Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List: #381 - Monty Python and the Holy Grail

You know a comedy group is part of pop culture, nay culture itself, when they are included in a dictionary. Pythonesque: after the style of or resembling the absurdist or surrealist humor of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British television comedy series (1969-74). British comedians Terry Jones, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, and American Terry Gilliam changed the face of televised comedy, paving the way for Second City, Saturday Night Live, Kids in the Hall, The Simpsons, and even South Park. And then, in 1974, the gang decided to make movies. The result: “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Horses not included, but coconuts were available.

Funny thing about the very first time I saw this Holy Grail of comedies. It was in Spanish. I don’t exactly remember where, but this was back in the late 90s when my family and I were living in South America. It was playing on TV and since my dad used to live in England, you can bet he knew who the Pythons were. I didn’t know, but once I saw the bit with the Trojan rabbit I was sold. I didn’t understand all of the dialogue since my Spanish wasn’t that good at the time, but once you’ve seen a giant wooden rabbit being tossed through the air by a bunch of vulgar Frenchmen, you get the picture. 

The plot, or what stands for a plot, is the standard legend of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail. Except in the Python’s world, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) along with his squire Patsy (Terry Gilliam) must first convince people he really is the king. “I didn’t know we had a king,” says a well-spoken peasant. “I thought we were an autonomous collective.” The peasant gets even more skeptical when Arthur tries to convince him he got his legendary sword from a lady in a lake.

Once Arthur has assembled the Knights of the Round Table, which include Sir Bedevere The Wise (Terry Jones), Sir Lancelot the Brave (John Cleese), Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot (Eric Idle), and Sir Galahad the Pure (Michael Palin), the quest is on. After an unfortunate encounter with the aforementioned foul-mouthed Frenchmen, Arthur believes the knights should seek the Grail separately. This leads to several humorous misadventures for each knight, such as Lancelot crashing a wedding party, Arthur and Bedevere running into the dreaded Knights who say Ni, and Galahad nearly losing his purity with Zoot (Carol Cleveland) and her fellow lascivious ladies at castle Anthrax.

Will they find the Grail? They should be more concerned about the poor modern-day historian who was slain by one of the knights, triggering a police investigation. The Pythons don’t just break the fourth wall; they bring it down with a bulldozer.

Since the cast came from a television background and were more used to performing sketch comedy, it might explain why the movie is not so much a straight narrative but a series of gags waiting to happen. The result is a loose story with a running time of 87 minutes, but every sketch works. Unlike the lazy guys behind “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” and, I don’t know, “Crappy Movie,” the Pythons don’t only rely on cheap physical gags to appeal to the lowest denominator. When the knights find clues about the Grail’s location inside a cave, they debate whether or not the name of the castle indicated on the walls is really “Castle Aaaarrrrrggghhh” or if the writer actually wrote down his own scream as he was being killed. Seriously, which explanation is the least ridiculous when reading something like that on a cave wall?

For devoted Python fans, I highly recommend the Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition of the movie. It includes a visit to the movie’s locations by Michael Palin and Terry Jones, a featurette about the proper use of a coconut, and my favorite, a Lego animation of the “Camelot Song.” With a song and a dance number like that, its proof these guys would be funny in any language. 


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…