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A cult classic as gut-bustingly hilarious as it is blithely ridiculous, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has lost none of its exceedingly silly charm.
A cult classic as gut-bustingly hilarious as it is blithely ridiculous, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has lost none of its exceedingly silly charm.
All Critics (73)
| Top Critics (18)
| Fresh (71)
| Rotten (2)
| DVD (29)
So unnecessarily gorgeous, there are moments where it feels like Tarkovsky with drag and farting.
Here is Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is neither as sparkling as it is said to be nor as bad as it seems to be at the start. But it's pretty good.
Grail is as funny as a movie can get, but it is also a tough-minded picture -- as outraged about the human propensity for violence as it is outrageous in its attack on that propensity.
Silly, sophomoric, and slapped together -- but would you want it any other way?
Monty Python's Flying Circus, the British comedy group which gained fame via BBC-TV, send-up Arthurian legend, performed in whimsical fashion with Graham Chapman an effective straight man as King Arthur.
Python's delightful and, on the whole, consistent reductio ad absurdum of the Grail legend.
The first non-sketch Python film is one of the great Arthurian romps.
Terribly exciting and clever, and while its sharpness has been considerably blunted through time, you can still tell where it once was.
A fresh look at the ultimate mock epic, after the Python method has been assimilated into the cultural DNA, reveals the subversive spirit of this bloody and cynical Arthurian deconstruction.
The material is superb, Neil Innes' music is tremendous and Gilliam's animations are timelessly brilliant.
Watching it, it's hard to believe that these guys were actually meandering across heaths and trudging across rope bridges, with electricians and caterers not far away. It seems more as if this souvenir of the Absurd Ages has... existed for a millennium.
The Python team's surreal take on the legend of Camelot bursts with inspired lunacy.
This was the second movie from the thoroughly, mostly, British Python team (their first being 'And Now for Something Completely Different'). This was the first movie by the group to venture away from their sketch routine and actually create new material along with an actual plot, the plot of course being a parody or spoof of the age old British Arthurian legend (King Arthur and his knights of the round table).
The plot simply revolves around King Arthur travelling the length and breath of Olde England to find knights that will join him at his court in Camelot, and the round table...if they are just and good enough. In the midst of this minor mission Arthur is called upon by God in the heavens, he instructs them to seek out the Holy Grail. So that is exactly what Arthur and his new band of merry men do, they go out and face much peril in trying to locate the one true Grail. Naturally this entails separate dangers for each of the brave knights as they eventually head off in different directions to discover the fabled treasure, but sure enough, within time, they all team up again to possibly face their greatest challenge thus far.
I must have first seen this film back in my younger years (easily under the age of 10) as my dad is a big Python fan, relishing every word of that absurd, surreal humour. From that day to this I have always pretty much had the same feeling about this film, and that's a very mixed feeling. The main thing I absolutely adore about this film (as with other Python movies) is the atmosphere. Obviously the fact the film was made before I was even born (1978) does add much of this atmosphere simply because the films visuals are a bit dirty, grubby and lacking panache due to the whole production being low on budget, it being 1975, and completely British. For some reason British films have this visual vibe about them which you can easily pick up, you can tell its been shot or made in the UK. But the other factor I've always loved about this film is the dark, foreboding, mythical...almost supernatural element the whole thing has, much like the 1977 Python-esque movie 'Jabberwocky'.
I love the films constant bleak visuals, the heavy swirling mist, the typically gloomy British weather and the little bits of gallows humour sprinkled throughout the landscapes. As already mentioned the low budget has helped, as the old story goes, when there is little cash around the director and his crew must be more inventive and creative in their work. This is very true here with little to no special effects utilised accept for basic props, costumes and sets of course, yet still the films atmosphere is terrific. The stereotypically bad British weather has also helped production greatly by adding some really authentic pissing rain, dark brooding clouds, thunder and on occasion some brilliant sunshine, but not much. One glorious example being a beautiful shot following Arthur and his faithful squire Patsy through the woods before meeting the Black Knight. This little segment was obviously deliberately filmed at a (possibly lucky) moment to capture the pure ethereal beauty of the woodland landscape. The shafts of light breaking through the dense trees really highlighting a typical fantasy trait of the genre and really exposing the good eye of director Gilliam with his composition. Other sequences in the film have taken advantage of historical locations around the UK and merely added window dressing to the site to add that mucky, olde medieval, English touch (an overly exaggerated, Python-esque, medieval English touch I might add).
