Monty Python and the Holy Grail [Retro Review]

“What an eccentric performance.”

The Scoop: 1975 PG, directed by Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones and starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin

Tagline: And now! At Last! Another film completely different from some of the other films which aren’t quite the same as this one is.

Summary Capsule: Monty Python, that wacky British street gang, travel old England in search for the Holy Grail and a sorcerer named Tim

Justin’s Rating: Huzzah, I say, huzzah!

Justin’s Review: It amazes me that after so many years and viewings, Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains as fresh and funny as ever. The sheer idiocy and ridiculousness that runs rampant through the film and its actors cannot be denied its fair share of humor value. I know that this being one of the “kings” of the cult genre, it has received a vocal backlash as many popular things are wont to receive. Yet, I say this here and I say this now: MP&HG rightly deserves every praise attributed to its comical genius, and then some.

King Arthur is having a bloody ‘ell of a day. Traveling throughout the land, he has to replace his horse with two coconut shells for the sound effect and seeks in vain people to take him seriously. Yes, the Arthurian legend is turned on its head and its nostrils are raped in the Monty Python spirit. Medieval England is discovered to be a certified nuthouse, with an inexplicable French castle, a Black Knight who refuses to give up even when all his limbs are lost, and the local peasants refuse to acknowledge Arthur’s kinghood, choosing instead to live in a commune society. Fortunately, Arthur manages to gather together a band of knights (from the cowardly Brave Sir Robin to the daft Sir Lancelot) and receives a quest from God (who finds the Psalms soooo depressing) to find the Holy Grail.

It’s difficult to explain what, exactly, makes the Monty Python troupe so hysterical. Maybe it’s more difficult to narrow it down to just one or two things. Part of it has to do with their ability to talk silly things to death (as evidenced in the first scene, when two castle guards begin debating how swallows could migrate a coconut far north enough for Arthur to find). Most of it is a battle waged between two very silly and nonsensical lines, complete with straight faces (instead of the wink-wink attitude most satires have). And of course, you might just find the funny voices enough to send you into coniptions.

I first saw MP&HG at a high school youth group, and the killer rabbit scene was enough to hook me for life. There might be many great wonders of the world, many tremendous inventions that are yet to come, but the sight of a little cute white fuzzy rabbit decapitating knights left and right shall never be trounced.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail has a bit of comedy for all types. There are a few silly songs, plenty of nasally accents, and many cats being abused all over the place. So really, you’ve either seen MP&HG and you’re reading this just to share in the worldwide experience of mirth, or you need further prompting. Dude, you’re missing OUT! See it!

PoolMan’s Rating: 5 out of 5 ah guh, ah guh, ah guh… A GR-R-R-RAIL?

PoolMan’s Review: Picture yourself in medieval England, to the tune of 932 AD. You are the legendary Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, King of the Britons. You are riding on a Holy Quest bestowed upon you by God Himself to seek the Holy Grail. You glance down at your steed, expecting to see a beast worthy of such a great quest, only to find… it’s not a horse, it’s a pair of coconuts!

If you can indulge yourself that far, you’ll love Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The wonderfully talented Monty Python troupe takes the well-worn Arthur legend and gives it a whole new life, setting it to the perverse beat of its own unmistakeable brand of 70’s British humour (some of the finest in the world, I might add…). For those who haven’t seen any good examples of Monty Python’s work, you’ve missed out on a cultural landmark far greater than most movies to date, as evidenced by the legions of fans who still to this day, decades after the film’s release, shout “Nee!”

The film begins with King Arthur travelling England in search of knights loyal enough to serve at his famed Round Table in Camelot. He quickly enlists the help of such well known historical figures as Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, and Sir Bedemir, as well as the lesser-known Sir Robin, the not quite so brave as Sir Lancelot, plus many others. Once this team of myth is assembled, God appears before them to set Arthur to his destiny, to seek the Holy Grail. They split up into groups, each with the intent of finding the glorious artifact and presenting it to his King. However, the way is paved with obstacles the likes of the three-headed giant, a killer bunny, a rather unfortunate Black Knight, and the Knights Who Say Nee! (Nee!)

