Monty Python and the Holy Grail Directed by Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones Classification: AA Rating: ***½
Another great marketing opportunity was missed when the rerelease of 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail, featuring a new print, stereo sound and 23 seconds of additional footage, wasn't retitled Monty Python and the Holy Grail Redux.
Look at the parallels with Apocalypse Now: Here's another gory film about a bunch of guys on an absurd quest. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is also a cultural milestone. And funnier than a bald, fat Marlon Brando with warpaint on.
Critic Kevin Thomas, writing recently in the L.A. Times, says the Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie, shot in 1974 and released a year later, may have reflected the absurdity of the Vietnam War. Everything back then did.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which specifically parodies all medieval movies by roughly following the perils of King Arthur and his knights recast in Pythonland, has been so quoted and requoted that the scenes and words feel tattooed onto the psychic membrane.
For fans of the dubious Python/Nam theory, there's the indelible dismemberment scene, with John Cleese as the hopping mad black knight, spurting blood from the remnants of his limbs. There are very silly medieval-sounding arguments, thanks to Sir Bedevere The Wise (Terry Jones). There are the ultra-irritating knights of Ni, the not-quite-so-brave Sir Robin (Eric Idle), the dyslexic King Arthur (Graham Chapman), who can't keep his threes and fives straight. There are African versus European swallows, rabbits both gigantic and small, and the excessively rude Frenchman (John Cleese) who farts in our general direction.
All that being said, the brave assault on Swamp Castle by Launcelot (John Cleese) to rescue the effeminate prince seems a little tiresome. And I can't say I noticed anything new in the 23 additional seconds involving the rescue of Sir Galahad (Michael Palin) from "almost certain temptation" of "eight-score blondes and brunettes, aged 16 to 19½" who reside in Castle Anthrax.
More than a quarter-century down the road, Monty Python seems more cleverly amusing than deeply funny, in the way Charlie Chaplin or Groucho Marx can still arouse astonishment and delight after the 10th viewing. Much of the Python experience now seems the comic equivalent of a series of vintage pop songs, which you nod along to and mouth the words.
Occasionally, when the language gets bubbly enough, the familiarity evaporates. Take the Marxist peasant's thesaurus-straining iterations on the absurdity of the myth of King Arthur deriving his kingship from the Lady in the Lake handing him the sword Excalibur: We go from "strange women in ponds distributing swords," to some "farcical aquatic ceremony," to the "watery tart" who "threw a sword at you," to a "moistened bint" who "lobbed a scimitar." To whoever coined the phrase, "moistened bint," I doff my helmet. Working "lobbed" and "scimitar" into that same sentence hovers near the empyrean of genius. Monty Python and the Holy Grail opens today at the Paramount and Eglinton Theatres in Toronto.