|Monty Python and the Holy Grail
1975 - PG - 91 Mins.
|Director: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
|Producer: Mark Forstater and Michael White
|Written By: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin
|Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
|Review by: Bill King
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (which premiered in 1975 and re-released to theaters in 2001) is a lifeless, utterly excruciating comedy that gives new meaning to the phrase "dead on arrival." I've seen comedies start slow before, but this movie announced its badness right away and never improved. From the title sequence to the last scene, the expression of shock rarely left my face.
As the opening credits went by, an overwhelming sense of doom swept over me. There's a joke about a moose. Then another, then another, then another. Then we get a brief message, saying that the people who worked on the credits have been sacked. The credits continue, with more jokes inserted. Don't fear, for the new credit designers have just been sacked as well. It happens again, and again, and again.
The movie begins with King Arthur (Graham Chapman), appearing over the horizon. We hear the galloping of a horse, but instead, it's only Arthur's servant clapping two coconut halves together. When Arthur approaches a castle, he states his mission to the guard. He is searching for brave knights to serve on the Round Table at Camelot. The guard is more interested in the coconut. He asks where it came from. The conversation leads to the possibility that maybe a swallow dropped it. How could a swallow carry a coconut? The swallow would have to fly at a certain speed. Was it a European or African swallow? "Who cares?" I thought. The joke isn't funny, but the movie just beats the joke to death. This is the movie's routine throughout the entire running time. The script, by the Monty Python comedy troupe, introduces jokes that aren't funny to begin with, then desperately tries to draw comic inspiration from them. The failure rate is extremely high.
Arthur recruits several knights during his quest. They are Sir Launcelot (John Cleese), Sir Robin (Eric Idle), Sir Gawain (Terry Gilliam), Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones) and Sir Galahad (Michael Palin). Once King Arthur gets his knights together, he gets a message from God. The knights must search for the Holy Grail. Happy to oblige, they head off into different directions.
What comes next is a series of vignettes detailing each knight's mission. Like in the beginning of the film, we get more jokes that get dragged on and on and on and on. For example, King Arthur encounters the Black Knight, who denies everyone passage through his woods. The two engage in a bland sword fight, before Arthur emerges the victor by cutting off the Black Knight's arm. The Black Knight persists in continuing, claiming that it's only a flesh wound. After Arthur dismembers all four of the Black Knight's limbs, the fight still isn't over. The Black Knight's torso still wants to fight. Arthur just walks by.
Sir Robin sees a three-headed knight blocking his way. The three heads argue with each other, and before they realize it, Sir Robin has left. This sequence gave me the only laugh in the movie. I liked the way Sir Robin's minstrel sang about how Sir Robin would die on his quest. That's as good as it gets.
Sir Galahad comes across a castle filled with sex-starved women. We get the joke right away, but Sir Galahad doesn't. Of course, Sir Galahad should want to stay in the castle, but he'd rather find the Holy Grail instead. The timing is completely off here. By the time Sir Galahad realizes that he's surrounded by beautiful women (what took him so long?), Sir Launcelot rescues him.
The movie even screws up when it tries to kid itself. We get several anachronistic jokes like a police car showing up to examine a dead body. At the end, the police show up to arrest an army of knights. I was reminded of the scene in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," in which a fight spilled over onto the Hollywood streets. The joke didn't really work there, but Brooks handled that scene with more effectiveness than directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones do here.
Another failed attempt at humor comes when some of the jokes do drag on. Characters within the film say to get on with it, but even this joke is overused. This movie can't do anything right.
On the basis of this film and "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life," I can't understand the popularity of the comedy troupe. John Cleese is a fine comic actor. His work in "A Fish Called Wanda" is amazing. Terry Gilliam has directed some good films, such as "Time Bandits" and non-comedies like "12 Monkeys." This film, however, with the actors supposedly doing their best work, is tired, sloppy and poorly paced. "The Meaning of Life" is an improvement, but like this film, the movie beats each joke to death.
It's strange. On television, I occasionally see offers for a video collection of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," the troupe's television series in the '70s. I've never laughed at the clips. On the other hand, I laugh at clips of the old "Saturday Night Live" and "The Kids in the Hall." I do like British humor, but Monty Python, for me, doesn't represent any kind of achievement. I'll watch Benny Hill any day of the week over Monty Python.