It's nigh-on impossible to have a conversation about the second, and greatest, Python film (never mind review it) without rapidly descending into a quote-a-thon.
Yet it’s worth resisting the impulse, because there’s much more to Holy Grail than a collection of one-liners – there’s a reason why elderberries/flesh wound/migrating coconuts/(insert your gag of choice here) have become such enduring classics, and that reason has more to do with narrative context than isolated laugh value.
While the film’s undeniably episodic – essentially a collection of sketches in the vein of the Pythons’ first film And Now For Something Completely Different – its apparent randomness is deceptive, a distraction from what’s actually an impeccably disciplined script.
In case there’s anyone left who doesn’t know the basics, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) sets out to recruit knights for his Round Table, and along the way finds himself confronted variously with mythical foes (John Cleese’s Black Knight and the Killer Rabbit being highlights) and a series of Britons who’d rather engage in pedantic debates than bow down to their King.
It’s this combination of big and small comedy that gives Holy Grail its enduring, cross-generational appeal. For every outlandishly surreal foe like the Knights Who Say “Ni” there’s a deadpan exchange along the lines of Arthur’s encounter with the anarcho-syndicalist commune and their leader Dennis (Michael Palin), who take issue with all that “Lady In The Lake business”.
Whether you’re up on your Arthurian legends or not, you just can’t argue with lines like, “Strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords, is no basis for a system of government.” (Damn. Told you – it’s nigh-on impossible.)
From literary pastiche to musical gags (the gradual dismantling of Brave Sir Robin never gets old) to an extended opening credits gag based around moose and a pseudo-Nordic language, there’s no denying that the Pythons throw just about everything at the wall here.
But again, it’s thrown with precise, sly precision; as a result, just about all of it sticks. The transfer to Blu’s a fair bit better than you’d expect given the low-budget source, and while this arguably wasn’t a film in need of another Special Edition there’s enough genuine value in the Blu exclusives to justify it.
The best of the bunch are Terry Jones’ and Terry Gilliam’s respective intros to the outtakes and a previously lost animation reel, while the chattracks from them and the cast remain wry, enlightening gems.