Terry Gilliam's first sequence as his own auteur is telling: The poaching of the poacher (Terry Jones) by the ominously descending camera (it attaches itself to the victim's shrieking face before leaving a steaming, chewed-up skeleton) kills off Gilliam's Monty Python and the Holy Grail co-director and also trades the troupe's wordplay for the purely visual. The medieval pigsty-jamboree takes its name from Lewis Carroll and many of its gags from Pasolini -- the grinning fool (Michael Palin) is a compulsive stock-taker at his father's barrel-crafting business, who visits his rotund beloved (Annette Badland) but instead finds asses hanging out of outhouses. He takes a rotten potato as a memento and skips into a shticky Bosch canvas, lorded by King Bruno the Questionable (Max Wall) and inhabited mostly by British comics (including Neil Innes, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier, and Bernard Bresslaw). A marauding beast is feasting on villagers, a jostling tournament is held to find a slayer but switches to a hide-and-seek session after the king tires of getting drenched in the blood of dismembered losers. There are also rat-on-a-stick aperitifs, amputations and immolations; fractured or not, fairy tale beauty exists solely in the mind of the twitty princess (Deborah Fallender), who blissfully mistakes the oaf for her savior as the real prince struggles to climb her tower and plunges to his death. The frisson (cinematographic majesty versus beastly tomfoolery) is derived from Holy Grail: Gilliam's unveiling of the titular dragon-parrot is a fine example of what Orson Welles called "taking the mickey out of it," assorted jests (out of Duck Soup, Chimes at Midnight, Shoot the Piano Player) are added en route to the thematic culmination of The Fisher King. With Rodney Bewes, John Bird, Gorden Kaye, and Brian Glover.
--- Fernando F. Croce