The thing is these touches generally work wonders for the atmosphere and visuals. The window dressings might only be some dated clunky wooden furniture, or raggy flags, or wall mounted weapons, or hay and mud, or yet more swirling mist...but they really do the job effectively when simply added to a real historical ruin or building. Even though everything the Python team does is clearly exaggerated, it often still looks relatively realistic down to its usually well worn, overly dirty, slightly battered visage. This is all really apparent in this movie because we all know this medieval knight clutter is rubber and plastic, but it still looks kinda real and ancient.
So lovely hokey-esque visuals aside what about the rest of it? Well clearly its all about the humour, the now well trodden Python humour. As a kid I never really understood it, I merely enjoyed the fantasy adventure side of it. As an adult I now get it, but shock horror! I don't actually think its that funny (ducks for cover!). Yes that's right, I don't think this film is actually overly funny. Its not that the jokes and visual slapstick has dated badly, because it hasn't really, its just that its not really hilariously funny. Its certainly amusing in many places with loads of great gross-out moments (which I really enjoy), but the humour is...slightly low-key for me, its funny but more amusingly witty if anything, you gotta listen to what they say. There is of course plenty of ridiculous farcical slapstick, much of it being over the top gore, which isn't so much funny but just down right fun to watch because its so overly violent and unbelievable...in a daft way. The perfect example of course being Arthur fighting the Black Knight and reducing him to a mere torso, arms and legs all hacked off. Now while the verbal we hear is utterly classic and has gone down in cinematic history, I don't find it specifically funny. I love the scene, love the stupid gore and the whole atmosphere/visuals side of it, but its not laugh out loud funny in my opinion. This is my stance with this film, I do enjoy it immensely but mainly for the outlandish fantasy element.
In general the film is very much a rollercoaster for me. As we move from setup to setup I have always found that, even though its not a compilation of sketches, it still kinda feels like it. I can still sort out each part of the film that I enjoy and all the parts I don't, almost like individual sketches. For example, I liked the fight against the Black Knight, but I didn't really like the Knights that say Ni. I liked how they tried to break into a castle being run by Frenchmen, but I didn't really like the little song and dance routine in Camelot. I liked when they tried to cross the bridge of death, but I didn't like the introduction to Sir Bedevere the Wise. The tale of Sir Lancelot trying to save a princess from a castle (or so he thinks) run by a loud mouth Yorkshireman was good, the rabbit of Caerbannog was not good.
I must admit I have always been frustrated with the route Gilliam and Jones decided to take this film, let me explain. I realise this is Python and the whole shtick is being surreal and off the wall, which is fine, but I always thought this film could have been a bit better than that. The story is unoriginal and bland sure, it wasn't a major blockbuster type situation OK, but why did they have to break the fourth wall and break the confines of the story. The fact that the films characters are unaware they have a narrator/historian following them is fine, but he gets killed by a knight from within the films world and the real time police of the, then, present day get involved, I still really dislike it. I never liked that angle at all because it always took me out of the adventure, the fact they ended the film following that note, with the police stopping a huge battle charge, was so [b]so[/b] disappointing, even to this day. Unfortunately there are many examples throughout this film which I personally think ruin it.
