Monty Python and the Holy Grail
|Monty Python and the Holy Grail|
UK quad poster
|Directed by||Terry Gilliam
|Produced by||Mark Forstater
|Written by||Monty Python|
|Edited by||John Hackney|
|Distributed by||EMI Films (UK)
Cinema 5 Distributing (US)
|Box office||$5 million|
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a 1975 British surreal comedy film concerning the Arthurian legend, written and performed by the comedy group of Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin), and directed by Gilliam and Jones. It was conceived during the hiatus between the third and fourth series of their BBC television series Monty Python's Flying Circus.
In contrast to the group's first film, And Now for Something Completely Different, a compilation of sketches from the first two television series, Holy Grail draws on new material. It parodies the legend of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail. Idle used the film as the basis for the musical Spamalot 30 years later.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail grossed more than any British film exhibited in the U.S. in 1975. The film received a 97% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus: "a cult classic as gut-bustingly hilarious as it is blithely ridiculous". In the US, the film was selected as the second best comedy of all time in the ABC special Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time; in the UK, readers of Total Film magazine ranked the film the fifth greatest comedy film of all time, and a similar poll of Channel 4 viewers placed the film sixth (2000).
In 932 A.D., King Arthur, along with his squire, Patsy, is traveling throughout England searching for men to join his Knights of the Round Table. Arthur's first stop is at a castle where the guards ask how Arthur found the coconut halves Patsy has been using to simulate the sound of horses galloping. Arthur leaves after his encounter turns into a discussion about African and European swallows. Arthur later encounters the Black Knight, who will not let Arthur and Patsy pass. A swordfight breaks out with Arthur gaining the upper hand, but the Black Knight continues to fight despite having all his arms and legs cut off. With the Black Knight's limbs gone, the Black Knight declares, "All right, we'll call it a draw," as Arthur and Patsy continue onward.
The villagers of a small town come to Sir Bedevere the Wise, claiming that they have captured a witch. Bedevere puts the woman through a test, where she is revealed to be a witch because she weighs the same as a duck. Arthur knights Bedevere as a member of his Round Table, and is joined by Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Galahad the Pure, Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, and the aptly named Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film. The knights reach Camelot, but following a song-and-dance cutaway, Arthur decides not to enter, because "'tis a silly place". The group soon encounters God (shown as a cutout animation of British cricketer W.G. Grace), who instructs them to seek the Holy Grail.
Their first stop is a French-controlled castle. One of the castle soldiers with an "outrageous" French accent tells the knights that they already have a grail, then proceeds to taunt the knights with ridiculous insults (i.e., "Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!"). After a failed invasion of the castle with the French soldiers throwing animals at them, the knights try sneaking into the castle in a Trojan Rabbit – but the plan goes awry when they forget to hide inside it first. The rabbit is catapulted back at them and lands on one of the knights' servants. Arthur decides the group should split up to seek the grail. A modern-day historian serves as an on-camera documentary presenter, describing the Arthurian legends. He is abruptly killed by an unknown knight on horseback, triggering a police investigation.
Each of the knights encounters various perils on his quest. Arthur and Bedevere attempt to satisfy the strange requests of the dreaded Knights who say Ni. Sir Robin narrowly avoids a fight with the Three-Headed Giant by running away while the heads are arguing, causing embarrassment as his minstrel sings "Brave Sir Robin ran away". Sir Galahad is led by a grail-shaped beacon to Castle Anthrax, populated by women who wish to perform sexual favours for him – but he is rescued by Lancelot from the "perilous situation", somewhat against his will. Sir Lancelot then finds a note tied to an arrow, and after reading it assaults a wedding party at Swamp Castle. Believing them to be holding a lady against her will, he discovers that an effeminate prince sent the note.
The knights regroup and are joined by three new knights, Sirs Gawain, Ector, and Bors, and a group of monks led by Brother Maynard. They encounter Tim the Enchanter, who points them to caves where the location of the grail is written on the walls. To enter the caves, the group must defeat the Rabbit of Caerbannog. After the rabbit kills Gawain, Ector and Bors during a failed attack, Brother Maynard provides the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, which Arthur uses to kill the rabbit. The knights then enter the cave and find an inscription carved into the wall written by Joseph of Arimathea, which states that the Grail can be found in the "Castle of Aaaaargh". But the group is attacked by the Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh, which devours Brother Maynard. Arthur and his knights barely escape when the beast's animator suffers a fatal heart attack.
