45 years after its premiere, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is billed as one of the most absurdly funny sketch comedies ever created.
Of all the film genres, comedy ages arguably the worst, as the definition of what is funny can change quite dramatically. But every now and then a timeless classic like the 1975s Monty Python and the Holy Grail arrives on the big screen, with humor as pleasant as when it was released.
The Monty Python comedy troupe consisted of a group of six young British comedians, who began producing the BBC program Monthy Python’s flying circus. Their surreal humor and penchant for breaking narrative rules to push the medium have made them icons of television and comedy. Gradually, their growing popularity opened up opportunities in cinema, leading to the Holy Grail.
Based on the classic Arthurian legend, the film follows King Arthur and his knights on a quest to find the Holy Grail. Along the way, they have a number of iconic sketch-style encounters, ranging from the Dark Knight to Knights who say “Ni!” at the Bridge of Death. While most of the film appears to be set in medieval times, a subplot involving modern British police searching for Arthur is also included.
One particular scene involves King Arthur and Patsy running into two particularly witty and knowledgeable castle guards, who question everything from the suitability of the British climate for coconuts to the flight dynamics of swallows. Another presents a repressed citizen who, despite shoveling mud for a living, turns out to be an expert on class political systems and the violence inherent in the system.
Holy Grail had a shoestring budget, funded mostly by small investments from friends of the band including Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, among others. As such, the production couldn’t even afford to film a finale or hire horses for the Knights to ride. However, true to the comedic genius they were known for, the cast turned those weaknesses into strengths. Bypassing the lack of horses, the actors mimed riding the animals, while their squires knocked two coconut shells, thus imitating the sound of a trot. Instead of setting up an epic but costly final battle, the film simply ends with the arrest of Arthur and Lancelot by the police stalking them, with a very comedic effect.
Part of what allows the narrative to get away with comedic choices as ridiculous as defeating a killer rabbit with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is that the film fully embraces its absurd style. Since even the performers don’t take themselves too seriously or take the material too seriously, this makes it easier for the audience to come to terms with sometimes illogical events. This gives the script the opportunity to experiment outside the normal limits of logic or behavior to make sharp commentaries on human nature and many medieval tropes, such as mysterious knights that must be fought on journeys or delicate trolls guarding bridges.
The absurd style also makes the comedy more endearing and timeless. There is a playful nature to each of the skits that make up the story, making it one of the most authentic depictions of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with friends. The actors all exude an infectious energy, likely the result of working with their longtime friends, who all have similar comedic sensibilities. There was also apparently a lack of studio micro-management. As a result, the film’s comedy, both verbal and physical, feels natural and authentic, making it easier to enjoy regardless of when it’s watched.
Of course, not everything is Holy Grail has aged gracefully. There are questionable scenes involving Prince Herbert, where his desire to sing is aimed at demeaning his masculinity. Monty Python also has a history with portraying women in problematic ways, and part of that is seen with the women of Castle Anthrax. Although these segments remain inextricable parts of Holy Grail, they are rather limited and not particularly petty – more modern films such as Ace Ventura: Animal detective and Love, in fact are certainly much more controversial.
Yet the film continues to be a masterpiece of sketch comedy and deserves to be seen, both by first-time viewers and those who have not been back for a while. Holy GrailThe current availability of on Netflix makes it an even more must-have for anyone in need of a laugh.
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