The hilarity right from the get-go to the very end keeps even the veteran viewer laughing the whole way through (I should know, having seen it dozens of times, and I know I’ll see it dozens more), with such scenes as the witch hunt, the French taunting, the Trojan Bunny, and the Bridge of Death, to name a mere few. The scenes of this movie are the stuff of legend themselves, and are so loved by the fans of this film that it’s not uncommon to see a huddled group at a party, backs turned to the room, laughing uproariously, one of them shouting about coconuts, swallows, and weight-ratios. Memorable humour of this kind just doesn’t exist in movies anymore, and the cult that follows the Holy Grail around is fanatic to it, myself included. If you’re going to try one single film to sample the taste of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and all the wonderful things they did in the 70’s, make this it. You won’t regret it, even for five seconds. (Three sir!)

Lissa’s Rating: We want… a shrubbery!

Lissa’s Review: We are the knights who say Ni! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I’m being repressed! She turned me into a newt! A newt? I got better. She’s got huge tracts of land!

What an eccentric performance.

Is there any movie better than Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Well, yeah, actually. Personally, I like many movies better. But is there any movie more quotable than Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Any movie more watched on college campuses across the nation? Absolutely, positively not.

Plot summary. What a laugh, but okay. King Arthur and his knights go on a quest for the Holy Grail, as commissioned by God. (Couldn’t you have guessed that from the title?) But of course this is Monty Python’s version, so don’t expect Marion Zimmer Bradley or T.H. White. Instead, expect the usual suspects of any Monty Python movie: Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Et al., if I missed any. (To be honest, I’m not THAT up on my Monty Python. I should have my Geek Membership revoked, I know. But at least I’m better than my office mate, who has NEVER SEEN MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL AND CALLS HIMSELF A GEEK. Hmm. He didn’t seem to hear that. I think he’s ignoring me.)

It seems stupid to talk about acting in this review. I mean, it’s Monty Python. They aren’t necessarily Oscar winning actors or anything (I checked, and two were nominated for writing, but not acting), but they are funny. And that’s all that really matters. If I’m actually watching Monty Python, I’m not looking for depth or tear-jerking performances. I don’t want to think about free will and the depths humanity can sink to or the heights it can rise to or any of that stuff. I just want to laugh my ass off.

No, no. What else floats in water?

Bread.

Apples.

Very small rocks!

Cider!

Gravy!

Cherries!

Mud!

Churches!

Lead! Lead!

A duck!

Exactly. So logically…

If she weighs the same as a duck… she’s made of wood?

And therefore…?

A WITCH!

How can you not love that sort of thing? Silly and stupid and yet just so so so so funny.

Are there flaws in the Holy Grail. Pfft. YES. Duh. The ending, for starters. I can never remember the ending, mainly because the movie just fizzles out, like the actors (or writers or whatever… I really wonder how much of this script was actually written down at first, and how much was improvised) got bored and the movie ended. We just watched it the other day, and I still can’t remember the exact ending. It’s shrouded in some sort of fog in my mind, and amazingly, this fog is not remotely alcohol induced. That bugs me about this particular movie. There’s times I actually find it a little slow — but maybe that’s just because parts have been quoted ad nasuem and all that. (The Black Knight, for example. Just does nothing for me.)

Okay, so maybe I decided to review Monty Python and the Holy Grail because Justin reminded us that there were movies made before 2004, and maybe I did it because I felt I hadn’t done anything “cult” recently, but still. It can never be said enough that this is a fun movie and required viewing for anyone aspiring to the title of “Geek.”

And that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped.

suebanner

Sue’s Rating: Is there anyone who hasn’t seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Aside from my parents, I mean. And a few of their friends. And Farmer Dave from next door. Oh, and Captain Johnson.

Sue’s Review: Seldom do I let anyone escape a review without the obligatory forced march down memory lane, so come along with me (if ye dare) back to a dimly lit family room in a nice suburban house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The year is 1983. The hour is late enough that my parents have already hit the proverbial hay (which was probably a good thing) and my sister and a few friends are preparing to watch a movie on our brand new state of the art VCR. Enter the annoying, but persistant younger sibling. Moi. And imagine that younger sibling’s initial befuddlement when faced with opening credits written in what appears to be Swedish… and that the credits involve justifiable violence committed by a moose. Until the credit writers were sacked.

