Each month the Cinelinx staff will write a handful of articles covering a specified film-related topic. These articles will be notified by the Movielinx banner. Movielinx is an exploration and discussion of our personal connections with film. We’ll even submit reviews of the films we discuss so that you can get a better idea of what we’re talking about. April is National Humor Month, and because of this we will honor comedy in film. What makes you laugh? Feel free to add your own comments or reviews of movies that tickle your funny bone.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the second feature length film by the comedy group, and the first that had a traditional story and wasn’t just a bunch of individual sketches. While the group had become immensely popular in Britain because of their television show, the Holy Grail’s more traditional construction was more accessible and it eventually became a world-wide hit. The topic of the film was easily identifiable, and for new audiences that may not have been familiar with the television show, it allowed them to grasp the satire. For fans of the television show, the unique comedy they were familiar with transitioned well to the big screen/big story format.
For these reasons, and many others, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was well received by audiences and critics alike. Today it has a huge cult following and is widely considered one of the funniest films ever made. Join us as we count down the 10 funniest moments of this great comedy. Clips of these films have been provided for your viewing pleasure, and we’ve provided brief descriptions to help describe why each moment is so hilarious. Be careful though, if you’ve never seen the film watching these clips could lead to some spoilers! Let’s start the countdown….
10. The Opening Credits
Right out of the gate, The Holy Grail sets the stage for what is about to go down. The opening credits start out on a more traditional and serious note, seemingly fitting for a drama/adventure film taking place in the middle ages. As the names flash on screen though, it becomes apparent that something isn’t right. The ridiculousness slowly builds one frame at a time, almost as if the film makers wanted to sneak up on unsuspecting viewers. Those that are not acclimated to the comedy group’s unique type of humor are abruptly introduced, preparing you for what is about to come but also not giving away too much.
9. She’s a Witch!
A common theme in this film is taking a well-known aspect of medieval culture and satirizing it for amusement. That is the case with this bit, which makes fun of the witch-hunting phenomenon. To start with, the writers make the common people really stupid. Then they make their leader, Sir Bedemir, not much smarter. The result is, as you might expect (two stupids don’t cancel each other out) but that’s not the point. The comedy stems from the way that they try and justify their stupid ideas with even stupider ones. It is a fantastic example of situational comedy too.
8. The Tale of Sir Lancelot
Here, the writers are able to contrast from what the audience is expecting in order to make the scene funny. In doing so, it makes fun of the traditional “knight in shining armor” routine we’ve seen countless times before while also doing it in a way that only Monty Python could. There are elements of all types of humor in this one scene (slapstick, farcical, ironic, and even mordant), and they are all handled very well.
7. I’m Not Dead Yet
One of the things that make The Holy Grail interesting is the way the film is structured. It has a common story that carries the characters through, but it also has a few clips on the side that illustrate themes or topics that aren’t directly related to the main story or characters. These moments, including this one, pay tribute to the segmented sketch comedy tradition of the Monty Python television show, but also add some depth to the setting in this feature film. The comedy group is well known for their bits that are also social commentary, and this is one of them. It makes fun of the deplorable living conditions of the middle ages while also giving the audience an interesting perspective on mortality.
6. Knights of the Round Table
Probably one of the most popular bits of this film, The Knights of the Round Table was inspiration for the Broadway musical version of this film, Spamalot. As one of the only real musical parts of the film, it is a lighthearted and rather goofy interlude that none of the main characters are ever really involved in. This is good because the reference to these silly Knights of the Round Table allows the film to maintain its somewhat dark tone while the sequence doesn’t need to hold anything back in order to make you laugh.
5. French Taunting / The Trojan Rabbit
This is one of the rare moments in the film that resorts to juvenile humor (which, is in sharp contrast to most comedies these days). Still, it is performed in a sophisticated way. Here we have grown men, who are supposed to be noble in their cause, having an argument using childish name-calling. The man on top of the wall clearly has an advantageous position, yet Arthur continues to threaten him. The fact that the man on the top is French also adds some comedic quality to the bit, as we enjoy laughing at his outrageous accent and caricatures. The TrojanRabbit bit is a fitting end to the scene, another situation where the Monty Python crew play off of well-known historical events to get a few more laughs.
4. Killer Bunny / Holy Hand Grenade
The premise is simple; make something cute into something very not cute. It’s juxtaposition comedy. Throw in an unrealistic amount of blood, guts, and chaos, and you have one of the most memorable scenes in the entire film. This sequence also uses some very funny dialogue (“Run away!”). The Holy Hand grenade sequence is well led up to, and it is always funny when the crew makes something complicated out of something simple for effect.
3. Bridge of Death
As one of the last challenges that Sir Arthur and his men have to face, the Bridge of Death is a formidable foe. At least, that’s what the film makers wanted you to believe. By playing off of preconceived notions again, the film will make you laugh because what you expect to happen doesn’t. This is a great example of using repetition and juxtaposition together. This is another great scene that showcases the Monty Python’s ability to make simple comedy hilarious.
2. Migrating Coconuts?
The film’s low budget made it impossible for the film makers to afford horses for their actors. The solution to this problem would not surprise anyone who was familiar with Monty Python. Instead of riding stallions on their quest for the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his men just pretended to. Their servants bang two coconut halves together as a stock sound of horses galloping from the BBC is dubbed in. The writers acknowledge this is absolutely ridiculous and address such ridiculousness with the very opening sketch of the film. By making fun of the shortcomings of the film, the film makers brilliantly acknowledge their limitations, and as a result they don’t detract from the quality of the film. Instead, they make it better.
1. The Black Knight
The Black Knight scene is one of the best slapstick moments in all of the history of film. It is a physical comedy bit that relies to some extent on gross-out humor, but more importantly relies on the surrealist wit that Monty Python is best known for. It plays tribute to the witty slapstick of the genre’s founding fathers like Charlie Chapman and the Three Stooges but adds a new twist unique to the British perspective. Beyond the slapstick aspect of the confrontation is the commentary it makes about the medieval social scene (aka chivalry). Both men remain steadfast and devoted to their cause despite loss of limbs. The fact that they are fighting over something stupid makes it even more outrageous. Most importantly though, the simplicity of the scene makes it memorable. This, if anything is what makes the Monty Python group’s humor so timeless. There are no complicated build-ups, no elaborate timing is needed, it doesn’t rely on realism to convey its message, and it is easily applicable (and would be just as effective) in another setting.