When we follow Sir Galahad the Pure's tale, he's battling through a rain swept wood in the dead of the night, wolves howling, its looks cold and you are given the idea he's being followed. He reaches a lone castle only to discover its run by lots of sexy women, so far so good. Alas eventually the whole sequence derails as the characters break the fourth wall and chat about their scene, we then see snippets of other characters that will appear later in the film! Again I always always hated this because its not really funny and just took me out of the film, plus why would you wanna give away characters and scenes from the rest of the film?! Another example would be the animations which not only clogged up the film and halted its progress, but half weren't even anything to do with the films plot, even worse felt like padding to stretch the films runtime. Now realise the films budget wouldn't have been particularly big so creating a huge monster for a scene would of been very hard, so I completely understand why they used an animation short to carry on the films plot for that part. Unfortunately again I felt the team went to far by having Gilliam the animator die (within reality or the present day), thus meaning the animated monster no longer existed, thus meaning the films characters escaped the beast and carried on with their quest. Very Python-esque for sure, but very obviously because they didn't know how to get out of the situation they had written themselves into, and very obviously they didn't have the budget to make the sequence real time.
I definitely have a bit of a love hate relationship with this film, as with much of Python material some of it is inspired, whilst some of it just misses the target completely. The entire cast are of course wonderfully manic as you would expect and its hard to really nail down the best performance or who got the best gags, visual or otherwise. But just for the hell of it...for me its probably gotta be Palin followed closely by Cleese. Palin's trademark Yorkshireman/blue collar grunt routine is by far his best and funniest act for me. Where as Cleese is virtually the epitome of the Python movies in the Black Knight sequence and in general is by far the most talented comedian in the team (in my humble opinion). Yes this movie is totally a cult classic and one of the best British comedies out there, I fully acknowledge that. But personally I think still think its a mixed bag, has its ups and downs and is a tad too off the wall for my liking at times. I know to expect that from Python of course and had this been a sketch compilation movie like two of their other flicks, then it wouldn't be an issue for me. I just wish they had stuck a bit more closely to the films plot and not gone off the rails so much at certain times, I really can't stress enough how the final sequence crushes me, it just brings the entire film to a grinding halt, ugh!
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a prevailing oddball comedy that continues to be viewed as a cult classic. Its dynamic cast and gag-filled narrative would delight any moviegoer and the film resonates as one of the more memorable comedies to this day because of it. 4/5
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the few comedy films which continues to deserve its hype. Now thirty-eight years old, it remains incessantly hilarious, fantastically silly, magically absurd and brilliantly surreal, right down to the last detail. It is the perfect balance of intelligence and madcap anarchy, drawn together by razor-sharp writing and superb comic timing from every performer. It is low-budget film-making at its absolute best, and one of the best films of the 1970s.
The first and biggest hurdle that Holy Grail has to overcome is the transition from the small screen to something more cinematic. Many comedy series have faltered here, but the very essence and structure of Python gives them a leg-up. The TV shows were always conceived as streams of consciousness, in which ideas bled into one another and minds wandered freely. Scenes ended not with a punch line, but when things stopped being funny, and nobody either inside or outside the joke questioned it. This means there is far greater scope to construct an over-arching narrative over the course of ninety minutes, as opposed to creating an anthology of episodes similar to And Now For Something Completely Different.
The second hurdle, arising from this, is preventing the film from becoming baggy or having long sections of no laughs in between set-pieces. Thankfully this problem is swiftly overcome by two means, one intentional, the other not so. On the one hand, Holy Grail was very tightly scripted from the beginning, under the same rules and restrictions of the TV series - namely, if it's not funny, it goes. This led at one point to half the script being binned because it didn't gel with the rest of the story. On the other hand, the very, very low budget (less than £250,000) meant that there was simply no room to shoot any scene or sequence for longer than was deemed necessary.
The result of this careful preparation, and even more careful execution, is a film which is not only efficient but incessantly funny. From the famous opening credits to the Castle Aargh and everything in between, the film is packed full of jokes in a way which, Airplane! aside, has never been emulated. Every conversation builds as a routine to a hilarious climax, and barely a line goes by without something quotable coming along. The script is the perfect balance between the verbal and the visual, high-brow and low-brow, making it a comedy film that is genuinely for everyone.
