For his second film of the summer, Jake tried to beat the attendance record for Interstellar (though I don’t believe he got it) by pandering to the people. Naturally, he doesn’t have to, because Cinema 1544 is a dictatorship, a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the graduate students…oh, there I go bringing class into it again! At any rate, Jake chose to present Monty Python and the Holy Grail, directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, and not at all directed by any of the other Python crew. Why Gilliam and Jones? Well, the Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by Divine Providence that Terry was to direct the film. Well, one of the Terrys, anyway. Or both of them.
As anybody who went to college knows, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the funniest movies of all time. However, for all the spot-on humor, its screenplay relies upon some very age-worn techniques. Let’s break it down scene by scene, as if it weren’t funny (so that means that we’ll skip over the møøse and the epileptiform flashing in the credits).
The film begins with King Arthur and his trusty servant Patsy, who being on a quest in search of knights to join the Round Table in Camelot, arrive alone at foggy castle. They would be interested in speaking to the castle lord about joining the Round Table, but the castle guards are so distracted by a triviality regarding birdflight that Arthur and Patsy depart. It would seem that Arthur is not terribly good at attracting followers, seeing as he’s been about it for a year, and he’s still only got Patsy, and not a bit of resolution to talk to anybody’s supervisor.
The next scene follows some unnamed characters as a man drags a cart of dead peasants through a muddy and plague-stricken town. We never see them again.
Arthur and Patsy next ask some filth-gathering peasants about the resident of another castle and once again get diverted, in this case by peasants who are far more interested in civics than actually helping him out. Arthur gives up again.
Arthur and Patsy next come upon a battle in the forest, where a knight dressed all in black mortally defeats another knight. Arthur invites him to join his court in Camelot, but the black knight, who has no further motivation than to prevent even his own king from crossing a tiny bridge. For his efforts, the black knight loses all four of his limbs – and thus we establish that Arthur is a valiant warrior. But still downright terrible at recruiting.
Next we meet Sir Bedevere, a knight of learning and respected by his local villagers, who bring a suspected witch to him, asking for a good old-fashioned burning at the stake. He attempts to Socratically teach his villagers how to identify a witch, but only onlooker Arthur is capable of following his learning. Once the witch is exposed, Arthur invites Sir Bedevere to join him at Camelot – and he has his very first success! Sirs Lancelot, Galahad, and Robin are then allegedly recruited (via narration) and a name-cast of five knights, each with a squire, crusade across the land.
They arrive at Camelot only to decide to go somewhere else, as the folks currently in residence at Camelot are too frivolous. Soon enough, a vision of God appears in the sky and gives Arthur and his knights a quest – to seek out the Holy Grail. It’s not entirely clear what they are to do with it once they get it.
Arthur and his Knights arrive at a castle where they are once again denied entry, this time by a legion of disrespectful French guards who taunt them and catapult livestock at them. Clearly Arthur is not deeply respected in his own country, though the argument could be made that the French taunters are foreigners. Perhaps the argument should be made that Arthur has done a very poor job securing his borders. Sir Bedevere comes up with an Iliadical plan (Little Iliadical, specifically), but the plan fails miserably and they are forced to retreat. Arthur decides to split up the group so that they can search more effectively.
Here comes the tragic flaw of the film, when one of Arthur’s knights, later revealed to be Sir Lancelot, murders an unsuspecting historian.
First, we see the tale of brave Sir Robin, who along with his minstrels encounters a large, angry, and fearsome three-headed knight. Despite his alleged bravery, he flees at the first opportunity. Thus ends the tale of Sir Robin.
Next follows the tale of Sir Galahad the Chaste, who happens upon a castle peopled only with 160 scantily clad, young, attractive, and very libidinous women. He is sorely tempted, but rescued from the depths of his peril by Sir Lancelot, presumably returning from his own exploits.
Scene 24 comes next, wherein Arthur and Sir Bedevere meet a cackling old man, who gives them hints as to how to find the grail. It is a short scene, and very much in the spirit of the cliché of the teacher who helps the hero along on their quest.
Next we follow the tale of Arthur and Sir Bedevere, which breaks story convention by not being titled as such. The two knights journey through a forest and encounter the dreadful Knights Who Say “Ni”, who demand that Arthur complete a minor side quest for them.
In another break of convention, the tale of Arthur and Bedevere is interrupted by the tale of Sir Lancelot. Lancelot comes upon a castle in the swamp, where a young prince is being forced to marry against his will in order to enrich his father’s land holdings. Lancelot finds the young prince’s call for aid and bursts into the castle, slaughtering guests with reckless abandon. There is no grail in sight, though this scene does make us a bit uncomfortable about the moral makeup of Sir Lancelot – from the knight who in other adaptations of the story is to be the man who cuckolds King Arthur himself, perhaps this is not surprising.
We then return to Arthur and Bedevere completing their minor side quest only to find that the Knights Who Say “Ni” have morphed into the Knights Who Say “Ekki-ekki-ekki-ekki-PTANG. Zoom-Boing, z’nourrwringmm.” They demand another side quest, but are unintentionally and serendipitously defeated by Arthur’s linguistic peculiarities, and the five travelers are reuknighted.
Following the instructions from the old man in scene 24, after a year of searching that is skipped over in favor of animations, Arthur and his knights find a fireball-throwing enchanter who goes by the name of Tim and who can guide them to a cave they must pass through to gain their way to the Holy Grail.
Unfortunately, the cave is guarded by a fierce creature, which devours several of their party before King Arthur remembers the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, which they employ to defeat the cave’s guardian. They enter and find inscribed on the wall the information that the Holy Grail can be found in the Castle Arrrgh.
Still, before they can reach the Castle Aaargh, Arthur and his knights must cross the Bridge of Death, which in a delicious twist is guarded by none other than the old man from scene 24. Sirs Robin and Galahad are vanquished, but Lancelot, Bedevere, and Arthur cross the bridge, though they are separated.
Arthur and Bedevere arrive at the Castle Aaargh, which somehow is like the first castle guarded by the French Taunters. Besoiled by the Frenchmen’s chamberpot droppings, Arthur and Bedevere retreat to call upon a great army – one which comes out of nowhere – but the entire sortie is stopped by the police, who have caught up to Lancelot in their investigation into the historian’s death and who arrest Arthur and Bedevere as his associates.
So, as I said – funny movie, perhaps one of the most quotable of all time, in fact. But with all of its silly gadding about and empty-questing, with its lack of character development, and its insistence on introducing dei ex machina (the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, the vast army as well as the police, and perhaps even the French Taunters for just a few examples) make for a fairly weak story. Hah. Rubbish.