Monty Python and the Holy Grail: My First Time

My name is Jordan and I had never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Before you all ask, no I wasn’t abused or neglected as a child, and yes I went outside quite a bit as a kid. I did not live under a rock and no my family did own a TV, a pretty good one in fact. To be honest, I have no idea what happened. I am sure I had the opportunity to watch it; God knows I had heard enough about it over the years, but it never happened. Which I guess is a good thing since now that I have seen it I can write about it here. I don’t want to piss anyone off here but I thought the film was a mediocre comedy.

untitled-2I say, “piss” because, in the words of the British themselves, I feel like everyone who gushed over this film as “The best comedy ever created” was either piss drunk or pissing around trying to take me for a laugh. The film was one of the most widely inconsistent comedies I have ever seen. Some of the skits were uproariously funny while others played like a drunk and drug addled drama troupe’s poor exercise at improv. The best moments had me snorting out in laughter while the lows had me wringing my sweating palms in the awkward silence between the movie and my girlfriend and I. After an ending that did more to confuse than clarify I hopped on Google to educate myself before starting my review. What I found was actually pretty in line with my experience. Most of the overwhelmingly positive reviews often were forced to cite how the film had more than a few dropped jokes.  To which most of them surmised that the highs far outweighed the lows, but I am unconvinced.

Impressing Impressions


If I could reach out and pick a phrase to describe Monty Python and the Holy Grail I would call it “an experience” rather than a film. Never before have I been bombarded by so many contrasting and conflicting feelings. On one hand the film was so smart at times and had a wit that could strike blood. I loved the over the top satire and parody and for the first 30 minutes of the film my attention was glued to the screen. I felt that each skit did a really good job of simultaneously capturing the feel and attitude of the time period (932 A.D.) while criticizing it in fun and interesting ways. The scene in which King Arthur talks/argues with the peasant man that he calls an old woman was brilliant. The entire skit was not only legitimately funny but it was deep. Everything from the physical appearance of the characters to the dialogue and ideological back and forth was all playing at the same punch line.  I was literally laughing out loud when the peasant man began to school the king on governing systems and divine right.  It was brilliant, it was over the top, it was absurd, and above all it was fun and enlightening. Which is what any good satire should be doing.


A Skipped Beat


On the other hand there were times when the movie’s pointed humor missed the target by a large, gaping, margin. The Knights who say “Ni,” were a particular low point. The skit itself revolves around the Knights of “Ni” blocking Arthur’s group from passing through their wood by yelling “Ni!” at them.  This frightens the merry band to such an extreme degree that they are forced to either fulfill the Knights’ wishes or perish forever in the wood. Sir Bedivere has a bunch of trouble saying “Ni!” out loud when put on the spot and they are forced to go on a quest for “shrubbery” before they are allowed to continue on through the forest. Now before I embarrassed myself too much I did go online and look up what these Knights were actually parodying. According to a quick Wikipedia slog the skit is meant to be a jab at how hard it is to pronounce Middle English because of the Great Vowel shift.  With that in mind the whole joke makes a lot more sense and is certainly a lot smarter than it first came off as. But the issue isn’t really with the content, it’s with the delivery. The skit simply wasn’t funny. It was longer than it needed to be, way too silly for its own good, and it in no way explained itself or alluded to its meaning. Without going online I would have had no way of knowing what it was satirizing or why and that’s a problem. Even with a degree in English and having taken several classes focused on that area of history, I had zero clue what was going on with the knight. Much less my girlfriend who literally sat blank faced through the entire thing. It simply wasn’t as entertaining as what had come before it. And that wasn’t the only offense. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is riddled with obscure jokes and references that are either troubled by their sheer absurdity or fall flat in delivery. Skits like the sorcerer named Tim started out really funny but often relied upon a single joke or gag, a gimmick that quickly got old and tiresome. The movie was simply inconsistent.


Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the most creative films I have ever seen. It takes risks not only in terms of comedy but also presentation, editing, and plotting. The film routinely breaks the fourth wall and there is an entire storyline that takes place in the modern day real world as police investigate our merry band of travelers. An idea that never really goes anywhere as the characters are given very little screen time and identity. Really they are used once or twice for a few spread out laughs and then fade into the background until the film’s awkward ending. In between scenes there are some insanely creative cartoon intermissions that take place in the space between old English titles and names used as headers for the skits. I mean, if you enjoy a movie that takes risks than this film delivers in spades. The problem is not that any one of these things is bad or poorly done it’s that they are all mashed together in the same film and setting. Some of these experiments are pulled off in ways that had me laughing in uncontrolled mirth and other times I was wondering how certain sequences even made it into the film. So while I was never bored watching Monty Python, it was a very uneven viewing experience. For every joke that put the room in stitches there was one that was met with crickets. And that’s a damn shame because as much as I applaud its willingness to take risks, I was let down by how often they failed in the process.

Monty And Friends

Which is to take nothing away from the Monty Python “experience.” I really enjoyed the film and would absolutely recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in watching a piece of comedic film history. What I wouldn’t do is hype it up like is has been on the Internet and in reviews. Whoever is going into this movie with expectations set by the circle jerk online is going to be disappointed. It is not a perfect film, it isn’t even a very good film in my opinion, but it’s an important one. While it lacks the overall seamless quality of other comedic greats like Blazing Saddles, Caddyshack, or Airplane! it pushes boundaries and is fearless in the face of experimentation and risk. And it is because of this that it has gone down in history as one of the most important comedies ever made. A stat that I might actually agree with.


Jordan Feil

A writer, a whiskey drinker, a lover of words and games.

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