Matchup of the Day: Monty Python and the Holy Grail vs. The Four Musketeers
It’s difficult to say at what point, exactly, history got funny. Up until fairly recently, tales of chivalry were taken seriously and at face value. Then something happened; maybe it was the world wars, maybe the counterculture, maybe the global craze over Silly Putty that peaked in the 1960s, but at some point dressing up like a knight and clanging swords in the name of God and King started to seem. . . well, silly.
Professional entertainers, of course, continued to use the old tropes, but for the purpose of amusement rather than edification. The Monty Python comedy troupe made the transition from TV to film (not counting the sketch compilation And Now For Something Completely Different) in 1975 with their spoof of the Arthurian cycle Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You didn’t have to know anything about Arthur or Lancelot or Bedevere going into the film — you just had to be in the know about the Pythons’ comic personas, and be able to appreciate equally a fart joke and a satirical discussion of anarcho-syndicalism. Plenty of people were and have been since, because the film is often ranked among the greatest comedies of all time, and it is almost certainly the most quoted.
Meanwhile, the American director Richard Lester had built a career in England making trendy comedies like The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night and Help! After The Beatles but before he became associated with the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise, Lester became known for his breezy, star-studded costume comedies. The first was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the second was John Lennon’s How I Won the War, and the third and fourth were (appropriately enough) The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974). Starring Charlton Heston, Faye Dunaway, Michael York, Christopher Lee, Raquel Welch, and Oliver Reed, the Musketeer movies were filmed as one but split into two by the producers — a forerunner of the contemporary Harry Potter/Hunger Games/Hobbit trend, though a lawsuit by the actors who had only been paid for one movie resulted in changes to the Screen Actors Guild contract form.
Four Musketeers’ sense of humor is much drier than the Pythons’, whose sketch comedy approach makes Holy Grail a kind of anthology of joke-filled vignettes. Musketeers, by contrast, plays straight with the plot and sees it through, finding comedy in the cavalier manner of its titular chevaliers. An example: the Musketeers, trying to win a bet, are dining while under fire at the siege of La Rochelle. A projectile shatters their bottle of wine, leading one of the knights to quip, “This wine does not travel well.” Shortly thereafter, D’Artagnan (York) swats away a small explosive device by using a large baguette as a golf club. Lester also infuses Musketeers with a healthy dose of Tom Jones-esque sex-comedy accents, as when the queen’s dressmaker loses the key to a jail cell down the front of her dress and has to hop around to shake it loose.
If Musketeers is funny because of the improbable antics of its quaint characters, Holy Grail is funny because of its setting. It revels in the absurd internal logic of witch trials, the nonsense that once passed for science, and the sheer filth that medieval people must have spent their days mired in. The joy of Pythonian wordplay is also a crucial part of its enduring charm.
The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers are worth a watch for fans of period comedies and adventure, and their cinematography is quite beautiful to boot, but Flickcharters are right to rank Holy Grail higher. Here are the stats:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- Global ranking: 22
- Wins 63% of matchups
- 71,785 users have ranked it
- 803 users have it at #1
- 13202 users have it in their top 20
The Four Musketeers
- Global ranking: 3542
- Wins 49% of matchups
- 246 users have ranked it
- 0 users have it at #1
- 6 users have it in their top 20