There is not enough room to praise or point out all the great sequences, not without giving a scene-by-scene commentary of the whole film. There are, however, a number of categories of jokes which can be easily recognised. Although the film as a whole is a spoof of the Arthurian legends and the epics of Cecil B. DeMille, very little of the humour is derived from directly poking fun at these things, in the manner of Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein. Instead we have numerous examples of surreal absurdity (the Knights Who Say Ni ordering Arthur to cut down a tree with a herring); repetition (the Bridge of Death, Swamp Castle); existential role-reversal (Dennis the peasant arguing about anarcho-syndicalism); and running gags (swallows with coconuts, the cat being beaten, and the constant appearance of rabbits).
One question which has bothered both Python fans and film fans alike is whether or not this is better than the Life of Brian. John Cleese opines that Brian is a "more mature" work, noting sardonically how Americans tend to prefer Holy Grail while Brits opt for Brian. And he does have something of a point. It is more mature and professional from a technical point of view, and it is more substantial in either its subject matter or its use of it. But Life of Brian has its problems, most of which relate ironically to its abundance of substance.
Although the film is still very funny, it has a more obvious axe to grind than Holy Grail, and there are moments where it loses sight of what is truly funny in favour of focussing on what is simply uncomfortable. In Life of Brian, you're focussed on the story so intently, so aware of the intelligence and the controversy, that many of the little distractions - like the aliens sequence - get lost. In Holy Grail, you still follow the story with some intent, and everything is efficiently told, but the jokes speak for themselves and ultimately triumph over ever other aspect.
Every member of the Python team is at the top of their game in Holy Grail - even Graham Chapman, who was still a rampant alcoholic and struggled to remember his lines. Like all the Python films, this is an ensemble piece; no one member is allowed to dominate and be the star, no matter how many roles Michael Palin plays. Terry Gilliam's animations are as beautifully mad as ever, helping at very least to get around the budgetary limits and humorously divert us while time passes.
Each of the six gets at least one scene in which they excel, although Cleese is particularly brilliant in both the fight with the Black Knight and the one-man assault on Swamp Castle. Like all the best low-budget films, you're so swept along by the story and laughter that you aren't constantly trying to spot the body doubles or continuity errors. After a while you don't even notice it's the same six guys playing all the characters (well, almost).
The influence of Holy Grail remains writ large in comedy and in film-making. To some extent, this is unsurprising because of Gilliam's subsequent success. His first post-Python films, Jabberwocky and Time Bandits, have Holy Grail hovering somewhere in the background either in the story or the aesthetics. Likewise much of Handmade Films' output owes something to the ropey, creaky (but still fantastic) look of this film.
The film's most curious legacy, however, lies in the realm of horror comedy. Python's relationship with gore started in the TV series - think of the sketch about Sam Peckinpah's 'Salad Days', with blood oozing from every limb and every prop serving as a murder weapon. In the film we have the Black Knight, Swamp Castle, the Killer Rabbit and the Bridge of Death, all of which are simultaneously gross-out horrific and laugh-out-loud hilarious. You only have to look at Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead or Peter Jackson's Brain Dead to see reflections of Python's undying genius.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the film to turn to whenever you lose faith in the power and lifespan of comedy. It is brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, and contains more moments of hysterical laughter than almost any other film. It still has the charm and vibrancy which it had at the point of its conception, and its reputation and influence will only grow as time goes by. For all the subsequent efforts of Python, both as a troupe and individually, this remains their finest achievement and the benchmark against which all their other work should be measured. It's a masterpiece, a classic, a joy and a thrill - quite simply, the greatest comedy of all time.
It's a shame I can't give a film 7 stars out of 5, because this film is almost worthy of that. One of my favorite reviewers online (Movie Bob for The Escapist) once pointed out that its extremely difficult to review a good comedy because it's impossible to accurately review it without giving away the good parts. And I'm now faced with this problem times a million. This is one of the funniest (if not the funniest) films of all time. Just take my word for it, this is a great film.
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