And I, the least among them, laughed my friggin’ head off.

So began a young waif’s (well, maybe not so young or waifish. I was fifteen.) initiation into the world of cult movies in general and Monty Python in particular.

Now flash forward several (eek!) decades to just a few days ago. It was a morning at work, like many other mornings. The daily books were done, the lottery sheets added up, the coffee brewed, the glass doors de-finger-smudged, a few shelves dusted and the day’s headlines perused… all by seven-thirty. (Which is about the same time Kyle probably starts thinking about going to bed.) In my hand, I had a cup of Life’s L’il Elixir (16 ounces of Vanilla Nut java with three creams and two sugars) and I was chatting idly with one of the coffee klatch regulars, a law enforcement officer who I have come to refer to affectionately as “the gun-toting atheist.” (He doesn’t seem to mind too much. At least, he hasn’t hosed me down with pepper spray or written me up for a 10-96. Yet.) During the course of our conversation, which had meandered in the direction of a proposed expansion of a local charter school, I inadvertently used the phrase, “tract of land.” As the words left my mouth, my train of thought derailed and burst into the flames. Hesitating, I winced and muttered under my breath, “Ergh, Monty Python moment.” Immediately, and to my complete surprise, he bellowed with perfect inflection, “HUUUUUUUGE TRACTS OF LAND!”

Wow! You just don’t expect that from someone who is quite dapperly (and officially) attired like the very model of a modern Major-General.

Later, I related the incident to my offspring, Spawn of Mutant 1 and 2 as we dined lavishly at the local Pizza Hut. (SoM2 prefers the pasta. Snob.) In the manner of their teenaged stream-of-consciousness kind, SoM1 launched into a monologue pertaining to the air-speed velocity of the African versus the European Swallow (laden and not) while his sister sighed and reflected dolefully about “poor tortured cats.” From there, we held a retrospective on the instruction manual for the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. (Book of Armaments, Chapter 2, verses 9-21) There are times when I am just… so gosh darn proud of my children. *sniff*

Is there a point to all of this? Does a European swallow’s wings flap forty-three times a second? Well actually, no, but that’s beside the point.

All of this, I think, serves to illustrate the magic of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. To watch this movie is to join a fraternity of sorts. You can’t necessarily tell at first glance who your fellow members are, but they pop up every so often and say Ni again to you, if you do not appease them, to fart in your general direction and to ask you trick questions about your name and favorite color.

They… that is to say, WE are out there and WE are a force to be reckoned with. That’s the essence of a fine cult film and Holy Grail is arguably the finest ever made.

In fact, I am convinced that when the chips are down, and when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, and you cry out, “I want…. A SHRUBBERY!” you will hear the unmistakable clopping of many non-migratory coconut shells retreating into the distance to the upraised chorus of “Run away! Run away!”

It’s beautiful when you stop to think about it. Just beautiful.

Bugs flips out

Intermission!

  • Cat abuse!
  • I’ve always loved how the musical soundtrack cut off in the middle of the first Black Knight fight, which makes the sounds of combat so much more funny
  • The Black Knight was first played by John Cleese, but when Arthur cuts off the man’s leg, a real one-legged actor (a local silversmith) was used.
  • Most of the castles were cardboard cutouts, and indeed the trailer shows one of them falling over.
  • A shrubbery is British slang for a hooker, giving the whole Knights who say Ni scene a double meaning
  • When Tim the Enchanter gives the “eccentric performance” about the ferocity of the rabbit, there is a large amount of spit that comes flying out of his mouth. [thanks Jared]
  • When Sir Bedevere asks the villagers why witches burn, you can see the villager on the left (Eric Idle) start to crack up. To keep from giggling, he bites onto his scythe. [thanks Jared]
  • The picture of Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film is actually Michael Palin’s son, William. [thanks Jared]
  • If you watch the monks hitting themselves on the head carefully, you can see one of the monks in the back stagger after hitting himself. [thanks Pat F]
  • One of the original filmed scenes that never appeared in the movie happened at the end. After the Bridgekeeper, they come upon the Boatkeeper. “He who would cross the Sea of Fate Must answer me these questions twenty-eight!”

Groovy Quotes

French Soldier: I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough water! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!

