Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)


(director/writer: Terry Gilliam/Terry Jones; screenwriters: John Cleese/Graham Chapman/Eric Idle/Michael Palin; cinematographer: Terry Bedford; editor: John Hackney; music: Neil Innes/De Wolfe; cast: John Cleese (Sir Launcelot/Black Knight/A Quite Extraordinarily Rude Frenchman/Tim the Wizard), Michael Palin (Knight/Dennis/Leader of the Knights Who Say ‘Ni!’/Narrator/ King of Swamp Castle/Brother Maynard’s Roommate), Eric Idle (Sir Robin), Graham Chapman (King Arthur/Voice of God/Middle Head/Hiccoughing Guard), Terry Gilliam (Patsy/Soothsayer), Terry Jones (Sir Bedevere), Carol Cleveland (Zoot/Dingo), Connie Booth (The Witch), Neil Innes (Minstrel); Runtime: 90; Columbia; 1975-UK)

“It’s an acquired taste in lunacy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An acclaimed low-budget cult comedy classic, as Python puts King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and the Knights of the Round Table on a highly energized ride in quest of the Holy Grail (the film was shot in the rugged countryside of the Scottish Highlands). Of course in the name of doing the unexpected King Arthur comes riding through the countryside in his search for knights to support his quest on a make belief horse, as he mimes riding on a real horse by having his servant Patsy clap together two coconut shells to make the galloping sounds.

The film opens with the innovative use of credits by mixing in Swedish subtitles. Then a statement appears calling attention to the virtues of the moose. Then, the message appears: “We apologize for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible have been sacked.” It ends up that a new team has been called in at a great expense to finish the credits, which result in the credits flashing in an unreadable way and with garish colors.

In the opening scene King Arthur is bewildered to be questioned as to who he is, figuring everyone should know the ‘King of Briton.’ The king on horseback asks the two soldiers atop the castle, for their leader; instead, he ends up questioned by them about the origin of the coconuts. It ends up that all concerned believe the coconuts could have been brought here by African swallows and not European ones.

The tale has Arthur riding through the countryside gathering a band of brave knights for the divine quest, including Sir Launcelot (John Cleese), Sir Galahad (Michael Palin), Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones), and Sir Robin (Eric Idle). He gets the quest idea from God himself, and the five men, along with their traveling party, split up to find the Holy Grail.

On their quest the knights will confront some of the following adventures: a Black Knight who wants to prevent Arthur from crossing his path, who even after the king has cut off his arms and legs calls out that the fight is not over–he’ll bite off his legs; a witch being strangely identified with a duck before being burnt to the stake; Sir Launcelot butchering a group of wedding guests while rescuing a man whom he thought was a damsel in distress; Sir Galahad being tempted among a bunch of sex-starved women who are prepared to devour him; Sir Robin running away from battle while his minstrel companions sing of his cowardice; a taunting Frenchman threatening to fart on them; the knights who say “Ni”; the guard who doesn’t hiccup but tries to get the simplest of orders straight, as the other guard hiccups; the Black Beast of Aarrgghh; the three-headed knight; a killer bunny with a surprising appetite; a servant who when observing the discovery of Camelot points out that it’s only a model; and, a gatekeeper who has three questions to ask that must be answered before crossing over to the next destination.

There’s lots of silly fun in this irreverent King Arthur spoof, as the talented comical cast of the Python TV series, playing multiple parts, make a film inspired by nuttiness. The film starts out very fast and funny but lags in the middle only to come back to make a funny stretch run. It ends when modern-day bobbies arrest the entire medieval troupe and put them in the police vans for the murder of a noted historian.

It’s an acquired taste in lunacy that some will like so much they will wonder how anyone else could not find this stuff hysterical, while others will not be taken by this unique brand of humor. I found the absurd situations and all the misconceptions that would arise just delightful, with some skits deserving of more laughs than others. But I must say, I’m no Python fan. I just found this signature film of theirs hit my funny bone. It also poured lots of money into the Pythons, as it turned them into a big international success.