Movie Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Seen: On dvd on my parents’ tv, from my personal collection.

Last month I saw a local production of Spamalot, which I saw when it premiered on Broadway but didn’t actually remember all that well, so it was fun to revisit. Like most red-blooded American teens, I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail pretty regularly between 7th grade and 11th grade. Because it’s funny, dammit. But I realized I hadn’t watched it since at least 2006 and decided to revisit it when I was home for Thanksgiving. The first full-length feature from zany British comedy troupe Monty Python, the film is a wacky, irreverent take on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur (Graham Chapman) travels around Britain looking for men to join him in his quest for the holy grail, and along the way comes across various weirdos and militants. Ultimately the boring Bedevere (Terry Jones), the cowardly Robin (Eric Idle), the bloodthirsty Lancelot (John Cleese), and the dashing Galahad (Michael Palin) all the hunt. They all have various non sequitur adventures.

With heavy gobs of irreverence and an almost overwhelming amount of silliness, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the kind of comedy that improves upon multiple viewings, but eventually hits a wall after too many watches. Even seeing it now for the first time in so long, I found myself remembering every line, anticipating every joke, and the film does lose something from over-familiarity. I still think it’s funny, mostly because it’s so ridiculous you have to smile, but it doesn’t elicit that gut-busting laugh it did when I was younger. I still giggle at the minstrel’s uncomplimentary song for Sir Robin, and the farcical witch trial, and Sir Lancelot’s homicidal raid on Swamp Castle. But honestly, I’m no longer particularly amused by the amputation of the Black Knight, or the ludicrous insults of the French, or The Knights Who Say Ni, because I’ve seen those jokes repeated ad nauseum (and have myself done it) for so long. I don’t need to hear the debate about how much weight a swallow could carry again.

It’s not that I don’t have a ton of affection for this movie, because I totally still do. I still chuckle quietly when I think of certain scenes, and if the occasion arises I will make reference to it. It is a funny, bizarre, and enormously silly movie. It wears its low budget on its sleeve and cares little for any clear narrative or sensible pacing. It’s mostly just a bunch of British dudes making goofy faces and putting on high-pitched voices and prancing about fields wearing bogus medieval outfits. It’s exactly the kind of weird, nonsensical humor that appeals to me but for whatever reason it hasn’t shown the longevity of other old favorites (classic Mel Brooks, for example). If I hadn’t watched it hundreds of times as a teenager I’d probably be more entertained by it now, but it just fell a bit flat.



Pair This Movie With: It’s been quite a while since I watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus so a few episodes of that would be a nice follow-up. Or, I don’t know, another Arthurian movie?

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