Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Because Terry Jones is an Arthurian scholar, not only is it the funniest re-telling, it is also the most accurate re-telling of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (I’ve read the book, not my favorite, but yes, this film is very accurate). About the most famous of Monty Python’s repertoire; it’s also the only one I can stand. I’ve tried watching their other films and I don’t know if it’s because I’m American, or I just simply don’t get their humor, but I do not like them. Took me several years to talk myself into watching this film and I do find it funny. In 2006, it was adapted into a Broadway show, Spamalot. The main characters are all played by about six main cast members: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and John Cleese (who I first knew as R then Q in Pierce Brosnan’s run as James Bond; he’s also narrated Winnie the Pooh).
The opening credits are…odd to say the least. At one point, there is a title card signed by Richard Nixon, there are subtitles that may be Swedish discussing moose – they end up sacked – multiple times. Then there’s crazy music and a bit about llamas. Finally, we reach the movie, set in England 932 AD (filmed largely in Scotland). We hear galloping…turns out, they’re coconuts (apparently a gag developed since the movie didn’t have the budge for horses). Arthur, King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England, is looking for knights to join him at his court in Camelot. The first castle he comes to discusses swallows and coconuts. Then he rides by someone calling “Bring out yer dead!” He comes upon Dennis the peasant shortly afterwards, who goes on about systems of governments [I would not want to learn all of his lines] and points out “strange women lying is ponds distributing swords is no basis of government,” annoying Arthur, who “represses” him.
Arthur comes upon the Black Knight next, battling the Green Knight. Arthur must face him and cuts off an arm. “‘Tis but a scratch,” the knight states, carrying on with the fight. Arthur chops off the other arm. “Only a flesh wound.” Next it’s a leg and Arthur mocks, “what are you going to do, bleed on me?” when the Black Knight insists he can fight. Finally, when Arthur removes the other leg, the knight calls it a draw. A brief view of monks intoning “Pie Jesu” and whacking themselves in the face with boards, and we come across Sir Bedevere educating peasants on how to test if a woman is a witch. From there, Arthur gathers Lancelot, Galahad, Robin, and “Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Film.” They ride to Camelot! (It’s only a model). On second thought, they better not, it is a silly place (after a song-and-dance number rhyming with Camelot).
God appears and gives Arthur the quest for the Holy Grail. They come across a group of taunting Frenchmen next (giving us the line “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” which I heard in high school from my boyfriend at one point; not that I had any clue what he was talking about). They try a variation of the Trojan Horse, except with a rabbit, that they have forgotten to get inside. They run away, and as a modern history professor announces, separate. The professor is killed.
First: Brave Sir Robin (and his minstrels)…runs away from a three-headed knight. Next: Sir Galahad, the Chaste, sees a Grail in the mist and comes upon the Castle Anthrax, filled with young women. Lancelot rescues him from the peril; Galahad would not have minded facing the peril. Arthur and Bedevere face the Knights Who Say “Nee,” who demand a shrubbery. In the midst, we have the Tale of Sir Lancelot, who receives a note to rescue someone from a horrible wedding. Turns out it’s a young man. Lancelot gets carried away and starts hacking at guards and guests. The boy’s father lets him drop out a window, except he’s not dead. As he starts to sing a song, Lancelot beats a hasty escape. Arthur and Bedevere acquire the required shrubbery, but now the Knights want more. Except they cannot stand the word “it.” Robin joins the pair and they ride away.
Animation shows that they meet up with Lancelot and Galahad. A year passes as they search for the grail (they eat the minstrels and “there was much rejoicing”). They discover Tim the Enchanter (sounding very Scottish) who leads them to a cave, guarded by killer rabbit. Yep, killer rabbit; only defeated by the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (after some more running away). They discover a note inside in Aramaic, telling them where to find the Holy Grail. An animated monster, the Black Beast, chases them, but is taken out when the animator suddenly dies (lots of fourth wall breaking). Then, they’re on to the Bridge of Death, where they must answer three questions in order to cross. Typically, it’s name, their quest, and Lancelot passes when he answers with his favorite color. Robin perishes at “what is the capitol of Assyria?” Galahad messes up his favorite color. The old man falls when he asks Arthur about the “airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.” Arthur specifies which one. On the other side (from a brief intermission), Lancelot is nowhere to be found. The modern police inspectors arrested him. amidst holy music, a Viking-like ship (it has a huge dragon head prow) appears and carries Arthur and Bedevere to a castle (looks like Eileen Donan a bit). Except the French have gotten there first.
An army appears at Arthur’s request and they get ready to charge. Only for the police to stop them and arrest the two knights. The camera falls…and that is the sudden end to the movie. Apparently, budge had a hand in the affair.
It is a funny re-telling, but I have to be in the mood to watch it. I prefer more dramatic interpretations. There’s a short Merlin fanfic that intertwines with Monty Python: The Trouble with Legends by slightlytookish.
Up Next: Mists of Avalon