MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) – See it in spite of its rave reviews

(As a lead-up to Monty Python’s final concert performance on July 20, each day prior to that, I will post a review of a Monty Python movie. Today, the Holy Grail of them all.)

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Eddie Murphy once did a great routine about how some of his fans mangled his best jokes in their re-tellings. Monty Python and the Holy Grail has the same effect on people. When you read reviews of this movie, people tend to not critique the movie so much as re-quote its punchlines, as though they hope the movie’s wit will rub off on them.

Suffice to say that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the great sacred-cow killers of all time (literally, in one of the movie’s gags), on a level with The Marx Brothers’ classic Duck Soup. And when Pythoner Terry Gilliam (at least I think it’s him) plays soldiers’ heads as a xylophone in exactly the same manner as Harpo Marx did in Duck Soup, you realize that the torch has been passed from one comedic generation to another.

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One wouldn’t have thought that the King Arthur legend was ripe for spoofing, but this movie gets the job done admirably. The movie begins with credits that can’t even agree with themselves, so you know the movie’s sense of history is going to be screwed up. Sure enough, it presents King Arthur as a man who can’t command a modicum of respect from even the lowliest peasant (who, in one scene, argues with Arthur about the virtues of socialism).

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Plot? We don’t need no stinkin’ plot! The movie is mostly an excuse for hilarious wordplay, outrageous Marx Bros.-like musical numbers, Terry Gilliam’s inspired animation, and Python’s pointed pointlessness (what a cop-out ending!). It also has an outrageous amount of gore for a comedy, which turns out to be part of its point: Macho knights aren’t quite so romantic when they’re hacking apart real flesh and blood.

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Satire is now a cottage industry in movie comedies, and the movie year of 1975 probably had a lot to do with it: that was the year of Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein, Woody Allen’s Love and Death, and this Monty Python entry. But at least satirists aimed high then. Nowadays, the pedestrian antics of a spoof like Scary Movie would themselves be ripe for Python picking.

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