Sony // 1974 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // September 13th, 1999
And now! At Last! Another film completely different from some of the other films which aren't quite the same as this one is.
The irreverent Monty Python troupe takes on medieval times and the legend of King Arthur in typically zany fashion but in a DVD presentation unworthy of the material.
Like it or love it, there are bound to be very few people who don't have a strong opinion on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you have seen other examples of Monty Python's brand of humor, then you already know whether you are going to like this film. If you have never been exposed to Python humor, then you have been living a very deprived life! No cow, however sacred, is safe from the biting satire and rapier wit of Monty Python, which in addition to being thoroughly British can be obscure, witty, bizarre, disgusting, over the top, or deliciously ironic, and sometimes veering wildly from one to the other all within a single sketch or scene, interspersed with Terry Gilliam's hilariously low-tech animations. Monty Python is a collective comic genius whose alumni are still giving us the occasional comic gem (such as A Fish Called Wanda).
Unlike most movies, here the credits are at the beginning of the movie. They aren't just credits, they're an excuse for Python humor. Once the story begins, we find ourselves in England, circa 932 A.D. King Arthur (Graham Chapman) is attempting to recruit followers for his Roundtable, with mixed success. Arthur must suffer through various taunts from rude castle guards, a political rant from Dennis the Peasant (Michael Palin), and a very silly (and bloody) Black Night. A hilarious scientific exercise in witch detection leads him to his first recruit, the wise Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones). In succession, Arthur is said to recruit Sir Galahad the Pure (Michael Palin), Sir Launcelot the Brave (John Cleese), and Sir Robin (not quite so brave as Sir Launcelot) (Eric Idle). Originally headed to Camelot, a silly song and dance routine convinces Arthur and his group otherwise.
A vision from the clouds convinces Arthur and his knights to quest for the Holy Grail. Their first stop is a castle smack in the middle of England manned by the most comically rude and insulting French soldiers ever seen (led by John Cleese) who claim not to be interested in the quest, as they already have a grail. Needless to say, Arthur demands entry to see this grail, only to have his attack rudely turned back and Sir Bedevere's Trojan rabbit idea go tragically wrong. To explain the historical events, a very wise historian (John Young) pops up and begins to talk, only to be cut down by a mounted knight. While the police investigate this murder, Sir Arthur and his knights decide that they should split up and pursue individual quests.
Sir Robin (who personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill) runs into an odd but dangerous three-headed armored knight, and after some quick thinking eliminates the danger. By running away, of course. Sir Galahad, in dire need of a place of rest and healing, is lured to a castle populated by 160 young, nubile women who are most eager to be, ah, disciplined by the chaste knight. In fear of his purity, Galahad frantically attempts to escape temptation, but when they proclaim that the joy of oral sex is next on the agenda, he starts to waver. Just in time, his colleagues ride to the rescue, pulling him away from temptation over his futile protests.
Meanwhile, Sir Arthur and Sir Bedevere stumble across the fearsome Knights Who Say Ni, who demand a tribute of shrubbery to let them pass. Switching gears again, we meet up with Sir Launcelot. Thinking that he is rescuing a young imprisoned maiden, the brave Sir Launcelot carves a bloody path into a castle and through a large crowd of people. Much to his dismay, he finds that he has rescued an effeminate prince who is set to marry a woman (with huge, ah, tracts of land!) against his wishes. To make matters worse, he's hacked up most of the wedding party. Embarrassed beyond belief, he makes a hasty retreat, leaving the bashful groom behind.
