamp castle gestures toward an open window and tells his effeminate son, Herbert, that, “One day all of this will be yours.” To which Herbert responds, “What? The curtains?” The whole scene is hysterical as Lancelot attempts to save him, thinking he is a woman. He ends up killing half of the people in the castle, but he does apologize. Watching this was like visiting an old friend whose stories are well known to me, but I like hearing them none-the-less.
I eagerly asked my son what he thought of the movie, and he paused while trying to put it all in perspective. He commented that he was surprised by the amount of blood, and some parts were kind-of-funny. Not exactly a glowing review. I was a little disappointed. Then I remembered that my first reaction, after see it for the first time, was not so different. Like Scott, I took it quite seriously as a kid, and had a hard time trying to make sense of it. A modern historian gets killed by a knight on a horse? The Knights of the Round Table skip around, pretending to be on horses? This is a film that, even all these years later, is still quite unique. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is meant to be watched more than once. It actually gets better the more you watch it.
Surreal and aburdist humor at its finest.
What stood out the most to me, watching Holy Grail for the first time in maybe twenty years, was just how groundbreaking it was. They pretty much created the whole gross-out humor thing, which is now a genre unto itself. Everyone from SNL to the Scary Movie franchise have done variations of the blood-spurting-from-open-wounds gags first done by Monty Python. The scene with the demonic rabbit has to be one of the funniest and bloodiest gags of all, but the scene Eric mentioned with the wedding massacre is quite possibly THE funniest moment in any movie.
This is the best Python movie by far. They were all at the height of their talents and you can still see the hunger in their eyes. They are trying to out-funny each other. The humor is both surreal and subversive. It can be appreciated on so many levels, from Gilliam’s trippy animation to the staccato one liners to the absurdist observations and visuals. As Scott said the jokes fly fast and furious and you have to listen quickly to catch them all.
Graham Chapman and Eric Idle have always been my favorite Python members. Chapman was the best leading man of the group and he had a great ability to stay completely serious despite all the insanity zooming constantly around his head. Idle is the musician. The song about Sir Robin always cracks me up. John Cleese shines as a physical comic. His French Taunter is not only funny for what he says but also for how Cleese moves his head and upper body around. Michael Palin and Terry Jones are both great with rapid fire dialogue and funny speaking voices. I was also impressed with Terry Gilliam as an actor. This is the only Python movie where all six of them share a scene isn’t it?
Until now I hadn’t realized just how well this movie was shot. As Scott said the authenticity of the sets and locations adds another dimension to it. I was especially impressed in the scene where King Arthur and his knights meet the Wizard with the horns. The special effects are quite impressive. What I liked best about them was that they were real and not something conjured up on a computer as they would be today. I always thought the climactic scene dealt with time travel, with the cops showing up in ancient Camelot and all, but this time I got the idea that Arthur and his knights were really just overly enthusiastic participants in a Medieval Fair run amok. Whichever way you see it Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the best comedies ever made.
Photos © Copyright Python (Monty) Pictures (1975)