I was seven years old the first time I watched “Monty Python,” and that moment when Graham Chapman “galloped” through the English fog was the moment comedy would never be the same. My uncle and I would recite entire scenes from the movie that I believe had the largest impact on my life. We still do, sometimes.
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is the second – but technically first “proper” — film from the British comedy group Monty Python. Unlike most comedy groups which consist of different actors who specialized in only one character with one being “the straight man,” the Pythons were flexible.
Graham Chapman usually took on the straight man, but he was also able to play as the many wacky characters. John Cleese would usually be the stuffy upper-class elitist that has become a stereotype of the Englishman, but his performance as Sir Lancelot proved that he could also be a bit naïve with his arrogance. Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin were the chameleons. They would fill in for any other role that was available but would nevertheless thrive. Terry Gilliam, was the brains of the group directing (alongside Jones) all of the Python movies.
Together, these six men created a surreal rendition of King Arthur’s universe that included politically minded peasants and knights who would say “ni!” The little details of the world were all treats. Take for example the old woman who is always in the background hitting a cat against a wall. Or the chanting monks who hit their heads against a board. These details are so random that they’re hilarious. They’re only in there to illustrate the era of Medieval England.
Of course it’s not accurate, “The Holy Grail” isn’t supposed to be accurate. It’s an homage/satire to the epics that were common during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Overblown, extravagant films with thousands of extras and lavish costumes. But there’s also a hint of Orson Welles’ “Chimes at Midnight” in the cinematography. From vast shots of an army to the smaller shots on a single face within a crowd, it makes good use of space.
“The Holy Grail” is a classic because of how quotable it is. The comedy is so out there that it’s impossible for someone to not get it. Why are they using coconuts? That’s not the real question. The question is how the coconuts ended up in a temperate zone when they are tropical. How do you know she’s a witch? She turned me into a newt ( but I got better)! I think I have to call my uncle now.