Recently, I was shocked to learn that none of my friends have ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As someone who grew up watching this movie at least once a month, I couldn’t imagine that there are people who have never seen one of the staples of my childhood. The idea that anyone not knowing about some of the classic bits, like the Knights of Ni or the taunting Frenchmen, when they were such a big part of my childhood is shocking to me.
Thinking back, I couldn’t remember if Monty Python and the Holy Grail was actually good or not since I hadn’t seen it in years. To test it out, I made my friend watch it so I could see their reaction as someone who had never seen it. I was delighted to find that they found it wonderfully bizarre and hilarious despite it being over forty years old. Its 1970’s charm stands up even today, which isn’t true for a lot of old movies, especially comedies.
When I went back to research this movie, I was surprised to find it was rated PG. Considering the general goriness, which is exaggerated to the point of hilarity, and the Castle Anthrax scene especially it seems like this should at least be PG-13, but I guess there were lower rating standards in the 1970s.
As the title suggests, the movie was made by the British comedy group Monty Python. They are also responsible for Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which are also super hilarious, especially Life of Brian.
The movie follows King Arthur, King of the Britons, and the Knights of the Round Table on their quest for the Holy Grail. The gloomy setting of the Middle Ages is juxtaposed by a modern-day– well, 1970’s modern-day– murder investigation, which bleeds together occasionally.
I don’t want to break down the scenes too much because having people give you second-hand retelling of a joke makes that joke considerably less funny. I’d definitely recommend watching the movie if you haven’t seen it so you can see for yourself how cheesy and weird this movie really is.
The humor in The Holy Grail varies wildly. At some points, characters directly address the audience and break the fourth wall. Additionally, some of the humor derives from the way a scene is shot and edited.
It’s hard to pick a favorite joke from this movie because it’s so chock full of great moments. However, if I had to pick my favorite scene, I would probably say it’s the witch trial scene near the beginning of the movie.
Right from the beginning, you can tell this isn’t your average comedy as opening credits begin and the subtitles start. Speaking of which, there should probably be a seizure warning for the flashing, brightly colored intro.
My favorite example of how the way it’s filmed adds to the humor is when Lancelot is charging a castle from far away with dramatic beating drums over it, and then it cuts to the guards looking curiously across the field wearing flower crowns. The scene jumps between the two and the juxtaposition of Lancelot’s overdramatic, righteous march, and the guards’ idle curiosity elevates the hilarity of the entire scene.
Another one of my favorite scenes is the politically knowledgeable peasants. The image of some King looking down at peasants in the dirt and getting flustered with their calm, logical anti-regime debate is for some reason infinitely amusing to me.
Monty Python’s work, especially The Holy Grail, remains in its own unique sphere of comedy that is creative, skillfully made, and genuinely funny. This movie is interesting to me because even though it’s decades old, and I originally watched it as a child with no critical thinking whatsoever, I still like it. Maybe the main reason why I love this movie is purely because of its nostalgic value, but I’d like to think that it’s also because it is actually good, the type of good that still holds up to the standards of 2020.
Putting the comedy part of it aside, the premise of the movie is actually really simple– the protagonist and his group go on a long journey to find the object they desire and face obstacles along the way. Furthermore, the social commentary remains valid after all these years. From ignorant leaders, revolutionary peasants, and cowardly heroes, the messages of the movie, although presented in a bizarre manner, still hits with audiences today.