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Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975
Makes Ben Hur look like an Epic

Directors
Terry Gilliam
Terry Jones

Writers
Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Eric Idle
Terry Gilliam
Terry Jones
Michael Palin

Producer
Mark Forstater producer
John Goldstone executive producer
Michael White producer

Cast
Graham Chapman – King Arthur/Voice of God/Middle Head/Hiccoughing Guard
John Cleese – Second Swallow-Savvy Guard/The Black Knight/Peasant 3/Sir Lancelot, the Brave/Taunting French Guard/Tim the Enchanter
Eric Idle – Dead Collector/Peasant 1/Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir Launcelot/First Swamp Castle Guard/Concorde/Roger the Shrubber/Brother Maynard
Terry Gilliam – Patsy/Green Knight/Old Man/Sir Bors/Animator
Terry Jones – Dennis’s Mother/Sir Bedevere/Left Head/Voice of Cartoon Scribe/Prince Herbert
Michael Palin – First Swallow-Savvy Guard/Dennis/Peasant 2/Right Head/Sir Galahad the Pure/Narrator/King of Swamp Castle/Brother Maynard’s Brother/Leader of The Knights who say NI!
Connie Booth – The Witch
Carol Cleveland – Zoot/Dingo
Neil Innes – First Monk/Singing Minstrel/Page Crushed by the Rabbit/Peasant #4
Bee Duffell – Old Crone
John Young – Dead Body/Historian Frank
Rita Davies – Historian’s Wife
Avril Stewart – Dr. Piglet
Sally Kinghorn – Dr. Winston
Mark Zycon – Prisoner
Elspeth Cameron – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Mitsuko Forstater – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Sandy Johnson – Knight of Ni, Villager at witch burning, Musician at wedding, Monk, Knight in battle
Sandy Rose – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Romilly Squire – Musician at wedding, Villager at witch burning
Joni Flynn – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Alison Walker – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Loraine Ward – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Anna Lanski – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Sally Coombe – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Vivienne MacDonald – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Yvonne Dick – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Daphne Darling – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Fiona Gordon – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Gloria Graham – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Judy Lams – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Tracy Sneddon – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Sylvia Taylor – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Joyce Pollner – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Mary Allen – Girl in Castle Anthrax
Juli├ín Doyle – Police Sergeant (uncredited)
Charles Knode – Camp’ Guard/One of Robins Minstrels (uncredited)
Zack Matalan – Guard who falls into barrels (uncredited)
William Palin – Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Film (photograph) (uncredited)
Tom Raeburn – Guard Eating Apple (uncredited)
Roy Forge Smith – Inspector End of Film (uncredited)
Maggie Weston – Page turner (hand only) (uncredited)

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Review by Bill Slocum

Should have been the start of something bigger…,
After establishing themselves as the Beatles of Comedy on their five-year UK television run, the six-member comedy troupe better known as Monty Python made their move to film with this clever, genre-bending spoof of Arthurian legend. In a better world, it would have kicked off a long series of similar Python films, of satires and broad comedies at a pace of one every two or three years, some better, some worse, but all beloved in the same vein as this.

I feel in an odd spot here, saying “Holy Grail” is not that great on the one hand and I wish there had been more on the other. But there’s a logic stream here. I think the Pythons were on to something, a formula they could have enriched over time. The movie was clearly the work of novices; accomplished comedic actors and hilarious writers yes, but stark newbies on the big screen. The film’s texture is as muddy as a Super 8 home movie in places, the action is choppy, and the plot line sags when it should grow taut. I get the feeling the film draws away deliberately from letting us like the individual characters because it disrupts the aesthetic (or as Lancelot would say, the idiom) in which Python works, but this morbid and depressing style grates over time. And then there’s that wicked stupid ending, as bad a one as any good film ever had.
These are flaws lesser than the film’s virtues, which are some brilliant comedy sequences, an eye for period detail and squalor, and a terrific musical score. The no-horse joke is dragged on past the point of obviousness and idiocy to a place by the end that’s almost sublime, and it’s as much a testament to the comic courage of the Pythons than any of their later icon-bashing. What’s bad here are minor by contrast, and the sort of things more accomplished filmmakers would improve upon with subsequent efforts, talky bits, jumpy segues, and the like. Indeed, Python did just that when they made their next film, “Life Of Brian,” which actually works as a story in a way “Holy Grail” doesn’t, though minus the same broad humor, but then the Pythons went to seed in the 80s, traipsing off into solo projects and one lame sketch-comedy knockoff, “Meaning Of Life,” before we lost Graham Chapman to AIDS and that was that.