With their final destination known, the group travels to the Bridge of Death, where each knight is forced to answer three questions by the bridge-keeper before he may cross the Gorge of Eternal Peril. Lancelot easily answers his questions and crosses the bridge, but Robin and Galahad are confounded by difficult questions and thrown into the chasm. Arthur answers the bridge-keeper's question with another question, and the bridge-keeper is thrown into the chasm himself for not knowing the answer.
Lancelot becomes separated from Arthur and Bedevere, and is later shown being arrested by the police who were investigating the historian's murder. Arthur and Bedevere travel to the Castle Aaargh, which they find occupied by the same French forces that insulted and drove them off earlier. The knights amass a large army and prepare to storm the castle, but just as they begin to charge, the modern police arrive on the scene. Arthur and Bedevere are arrested, and one of the officers covers the lens with his hand. The film breaks in the projector and runs out of the gate, putting an abrupt end to the film.
|Actor||Main role||Other roles (in order of appearance)|
|Graham Chapman||Arthur, King of the Britons||Voice of God / Middle Head of Three-Headed Knight / Hiccuping Guard at Swamp Castle|
|John Cleese||Sir Lancelot the Brave||Swallow-Savvy Guard #2 / Man with "Dead" Body / Black Knight / Witch-Hunting Villager #3 / Singing Camelot Knight #4 / French Taunter / Tim the Enchanter|
|Terry Gilliam||Patsy, Arthur's Servant||Green Knight / Singing Camelot Knight #3 / Gorilla Hand / Old Man in Scene 24 (Soothsaying Bridgekeeper) / Sir Bors / Weak-Hearted Animator (Himself)|
|Eric Idle||Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot||Dead Collector / Witch-Hunting Villager #1 / Singing Camelot Knight #2 / Confused Guard at Swamp Castle / Concorde (Lancelot's Squire) / Roger the Shrubber / Brother Maynard|
|Terry Jones||Sir Bedevere the Wise||Dennis' Mother / French Knight / Left Head of Three-Headed Knight / Voice of Cartoon Scribe / Prince Herbert|
|Michael Palin||Sir Galahad the Pure||Swallow-Savvy Guard #1 / Dennis / Witch-Hunting Villager #2 / Narrator / Singing Camelot Knight #5 / French Knight / Right Head of Three-Headed Knight / Leader of the Knights Who Say Ni / King of Swamp Castle / Guest at Swamp Castle / Monk (Maynard's Assistant)|
|Connie Booth||Miss Islington, the Witch|
|Carol Cleveland||Zoot||Dingo (Zoot's Twin Sister)|
|Neil Innes||Leader of Robin's Minstrels||Leader of Chanting Monks / Witch-Hunting Villager #4 / Singing Camelot Knight #1 / Page Crushed by Wooden Rabbit / French Knight|
|Bee Duffell||Old Crone|
|John Young||Frank, the Historian||"Dead" Body|
|Rita Davies||Frank's Wife|
|Avril Stewart||Dr. Piglet|
|Sally Kinghorn||Dr. Winston|
|Mark Zycon||Sir Robin (Stand-in)||Prisoner in Camelot Dungeon|
|Sandy Johnson||Knight Who Says Ni||Witch-Hunting Villager / Musician at Swamp Castle / Monk / Knight in Final Battle|
|Julian Doyle||Police sergeant who stops the film|
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Monty Python and the Holy Grail was mostly shot on location in Scotland, particularly around Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and the privately owned Castle Stalker. The many castles seen throughout the film were either Doune Castle shot from different angles or hanging miniatures. There are several exceptions to this: the very first exterior shot of a castle at the beginning of the film is Kidwelly Castle in South Wales and the single exterior shot of the Swamp Castle during "Tale of Sir Lancelot" is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex – all subsequent shots of the exterior and interior of those scenes were filmed at Doune Castle.