Arthur and Sir Bedevere find a nice shrubbery for the Knights Who Say Ni, but when the demands continue and become even more bizarre, they ignore the silly knights and meet up with their colleagues, continuing onward in a search for a great enchanter named Tim (John Cleese). After some impressive pyrotechnics, Tim guides them to a cave where a grail may be found, guarded by...a rabbit? The little ball of fluff is surprisingly tough, fighting off all attempts to enter the cave until the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is used (according to the Book of Armaments, Chapter 2, Verses 9 to 21). Inside the cave, they find only some runes in a wall and a man eating animated monster, and only the surprise death of the animator saves Arthur and his knights. Ever onward, our heroes reach the Bridge of Death, guarded by a Keeper who requires all to answer three questions or be cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. The hilarious sequence leaves Launcelot, Arthur, and Bedevere to cross the bridge, where they find the castle said to hold the grail, except that it is manned by the same rude French soldiers! Rebuffed once again, Arthur assembles a great horde of soldiers, prepares to attack and is stopped by...the police?!? (Fade to black)
By the time Monty Python and the Holy Grail came into being, the members of the troupe were so comfortable working with each other that the acting here has been polished to a high blinding gloss. Each of them has their individual shtick down pat, knowing the proper use of timing, voice control, physical comedy, and the full arsenal of the comedic actor. I cannot recommend their performances highly enough, and in the spirit of the DVD format, let me simply say that this is reference quality acting.
The story, well, you expect a tightly written, highly coherent feature movie length script from a comedy team that achieved the pinnacle of comedic genius in a gag-a-second sketch comedy show? That's not really the point, of course, as this is one of the few Python movies to actually have a consistent story to it, but it still is an excuse for connecting some of the best Python bits ever to make it to film. From a political riff on governmental theory by Dennis the peasant, armored men doing a song and dance routine about Camelot, rudely taunting French soldiers, Sir Launcelot's heroic deeds going bloodily astray, to the most vicious rabbit you could imagine, this is priceless stuff.
I hope that the problems with the video are with the original source material, and not with yet another rehash of an old transfer. In any case, this is a film that cries out for the sort of frame by frame restoration that made a twenty year old film like Alien look like a newborn. Dirt, scratches, nicks, and blemishes are quite plentiful, as is a fair amount of video noise. Shimmering and ringing rear their ugly heads, and in many scenes I noticed scenery (mostly in the background) blurring and shifting around. The picture is not as crisp and detailed as I would like, and many poorly lit scenes are sadly lacking in shadow detail (while the blacks are solid, at least). You may have to play with your brightness and contrast in order to see the detail in a number of scenes. The color palette is very earthtone oriented, fitting in with the grim medieval setting, but the colors (and flesh tones) that are present are appropriately saturated and pretty.
The audio is a 25-year-old mono track, and it certainly shows its age. Dialogue is clearly understood, but the limitations become evident fairly quickly. High frequencies are decidedly attenuated, and your subwoofer will have almost nothing to do, as the bass is extremely limited.
Originally announced some months ago, Monty Python and the Holy Grain was eventually cancelled only to be re-announced and finally brought to our homes in September 1999. For whatever reason, Columbia TriStar decided not to use the time to good advantage and pushed out a disappointing movie-only disc. On the positive side, this is the first time that I have seen this fine film in widescreen, and it certainly looks better than I have seen in on VHS and broadcast TV. However, given the wealth of extras on the previous Criterion laserdisc, the impending sterling Criterion release of Life of Brian, and the bonuses on the upcoming release of the Monty Python television series, this bare-bones edition sticks out, and much the worse for the comparison.
The sole extras are trailers for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), The City of Lost Children (1995), Homegrown (1998), and Dr. Strangelove (1964), all of varying quality but sadly full frame. Finally, there is a two-page insert with some nice production notes and the preferred Amaray keep case.
I can only pray that someone, like, ah, CRITERION?, gets a license to do a proper special edition.
If you have never seen a Monty Python movie, or are looking for some hilarious off-beat comedy, then you simply MUST rent this disc. Though the disc is reasonably ($25) priced, I can only recommend a purchase if you do not own the Criterion laserdisc, as this is still an improvement over any VHS incarnation.
Though spelt "Monty Python," the Court's verdict on the film is pronounced "not guilty." Columbia TriStar is sentenced to be burnt at the stake for committing such heretical DVD crimes against such a classic comedy.
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Bonus Theatrical Trailers