Bedevere: What makes you think she’s a witch?
Peasant: Well she turned me into a newt!
Bedevere: A newt?
Peasant: I got better.
Crowd: BURN HER ANYWAY!

Dennis: Help! Help! I’m being repressed! Come see the violence inherent in the system! Violence inherent in the system!

Bedevere: …and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped.
Arthur: This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep’s bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.

King of Swamp Castle: We live in a bloody swamp. We need all the land we can get.
Prince Herbert: But I don’t like her.
King of Swamp Castle: Don’t like her? What’s wrong with her. She’s beautiful, she’s rich, she’s got huge … tracts of land.

Tim: Follow. But! Follow only if ye be men of valour, for the entrance to this cave is guarded by a creature so foul, so cruel that no man yet has fought with it and lived! Bones of full fifty men lie strewn about its lair. So, brave knights, if you do doubt your courage or your strength, come no further, for death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth.
Arthur: What an eccentric performance.

Knights of Camelot: [singing] We’re knights of the Round Table, we dance whene’er we’re able. We do routines and chorus scenes with footwork impec-cable, We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and Spam a lot. / We’re knights of the Round Table, our shows are for-mi-dable. But many times we’re given rhymes that are quite un-sing-able, We’re opera mad in Camelot, we sing from the diaphragm a lot. / In war we’re tough and able, Quite in-de-fa-ti-gable. Between our quests we sequin vests and impersonate Clark Gable / It’s a busy life in Camelot [solo] I have to push the pram a lot.

King of Swamp Castle: Look Alice…
Prince Herbert: Herbert!
King of Swamp Castle: Herbert…

Minstrel: [singing] Bravely bold Sir Robin rode forth from Camelot. He was not afraid to die, oh brave Sir Robin. He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways, brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin. He was not in the least bit scared to being mashed into a pulp, or to have his eyes carved out, and his elbows broken. To have his kneecap split, and his body burned away, and his limbs all hacked and mangled, brave Sir Robin. His head smashed in and heart cut out, and his liver removed, and his bowels unplugged, and his nostrils raped and his bottom burned off and his penis…
Sir Robin: THAT’S, that’s quite enough, Minstrel.

Minstrel: [singing] Brave Sir Robin ran away, bravely ran away away. When danger reared his ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about, he turned his tail, he chickened out. Bravely taking to his feet, he beat a very brave retreat. A brave retreat by Sir Robin.

God: What are you doing now?
Arthur: Averting our eyes, oh Lord.
God: Well, don’t. It’s just like those miserable psalms, always so depressing.

King of Swamp Castle: This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who.

Arthur: Is there someone else up there we could talk to?
French Soldier: No, now go away before I taunt you a second time.

Black Knight: Have at you!
Arthur: You are indeed brave, sir knight, but the fight is mine.
Black Knight: Oh, had enough eh?
Arthur: Look, you stupid bastard. You’ve got no arms left!
Black Knight: Yes I have.
Arthur: Look!
Black Knight: Just a flesh wound!

French Knight: You don’t frighten us, English pig dogs! Go and boil your bottoms, you sons of a silly person! I blow my nose at you, so-called “Arthur King,” you and all your silly English K-nig-hts.

Arthur: I am your king!
Woman: Well I didn’t vote for you!
Arthur: You don’t vote for kings.
Woman: Well how’d you become king then?
[Angelic music plays…]
Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king!
Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!

Dennis: Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!

Dennis: Oh but if I went ’round sayin’ I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!

[The King gestures to the window.]
King of Swamp Castle: Some day, lad, all this will be yours.
Prince Herbert: What, the curtains?

Knight 1: We are now no longer the Knights who say Ni.
Knight 2: NI!
Other Knights: Shh…
Knight 1: We are now the Knights who say… “Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-PTANG! Zoom-Boing! Z’nourrwringmm!”

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Monty Python’s Life of Brian
  • Monty Python’s Meaning of Life
  • Excalibur
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11 Comments

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  5. A small point, but shrubbery is not slang for hooker in any England I ever lived in. However, the word “scrubber” which is reasonably similar, does mean a lady of relaxed morals (presumably stemming from the Up Pompeii treatment of kitchen maids).

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