At the start of the Tale of Sir Robin, there is a slow camera zoom in on rocky scenery (that in the voice over is described as 'the dark forest of Ewing'). This is actually a still photograph of The Gorge at Mount Buffalo National Park in Victoria, Australia. The production manager Julian Doyle stated in 2000 during an interview with Hotdog magazine that it was a still image filmed with candles underneath the frame (to give a heat haze). This was a low-cost method of achieving a convincing location effect.
On the DVD audio commentary, Cleese expresses irritation at a scene set in Castle Anthrax, where he says the focus was on technical aspects rather than comedy. In the scene where the knights were combating the Killer Rabbit, a real white rabbit was used. It was dyed with what was assumed to be a washable red colouring liquid in the shots after the battle. When filming wrapped, the rabbit's owner was dismayed to learn the dye could not be rinsed off. Gilliam described in an audio commentary that the owner of the rabbit was present and shooting was abruptly halted while the cast desperately attempted to clean the rabbit before the owner found out, an unsuccessful attempt. He also stated that he thought that, had they been more experienced in filmmaking, the crew would have just purchased a rabbit instead. Otherwise, the rabbit himself was unharmed. Also, the rabbit-bite effects were done by special puppetry by both Gilliam and SFX technician John Horton.
As chronicled in The Life of Python, The First 20 Years of Monty Python, and The Pythons' Autobiography, it was revealed that Chapman was suffering from acrophobia, trembling, and bouts of forgetfulness during filming. These were the results of Chapman's long-standing alcohol addiction, and he decided from that moment on to remain "on an even keel" while the production continued. Nearly three years after Holy Grail, Chapman vowed to quit drinking altogether (which he successfully achieved in December 1977).
Originally the knight characters were going to ride real horses, but after it became clear that the film's small budget precluded real horses, the Pythons decided that their characters would mime horse-riding while their porters trotted behind them banging coconut shells together. The joke was derived from the old-fashioned sound effect used by radio shows to convey the sound of hooves clattering. This was later referred to in the German release of the film, which translated the title as Die Ritter der Kokosnuß ("The Knights of the Coconut").
The opening credits of the film feature pseudo-Swedish subtitles, which soon turn into an appeal to visit Sweden and see the country's moose. The subtitles are soon stopped, but moose references continue throughout the actual credits until the credits are stopped again and restarted in a different visual style and with references to llamas. The subtitles were written by Michael Palin as a way to "entertain the 'captive' audience" at the beginning of the film.
In addition to several songs written by Python regular Neil Innes, several pieces of music were licensed from De Wolfe Music Library. These include
- "Ice Floe 9", composed by Pierre Arvay. Used during the beginning titles.
- "Countrywide", composed by Anthony Mawer. Used during the beginning titles after the first titlers are sacked.
- "Homeward Bound", composed by Jack Trombey. Used as King Arthur's heroic theme.
- "Crossed Swords", composed by Dudley Matthew. Played during King Arthur's battle with the Black Knight.
- "The Flying Messenger", composed by Oliver Armstrong. Played during Sir Lancelot's misguided storming of Swamp Castle.
- "The Promised Land", composed by Stanley Black. Used in the scene where Arthur approaches the castle on the island.
- "Starlet in the Starlight", composed by Kenneth Essex. Briefly used for Prince Herbert's attempt to express himself in song.
- "Love Theme", composed by Peter Knight. Also used briefly for Prince Herbert.
- "Revolt", composed by Eric Towren. Used as the army charges on Castle Aaargh.
The film had its television premiere 25 February 1977 on the CBS Late Movie. Reportedly, the Pythons were displeased to discover a number of edits were done by the network to reduce use of profanity and the showing of blood. The troupe pulled back the rights and thereafter had it broadcast in the United States only on PBS and later other channels such as IFC, where it runs uncut.
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The first DVD was released in 1999 and had only a non-anamorphic print, about two pages of production notes, and trailers for other Sony Pictures releases.
- Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition
On 23 October 2001, the Special Edition DVD was released. Disc One includes two commentary tracks (featuring Idle, Palin, and Cleese in the first, Jones and Gilliam in the second), "Subtitles for People Who Don't Like the Film", consisting of lines taken from William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2, and a feature for the hard of hearing, where the menu is read aloud by Jones in a very loud voice.
