The Canterbury Tales (1972)

canterbury tales poster 1972 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visual: 9/10

Great looking and fun adaptation of Chaucer's crude stories

Could have even told more

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Canterbury Tales

Studio:  Les Productions Artistes Associes

Genre(s):   Comedy/Drama/Adult

Release Date(s):  July 2, 1972 (Premiere)/September 2, 1972 (Italy)

MPAA Rating:  Npierot Rated

canterbury tales merchants tale hugh griffith josephine chaplin

Oh yeah…you’re going to have a sight to see

It is spring and the faithful are making their voyage to Canterbury. Geoffrey Chaucer (Pier Paolo Pasolini) is recounting the tales of these “religious” pilgrims as they voyage and the stories they bring. From a lecherous merchant (Hugh Griffith) whose young wife (Josephine Chaplin) tries to turn the tables on him to a man (Franco Citti) claiming to be the Devil who has his own plans for sinners, to a hungry cook (Ninetto Davoli), to a carpenter (Michael Balfour) whose wife (Jenny Runacre) has a plot with his apprentice (Dan Thomas) to the Wife of Bath (Laura Betti) who has eyes on her newest husband (Tom Baker) to students (Patrick Duffett and Eamann Howell) spending the night at the home of a miller (Albert King) to boys (Edward Monteith, John McLaren, Martin Whelar) seeking revenge on Death to a friar (John Francis Lane) who gets a personal tour of Hell, the pilgrims of Canterbury have a lot to say.

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, The Canterbury Tales is an adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic stories originally published from 1387 to 1400. The second movie in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life films following The Decameron in 1971. The Criterion Collection released the film (Criterion #632) as part of the Trilogy of Life box set (Criterion #633).

canterbury tales cooks tale ninetto davoli chaplin

The Cook as the Little Tramp

I actually took a whole class on Chaucer in college…and I can’t imagine what we talked about day after day after day (I know that we didn’t even finish The Canterbury Tales and mostly focused on specific tales). Watching The Canterbury Tales, I’m reminded of Chaucer’s ingenuity and dirty mind…and though vulgar and crude, Pasolini’s adaptation is on point in many ways.

The stories are varied greatly in the film. All of the stories are generally funny or play with the irony of the situations within them (or the general irony that the “faithful pilgrims” are pious at all). For the most part all the tales are great which is tough for something that is essentially an anthology and each tale pushes the limits of taste with the final story have naked demons and Satan literally defecating people.

The movie is Pier Paolo Pasolini in both vision and story. As the actor playing Chaucer, Pasolini brings in a strange combination of actors from different countries like Hugh Griffith and Josphine Chaplin to Pasolini’s movie muse Ninetto Davoli (who plays a great combination of Charlie Chaplin mixed with Monty Python). You even get Doctor Who vet (before he appeared as the Doctor) Tom Baker in an extremely revealing role…maybe he should have had his classic scarf.

canterbury tales friars tale demons

I hate it when multicolored naked demons mock me

Visually, most of Pasolini’s movies are eye candy, but he often drifted into “can’t look away” moments in his films. Scenes like the vision of Hell might not always be straight adaptations of Chaucer’s work, but they definitely keep the spirit of the story, but stories like The Miller’s Tale get Chaucer completely right. Pasolini does it all way style.

The Canterbury Tales is probably my favorite of the Trilogy of Life films because it keeps moving and the stories manage to keep the story interesting. I didn’t really want the film to end in that sense. I wanted more and more of The Canterbury Tales played out in Pasolini’s vision. Pasolini followed The Canterbury Tales with Arabian Nights in 1974.

Related Links:

The Decameron (1971)

Arabian Nights (1974)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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