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[whitespace] 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'
Knight Makes Right: Graham Chapman (left) and Terry Gilliam go grail hunting.

Goblet Gobbers

'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' rereleased with seven new minutes in there somewhere

By Richard von Busack

AND WHERE are those seven minutes? Having seen this 1976 film about 500 times, I ought to be more certain. The soft-core porn ordeal of Sir Galahad the Chaste (Michael Palin) at the Castle Anthrax seems now to include an aside to the camera in which Zoot (Carol Cleveland), lady of the manor, tells the audience that the following scene was almost cut: the producers weren't interested in footage of the girls of the castle--"all between 16 and 19?"--bathing, dressing and subjecting themselves to a harsh regimen of spanking. Also slightly longer is Lancelot's gory rescue of pale Prince Herbert (Terry Jones), which seems to include a third reprise of the "I'm not dead yet" gag. In short, the differences are negligible between the original release and the revival of this deathless satire by the British comedy troupe.

Arthur is played by Graham Chapman as soft and rather dumb, a constitutional monarch type landed in the Middle Ages. Even God, animated by co-director Terry Gilliam, isn't that keen on him. John Cleese is impressively gruff as a bellicose knight who doesn't let quadruple amputation dull his fighting spirit; Cleese is also extravagantly ridiculous as a French knight gabbling anti-British insults ("I fart in your general direction. Your muzzer was a hamster.") and who always has the drop on the king and his men. "Fetchez la vache," he commands, before catapulting a live cow at the Camelotans. (By the way, the "witch" sought for burning is the former Mrs. Cleese, Connie Booth, memorable as the abused waitress Polly in Fawlty Towers.) Eric Idle plays brave, brave, brave Sir Robin, his shield bearing the emblem of the ferocious Chicken of Bristol, which he vanquished in mortal combat. And Michael Palin and Terry Jones (in drag) are the moral centers of the film, the razzing voices of the working class.

The movie makes a joke out of its poverty: actors play horses by following the knights and clopping together coconut shells. What would have been an expensive climactic battle scene is broken up by the police in a textbook example of the "And suddenly the movie was hit by a truck" ending. But unlike so many prank movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is good-looking, as the new print reveals. The scenery in Scotland is impressively stony and forbidding, matching Neil Innes' ominous trumpet fanfare music on the soundtrack. The creamy mythic photography anticipates John Boorman's Excalibur in costume and realism; from this point on, peasants in a medieval movie were usually muddy. There's the famous dialogue between a pair of mud-digging serfs: "How do you know he's the king?" "He's the only one who doesn't have shit on him." Though, when the movie ends, King Arthur, too, is bemerded. The ruling class in England derives some of its power from the myths wrapped around it and the Pythons never forgot that power, when it came time to roast the tales of Arthur. Here's work equal to the best of the Marx Brothers and a much-needed blow to ersatz medievalism.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (PG; 91 min.), directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, photographed by Terry Bedford and starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, plays at Camera One in San Jose.

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From the July 5-11, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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