There are certainly better movies, and there are even better comedies, but you'd be hard pressed to find a funnier movie than 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was the debut film from the legendary British comedy troupe that ranks right up there with the Carry On Gang and Marx Brothers for pure, unadulterated absurdist satire. Some Like it Hot may be more classic, Annie Hall more neurotic, Airplane more juvenile, Trouble in Paradise more sophisticated and Blazing Saddles more raunchy, but Holy Grail is an assault on the comic senses that never lets up.
Monty Python's skit-driven TV series practically defined England's concept of 1970s-era satire and parody, but Holy Grail allowed Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin to focus on and explore one theme: the ridiculous roots of monarchy (read: authority). It also allowed co-director Gilliam to explore the comedy's mise-en-scene possibilities. Knowing it must have been made on the cheap, there is still an embracing sense of atmosphere that runs through the film, whether it's the rolling fog, the ash-gray castles, or the ragged muck and mire of rural England in 900 A.D. Looking at Holy Grail three decades hence, you can see the prescience of Gilliam's eye and ear, which would become manifest in such surrealist excursions as Brazil (1985), The Fisher King (1991) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).
The troupe collaborated on the screenplay, which amounts to a series of set pieces that perfectly suit the skit-fueled crew, and so the scenes perfectly match the jaw-dropping script that inspired such legendary lines as "I fart in your general direction" (a nod to the French), "We are the Knights Who Say 'Ni!,'" "We want ... a shrubbery!," "Bring out your dead!" and "Three shall be the number ... ." Throw out any of these lines as a non-sequitor at a party and sit back and watch your friends try and top one another with their own favorite lines, British inflections to follow.
No other movie was able to display a comedy troupe's versatility like Holy Grail did, with actors switching characters not only from scene to scene but shot to shot. Michael Palin was particularly adroit at this, switching from a homely peasant to Sir Robin the Pure to, yes, the leader of the Knights Who Say "Ni," all with a wild-eyed fury.
One of the great lines from Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors is Alan Alda's pontification, "If it bends, it's funny; if it breaks, it's not funny." Monty Python and the Holy Grail was cracked, broken and snapped -- and it still made you pull a stomach muscle with laughter. And you didn't even have to be high to watch it.
Still going strong at the age of 70, The Amazing Kreskin is amazing in more ways than one. The self-described "World's Foremost Mentalist" eschews such titles as magician or psychic, which frees him from the constraints of the magician's rule to never reveal his secrets. In this performance-meets-manual, Kreskin happily divulges some of the secrets of his trade, mainly to debunk those whom he thinks are trying to con audiences but also to provide a kind of self-deprecating humility to himself while making sure the audience knows who's boss. Throughout the performance, in fact, Kreskin loves to poke fun of, and promote, himself in virtually the same sentence. "I only claim to be 90 percent successful 10 percent of the time," he tells a small audience assembled inside New York City's legendary Friars Club. But moments later he'll remind you that he's been on The Mike Douglas Show 118 times. (Indeed, he was the king of 1970s talk shows, appearing as well on The Merv Griffin Show and a record number of times on The Tonight Show.
What makes this DVD so endearing is how Kreskin's performance speaks to a bygone era, whether it's vaudeville or the Catskills, when audiences were enthralled with a performer who held a unique power over them -- in this case literally. Dismissing the notion of a hypnotic "state," Kreskin speaks more to the power of suggestion, and by the time he's through with his subjects, one audience member becomes completely tongue-tied trying to say his own name. (We later learn he's from New Jersey, which explains a lot.)
With his bottle-thick and thick-framed glasses, swept-back gray hair and patch-patterned tuxedo, Kreskin comes across as a harmless uncle at first, until he hooks his audience. With his "90 percent" rule, he allows for an escape clause when he isn't correct in guessing facts about a given audience member. But he's still damn good, starting with something as simple as an initial and moving straight to a person's relative's full name.