Monty Python's Holy Grail
In the history of comedy, very few people have had quite the impact of Britain’s Monty Python troupe. Although they owed much of their style to the work of David Frost and The Goon Show (whom most of the Python gang worked for at one time or another), few will deny that the irreverent boundary breaking program Monty Python’s Flying Circus brought a whole new style of comedy to a planet that was desperate for laughs. The Python gang delighted in shaking things up and tearing down the fourth wall, and the dry British humor on display in their half hour journeys into brilliance just made it all the more enjoyable when the establishment started to buckle under their grasp.
The first two seasons of the show only proved that the Python gang were on top of their game when it came to their particular brand of humor, but, by the beginning of the third season, tensions were running a little high and John Cleese felt that they were only repeating sketches over and over again with only minor twists to the premises (in fact, his normal proliference in sketch writing saw a sharp decline, as he would only write two sketches total for the entire season). Feeling that the film world needed a dose of Python, the gang committed to celluloid a few of their more popular sketches and released 1971’s And Now for Something Completely Different, which was a great introduction to the group for those of us in the US, but it failed to ignite any real box office figures. With the lackluster reception to their movie and a feeling that there was nowhere left for the group to go, Mr. Cleese quit the troupe at the end of the third season. A truncated six episode season four (sans Cleese, of course) would find the gang finally parting company after what many would consider completing forty two of the greatest half hours in comedic history.
What few people knew, though, was that the Python gang were in the process of creating what eventually would become, quite possibly, one of the greatest comedy films ever made: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Although some of their initial script concepts were actually re-worked into episodes for their final season (including the Michael Ellis sketch which comprised the bulk of episode 41), the final draft of the screenplay is a masterwork of humor and quite possibly the pinnacle of the entire comedy genre. This film was the cinematic project that John Cleese had hoped their first filmed venture would be and its creation saw him returning to the fold whole-heartedly, never to leave again. Though a debate has raged for years as to whether Holy Grail or the Python’s next film, The Life of Brian, is the funnier film, there is no denying that the former has ingrained itself in many a fan’s conscious.
The plot is negligible, but, such as it is, revolves around the fabled King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his quest to track down the holiest of holy artifacts, the Holy Grail (the goblet from which Christ reportedly drank from during the last supper). Though it sets a time period for the film to be placed and gives it a narrative basis to hang on to, it really serves as nothing more than a thread on which to hang some of the Python gangs more inspired and insane sketches (a claim supported by the fact that the film ends without ever resolving the main thrust of the “plot”). Moments such as the very nearly unstoppable Black Knight, the wackily out of place Camelot musical number, and the shrubbery loving Knights Who Say Ni! are all scenes that perfectly essay the sheer nuttiness that the Pythons have always been capable of.
As any Python fan can assert, I have seen this film innumerable times, and each time, despite my familiarity with it, I always find something new to laugh at. While I have always appreciated the “Constitutional Peasant” scene, later years have seen me laughing more heartily at the litany of different whorish implications that the peasant Dennis (Michael Palin) lays upon the Lady of the Lake. Also enjoyable is the excitement that the Knights Who Say Ni! (at this point in film known as “the Knights Who Until Recently Said Ni!”) display when their leader suggests Arthur obtain a second shrubbery in order to form a path with a previously gained shrub. As a testament to the film’s brilliance, though, old favorites still manage to please, making the film one of the easiest repeat viewing experiences ever.