As I started watching this time, I tried counting how many quotes I’ve referenced, or had referenced to me, in actual conversations before. I stopped after I got to 20 in like 6 minutes. This might be the most quotable movie of all time.
That Monty Python and the Holy Grail is made by sketch comedians is self-evident: gags fall squarely in the 3-6 minute cadence, with very thin tissue tying them together. But even though it’s thin, it’s enough: from the subversively meta elements (e.g. a narrator’s death and investigation) to the running gags (e.g. swallows; 3 vs 5 confusion), to characters with sufficiently unique tics to feel at least somewhat defined, Holy Grail feels sufficiently like a continuous thoughtful whole, and not just a bunch of medieval piss takes.
Also, more than I remembered, there’s just enough of a sense that this is a real adventure film. I credit Terry Gilliam for this; according to Dark Knights and Holy Fools, he did most of the visual direction, while Terry Jones did more of the actor direction. The use of sound, from the epic score (mostly not original, but licensed library music from De Wolfe) to splashes of musical stings and foley, adds a dramatic layer, too.
On the other hand, it’s a shame that the movie is kind of morose on the cinematography front. The color scheme is muted grays and browns, lacking any real sense of texture or visual identity. Other than the animations and title cards, the only visually striking moment is the bright red bloodiness of Lancelot’s segment, which is otherwise perhaps the weakest portion of the film.
Regardless its craft otherwise, Holy Grail lives (and occasionally dies) as a joke vehicle. There are so damned many iconic lines and deliveries, piled one after another. The density of gags is staggering. Surely over-familiarity has diminished or even ruined a few of them (does anyone laugh at “knights who say ‘ni'” anymore?), but so many still landed for me: the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and its scripture remains a favorite, as does the crazed mob at the witch’s judgment.
What else needs to be said about Monty Python and the Holy Grail except that it’s nearly a half century old and still one of the funniest and cleverest comedies you can find? I know it’s been quoted to death by people like me, but there’s a good reason why.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Exceptionally Good (7/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.