As an extension of the group's penchant for never abiding to a generic formula, the film (if not already in progress) commences with a short subject named "Dentist on the Job" (Its American title is Get on With It, a phrase spoken multiple times throughout Holy Grail) After the opening credits, the projectionist (Jones) realises it is the wrong film and puts the correct one on, after he displays the "Please Wait" caption.
Additionally, there is a deleted scene where Galahad meets Dingo, during which she breaks out of character, turns to the camera and asks the audience if they should cut that scene. Her response is everyone yelling "GET ON WITH IT!" (including God).
Disc Two includes Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Lego (also known as Lego Knights or It's Only a Model), a "brickfilm" version of the "Camelot Song" as sung by Lego minifigures. It was created by Spite Your Face Productions on commission from the Lego Group and Python Pictures. The project was conceived by the original film's respective Producer and Co-Director, John Goldstone and Terry Gilliam. Disc Two also includes two scenes from the film's Japanese dub, literally translated back into English through subtitles. "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations", hosted by Palin and Jones, shows places in Scotland used for the setting titled as "England 932 A.D." (as well as the two Pythons purchasing a copy of their own script as a guide). Also included is a who's who page, advertising galleries, sing-alongs, and a small featurette about the proper use of a coconut (presented by Michael Palin).
- Limited-edition DVD box-set
The DVD release additionally included a copy of the screenplay, a limited-edition film cell/senitype, and limited-edition art cards; however, a few of the bonus features from the Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition were omitted.
- Blu-ray Disc
A 35th anniversary edition on Blu-ray Disc was released in the US on 6 March 2012. Special features include "The Holy Book of Days," a second-screen experience that can be downloaded as an app on an iOS device and played with the Blu-ray to enhance its viewing; lost animation sequences with a new intro from animator Terry Gilliam; outtakes; and extended scenes with Python member and the movie's co-director Terry Jones.
Reaction and legacy
The film received a 97% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 71 reviews; the consensus states: "A cult classic as gut-bustingly hilarious as it is blithely ridiculous, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has lost none of its exceedingly silly charm."
In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted Holy Grail the fifth greatest comedy film of all time. The next Python film, Life of Brian, was ranked first. A similar poll of Channel 4 viewers in 2005 placed Holy Grail in sixth (with Life of Brian again topping the list).
In 2005 the film spawned a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical smash hit knockoff, Spamalot. Written primarily by Idle, the show has more of an overarching plot and leaves out certain portions of the movie due to difficulties in rendering certain effects on stage. However, the same gags are there for the majority of the show.
In 2011, an ABC prime-time special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, counted down the best films chosen by fans based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People. Holy Grail was selected as the second best comedy.
In 2013 the Pythons lost a legal case to Mark Forstater, the film's producer, over royalties for the derivative work, Spamalot. They owed a combined £800,000 in legal fees and back royalties to Forstater.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail was re-released on 14 October 2015 in the United Kingdom.
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- "Countrywide". Dewolfemusic.co.uk. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- "Crossed Swords". Dewolfe.co.uk. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
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- "The Promised Land". Dewolfe.co.uk. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- "Starlet In The Starlight". Dewolfe.co.uk. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
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Last July, the Pythons lost a royalties case to Mark Forstater, who produced 1975 film Monty Python And The Holy Grail. ...
- "Monty Python sued over Spamalot royalties". BBC News Online. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
Mr Forstater claimed he was entitled to one-seventh of this figure, the same share enjoyed by each of the other Pythons - but was told he was only entitled to one-fourteenth, and has been paid accordingly since 2005. ...
- "Monty Python and the Holy Grail returning to theaters for 40th anniversary". Entertainment Weekly.
• Larsen, Darl. A Book About the Film Monty Python and the Holy Grail: All the References From African Swallows to Zoot. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. ISBN 9781442245532
- Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Methuen, 1977, ISBN 0 458 92970 0. Contains screenplay, photographs, and other material.
- The Pythons Autobiography by the Pythons, St. Martin's Press, 2003
- The First 200 Years of Monty Python by Kim "Howard" Johnson, St. Martin's Press, 1989
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- Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the Internet Movie Database
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail at Rotten Tomatoes
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail at Metacritic
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Lego at the Internet Movie Database
- 2012 interview with Carol Cleveland, covering Holy Grail and the TV series
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