Tag Archives: EMI Films

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an excellent collection of very funny sketches on a theme. It’s really funny. It’s often exceptionally well performed–acted is a bit of a stretch–and it’s got a wonderful tone. It also lacks narrative momentum, which is kind of extraordinary since it’s about the quest for the Holy Grail. The Pythons sort of drain any epical structure. It’s a fine approach. It leads to some great sketches, but it just doesn’t connect all its pieces.

Did I say “it” enough? We needed to get past some things.

There’s a certain meta thing the film does–from the opening titles and the end credits–but it’s just filler between the sketches. The meta element is conceptually amusing, never funny, while the sketches are always funny without having much conceptual amusement. I think one of the transitory cartoons has more depth in a pun than anything in the film proper.

Unfortunately for Holy Grail, the comedic intensity of the sketches is unsteady. The finale is nowhere near funny enough to finish the film. There’s spectacle to it–extremely well done spectacle, probably directors Jones and Gilliam’s best work in the film–but there’s not the right kind of humor. Is everything before it great? No, especially not some of the stuff in the second half of the film when the quest gets more underway. But the first half is pretty spectacular and there’s still some strong material in the second half, just not as much as in the first. And there are some pacing issues with the sketches.

Holy Grail’s other problem is it’s too well-produced. Terry Bedford’s photography is exceptional, John Hackney’s editing is better. The fine production design is part of the joke–these six jackasses are funnier in a realistic tenth century than they’d be in a stagy one–but the editing almost gets distracting at times. It’s too good.

As far as the aforementioned jackasses go–and Holy Grail is jackass humor more than anything else; the idea being you act like a jackass long enough, eventually it’s funny. And Grail waits. Directors Jones and Gilliam take their sweet time waiting for the pay-off. They even joke about it after a while. Because jackasses make you wait to laugh.

Anyway, Graham Chapman’s a fine King Arthur. He’s the straightest man in the picture. John Cleese’s good. Eric Idle’s good. Terry Jones is kind of annoying. Michael Palin’s great, of course. Terry Gilliam’s actually not annoying. I always assume I’ll find him annoying but I don’t.

Connie Booth’s got a nice part in one of the sketches.

Holy Grail is a funny effort. It’s not quite successful–if only because it’s disinterested in trying to be anything but funny, even if it’s smart funny. But not always. Smart, I mean. It’s always funny. Even when it’s annoying.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones; written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Gilliam, Jones, and Michael Palin; director of photography, Terry Bedford; edited by John Hackney; production designer, Roy Forge Smith; produced by Mark Forstater and Michael White; released by EMI Films.

Starring Graham Chapman (King Arthur), John Cleese (Sir Lancelot the Brave), Eric Idle (Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir Launcelot), Terry Gilliam (Patsy), Terry Jones (Sir Bedevere), Michael Palin (Sir Galahad the Pure), and Connie Booth (The Witch).


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Warlords of Atlantis (1978, Kevin Connor)

If you ever want to see John Ratzenberger fight a giant octopus, Warlords of Atlantis has something to offer you. Actually, it’s hard to completely dislike a film with a giant octopus, especially one attacking a ship. It’s so silly, it can’t help but amuse. I do have to wonder, since there was a giant octopus in the poster for The Land That Time Forgot (Connor’s first film with Doug McClure–Warlords is the last), if the octopus wasn’t a recycled idea. Kind of like Ed Wood’s giant octopus….

Warlords of Atlantis is a bad film, but again, so dumb it’s not particularly offensive. It’s too long–there’s a big difference in a Kevin Connor film between eighty-nine minutes and ninety-six. With Warlords’ ninety-six, he manages to add an additional set piece the film doesn’t need. It’s a mish-mash of a film anyway, borrowing from each of the previous McClure and Connor (and producer John Dark) collaborations. A ship here, a submarine here, a cavernous city here. There’s too many characters for the film to sustain–at least seven the audience is expected to recognize by name–and it’s not interesting. Warlords’ Atlantis, populated by a bunch of soon-to-be-Nazis, isn’t particularly interesting. Discovering a lost world only works if there’s some discovery going on, not a huge population of bad guys to fight.

The special effects–though some of the miniature work is good–are pretty bad. I do like how they have a real monster hand coming up in front of a rear screen projection, an idea I imagine they lifted from John Guillermin’s King Kong. There are a lot of matte paints and cinematographer Alan Hume is BAD at matte paintings. He shot Return of the Jedi, which had a number of awful matte painting shots too, so it’s not a budgetary thing. He just doesn’t do it well. There’s also the bad music… the film just doesn’t work. It’s too clean (on nice film stock) and the story is too silly. While Doug McClure’s in decent leading man form–I realized, watching the film, Doug McClure is the vanilla soft serve of actors–his character is empty. You’re not watching a late nineteenth century American inventor, you’re watching Doug McClure. The film doesn’t even try to convince the viewer otherwise. McClure’s sidekick, Peter Gilmore, is bad. The Atlantians are bad (and have silly hair and outfits). It’s got to be bad if the scantily clad human slave-girl (played by Lea Brodie) gives one of the film’s better performances.

There are also frequent attempts at humor throughout. They fail.

Since Connor’s not a bad director (though he’s got to be the most wildly inconsistent), there are a handful of nice shots. While Warlords is bad, the pacing is what does it in. At the very least, monster movies with bad special effects and bad acting have to move.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; written by Brian Hayles; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Bill Blunden; music by Michael Vickers; produced by John Dark; released by EMI Films.

Starring Doug McClure (Greg Collinson), Peter Gilmore (Charles Aitken), Shane Rimmer (Captain Daniels), Lea Brodie (Delphine), Michael Gothard (Atmir), Hal Galili (Grogan), John Ratzenberger (Fenn), Derry Power (Jacko), Donald Bisset (Professor Aitken), Ashley Knight (Sandy), Robert Brown (Briggs), Cyd Charisse (Atsil) and Daniel Massey (Atraxon).