Coconuts for horses. Limbless warriors. Tim the Enchanter. Witch-identification lessons. Castle Anthrax. A killer rabbit. A Trojan rabbit. Mud-eating socialists. A cartoon God. The Holy Hand Grenade. Llamas as co-directors. A hopeless three-headed knight. Flying cows. Piss-taking minstrels. Police raids. Betty Marsden. Zoot the nymphomaniac virgin. Damsels with a penchant for spanking. A man called Dennis. Swamps. Rude Frenchmen. A Prince who thinks he’s a Princess. The Gorge of Eternal Peril. Shrubberies. Rockeries. African Swallows . . . and Grails.
There’s something about feature films that brings out the best in the Pythons. The occasional indulgences of the TV series are replaced by a more focused approach which wrings every conceivable joke out of a given subject.
While Holy Grail falls short of Life Of Brian‘s comic masterpiece status, it has more than enough killer lines, sight gags and inspired absurdity to qualify as an absolute laff-riot.
The Python ensemble was split nearly evenly between alumni of Oxford and Cambridge, with backgrounds in history or literature – with the exception of Chapman who was a certified medical doctor.
Consequently, the most absurd take on the mediaeval genre may also be one of the most authentic ever produced.
Mediaeval England was a shit-soaked cesspool whose brutal codes of romanticised gallantry were in desperate need of a takedown. Here, Python reclaim their own history from Hollywood by defiling its mystique in a grotesque, unpleasant and accurate fashion.
Like the Arthurian legend itself, the movie is episodic, which provides a fantastic vehicle for sketch comedians to move into feature films.
The premise is simple: It is a satire on the Arthurian legend where King Arthur bands together the knights of the round table to embark on a quest to seek the holy grail. We are therefore introduced to a range of unlikely looking knights who encounter various obstacles on their quest.
Sir Lancelot the Brave (Cleese) mistakes a fey and reluctant groom for a damsel in distress, thereby turning the wedding party of a politically-motivated arranged marriage into a bloodbath.
Sir Robin the-Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot (Idle) is regaled constantly by his minstrels with songs about his lack of courage – “Brave Sir Robin who ran away, he ran away . . .”
The science-minded Sir Bedevere (Jones) illustrates the logic of witch burning (“if she weighs the same as a duck she’s made of wood – and therefore . . . a witch!”), while Sir Galahad the Pure (Palin) confronts 160 beautiful young women ‘all between the ages of 17 and 22’ at Castle Anthrax who are starving for male attention and insisting on spankings and oral sex . . .
The arrest of Cleese’s Lancelot by interlopers from 1974 law-enforcing and a return from the French taunters, using insults as the ultimate weapon, more or less rounds things off.
The final battle is quickly curtailed by the arrival of modern policemen, stopping the historical goings-on, arresting our hapless heroes, blocking the film cameras to avoid the public gaze and thus finishing the film with no fanfare.
“I don’t wanna talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food-trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”
Elvis Presley was a big Monty Python fan. His favourite film was The Holy Grail, which was in his VCR when he died.
The Black Knight
Tim the Enchanter