The artistic and timeless masterpiece that is Monty Python and the Holy Grail was first released in 1975. It was directed by Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, some of the best comedy writers of the 20th Century. It chronicles the quest of King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his knights to seek the Holy Grail. Along the way, Sir Lancelot (John Cleese), Sir Galahad (Michael Palin), and Sir Robin (Eric Idle) each encounter problems unique to their weaknesses, while Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones) counsels Arthur on his own quest. With a budget of only 229,575 British pounds, the movie still succeeded in grossing over 5 million dollars in the U.S. box office.
The story opens with King Arthur and Patsy, his servant, approaching a large castle. Arthur requests counsel with their lord, but the guards are distracted by the coconuts that Patsy wields and enter a philosophical tirade. This scene also introduces the ongoing joke about swallows and coconuts, which are referenced to throughout the movie. Humor similar to this is used throughout the movie, and although it is subtle, it adds more character to the filming and directing of the movie. King Arthur, unamused, continues his quest.
The scene switches to a small village, where bodies infected with the plague are being collected and burned. Arthur and Patsy pass through the village quickly without stopping, but some humorous exchanges are had between the peasants who watch. While travelling, Arthur encounters more peasants and enquires about what Lord lives in the castle nearby. The peasant replies that no one lives in the castle, and that they govern themselves in a communal society. The peasant then goes on a political rant about class warfare, using modern terminology and quoting the works of Marx. Arthur responds by kicking the peasant, and he is forced to leave. Arthur continues his search while the peasant continues to rant.
While venturing through the nearby forest, Arthur and Patsy encounter the Green Knight and the Black Knight fighting. After a slow and clumsy battle, the Black Knight is victorious. Arthur requests that the Black Knight join their party, but he does not respond. Arthur, once again disappointed, begins to cross his path. The Black Knight refuses to let him pass, and they enter a duel. Arthur defeats the Black Knight with ease, cutting off a limb each time the knight continues to fight until the Black Knight is reduced to a torso and head on the forest floor. The Black Knight continues to curse Arthur as he walks continues on.
The Black Knight scene is one that defines the film. Not only is it filled with slapstick humor, but it also mocks the legends of King Arthur and chivalry. For example, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight is invincible, surviving his own beheading. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Black Knight kills the Green Knight relatively easily, while the Black Knight himself is invincible. In addition, it is the first scene in the film that has violence, and it introduces the humorous nature of the battles throughout the movie, each poking fun at the knights cowardly acts.
These first few scenes of the movie set the stage for the rest of the hilarious encounters: the rowdy French, the three-headed giant, the Rabbit of Caerbannog, and other foul beasts. Arthur and his knights finally reach the holy grail, only to discover that the French they had encountered at the beginning of their quest had it the whole time. As the knights rally and prepare to charge on the castle, the full might of the British Police stops them in their tracks, and the grail is never retrieved.
Surprisingly, the movie has a solid plot, despite being humorous and satirical in nature. Despite each actor having multiple roles they were excellent in every scene and really brought the physical humor of some scenes to life. Furthermore, both directors actually played roles in the movie, which gives some of the scenes a unique feeling of both a professionally-orchestrated, story-driven narrative and something similar to the Blair Witch Project. A good example of this is when the knights battle the Rabbit of Caerbannog. Perhaps the most impressive part of the movie, however, was the location. The movie is mostly filmed on rolling hills in Scotland, utilizing models and angles to make different settings. Almost every scene is filmed outside and in view of the lush vegetation local to the British Isles.
Overall, the movie utilizes the morbid Dark Ages, Arthurian legend, British culture, and humorous story-telling to stitch together a movie. It not only fills its audience with laughter, but shows that even the darkest of times can still be filled with joy. The imagination of the writers and directors really drove the movie forward, and created a unique experience. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a classic movie that excels at entertaining its audience with its unique blend of history and humor.