MPATHG works very well for the first 20 minutes or so, setting the scene of Britain circa 932 AD, then loses altitude like a coconut-laden swallow as it takes on the Grail quest legends, before screeching to a silly halt with a ending that deserves a spoiler if any film ever did. Episodic bits work well in isolation, often very well, but don’t gel the way they should. There’s some great episodes, the duel with the Black Knight, the faceoffs with Knights who say Ni, the quests of Galahad and Lancelot, and the finale at the Bridge of Death (“oh, great”). The part I enjoy most is Robin’s relationship with his minstrels, perhaps the worst spin doctors a leader could have (though he certainly deserves them.)

Picking out the individual members for applause seems an exercise in perversity, but Michael Palin shines as Galahad, the lead Ni Knight, and especially the father of Prince Herbert (“This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.”) Also, Chapman is solid in the lead role, and one almost wishes we were really allowed to root for the guy. (Hard to believe Chapman was reportedly soused for much of the filming. He seems rock-steady.)

The great thing about this movie is you don’t have to be a Python fan to enjoy it. You can actually have a happy family life, normal adult friends, and no special aptitude for Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. Holy Grail doesn’t deserve the biggest cult following this side of Sun Yung Moon, but it’s merry and more than adequate for what it tries to be.

I can’t help feeling it could just have been the beginning of so much more.

Review by Jack Gattanella

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

It grows on you- it’s one of the most delightful exercises in the ridiculous in cinema history,
For years I did not watch or listen to Monty Python, and in retrospect I can’t entirely remember why. I remember seeing a couple of scenes from “The Holy Grail” on television when I was younger (the notorious ‘black knight’ scene and the harem of girls in the castle) and not finding it uproarious as I might’ve expected. Maybe I’m just not into British comedy, I thought ignorantly. Then I finally gave into it, as I got to be a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s films, and discovered as well that John Cleese is one of the funniest people to ever come out of Britain. Life of Brian was surprisingly witty and fun as it dug its claws into a subject of some controversy. Then I went on to this film, and it took two times to watch the film until I found it to definitely be a truly masterful effort in the delirious.

The first time some of the jokes and gags and puns and visuals flew over my head, but as an emotional experience (if one could call it that) was immediate- many of the parts were funny as hell, even if I didn’t think the whole was. The second time around everything fit, I laughed harder at the jokes I laughed at before, and I was officially a fan of the movie. Like another comedy classic than came out a year previous to Holy Grail, Blazing Saddles, the whole story is rather inconsequential when it comes to the set-pieces and actors in the various roles. King Arthur and the knights see a strange, God-like figure in the sky (my biggest laugh the first time around, one of many genius illustrations from Gilliam) who tells them to find the Holy Grail. So off they go, and encounter a plethora of trials and tribulations along the way.

In fact, the whole film is an act of stream-of-consciousness (as was the television show, Flying Circus) where the animated bits are instrumental in taking the shape of the story, or ‘skits’ in the film. My personal favorites were the ‘black knight’, the knights who say ‘ni’, the ‘killer rabbit’ (one of the great comedy surprises I’ve had recently), and the boy who “just wants to…sing!”. But even when a weaker bit might come along, it may be a bit that doesn’t lack the fine visual detail and look provided by Gilliam and Terry Jones, or with some form of wit (i.e. I didn’t find the “bring out your dead” scene as extraordinary, but I wouldn’t doubt it’s original).

Although many say that Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which starts and ends with total disregard (and fitfully so) for all logical rules in storytelling, that it’s one of the funniest films ever made (which it very well could be), I feel only very slightly reserved in recommending it to anyone. If you’re in the mood for a bloody, moody, very low-budget dip into medieval satire by five of Britain’s most talented writer/actors (not to mention to ‘token’ American), it’s for you. But it may prove too silly, and maybe too sporadic, to work as a whole. One thing that I can say without a doubt, however, is that it serves as an audacious move in post-modern comedy. To put it another way, Monty Python (not just this film but the TV show, movies, and albums) were a major influence on the guys who do South Park.

It’s crude, odd fun practically by necessity- you know what you’re getting right when “Dentist on the Job” is just ‘accidentally dropped in before the movie even starts!

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