Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a film released in 1975. It was written, performed, and directed by Monty Python, an English comedy group, during a gap between the third and the final series of their popular BBC television series Monty Python's Flying Circus. The group's first film, And Now For Something Completely Different, had been a compilation of sketches from the television series; in contrast, Holy Grail was composed of wholly original material. It generally spoofs the legends of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail. The film was a success on its initial run and retains a large-scale cult following today.
The film was the inspiration for the 2005–Present Tony Award-winning musical Spamalot written by the Python Eric Idle.
This film is number 40 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted Monty Python and the Holy Grail the 5th greatest comedy film of all time. The next Monty Python film, Monty Python's Life of Brian, was ranked #1.
The main theme of this movie, an all-out parody of medieval beliefs and the code of chivalry, could be found in the Italian movie L'Armata Brancaleone (1966). Sir Lancelot's assault on the Swamp Castle resembles Brancaleone's attack on the monastery where a former love interest of his is a nun. Despite the parody approach, the film is rich in references to medieval literature, reflecting the ongoing interest of medieval scholar and Python member Terry Jones.
The Holy Grail has an episodic plot line, with a style based on the sketch comedy of Monty Python's television show. Most of the story is told in isolated sections, linked only by the ongoing theme of the quest for the Holy Grail and Terry Gilliam's animations.
The story begins with King Arthur (Graham Chapman) recruiting Knights of the Round Table throughout England. He is initially frustrated at his recruiting attempts several times (for example, the battle with the Black Knight); eventually, he is joined by Sir Bedevere the Wise (Terry Jones), Sir Lancelot the Brave (John Cleese), Sir Galahad called both the Chaste and the Pure (Michael Palin), Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot (Eric Idle), and Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film (the infant William Palin, son of Michael Palin).
Once assembled, the knights receive a quest from an animated version of God (played by a picture of cricketer W. G. Grace) to find the Holy Grail. In the course of their travels, they encounter insulting Frenchmen occupying Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh (Castle Stalker). When they are not allowed to search the castle, they try to gain entry by using a Trojan Rabbit, but forget to get inside it. It turns out to be just as well, as the French immediately catapult it over the walls anyway. They run across the perils of Castle Anthrax (Doune Castle), which turn out to be occupied by nubile females between the ages of 16 and 19½ who crave to be spanked, the Knights who say Ni (later known as the Knights Who Say "Ecky-Ecky-Ecky-Ecky-Pakang-Zoom-Ping! Goodem-zoo-owli-zhiv", led by Palin), a killer rabbit (which they defeat by means of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch), the Cave of Caerbannog itself, and a gigantic cartoon monster, The Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh. (They are saved when animator Terry Gilliam suffers a fatal heart attack.) There are other misadventures involving anarcho-syndicalist peasants (played by Jones and Palin), Latin-chanting monks led by Neil Innes, an alleged witch (Connie Booth), the King of Swamp Castle (Palin and Doune Castle again) and his effeminate musical son, Herbert (Jones), a pyromaniacal enchanter called "Tim" (Cleese), the Bridge of Death (guarded by "the old man from Scene 24", Gilliam), and Frenchmen (led by John Cleese) who revel in taunting the travellers.
At a number of key places in the film the question is raised, What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? It is introduced in the opening scenes of the film, and remains an open question right up to the end. The only clear response is given by King Arthur, requesting clarification: "What do you mean, an African or European swallow?" References to swallows are ubiquitous in the film, and in one scene Sir Bedivere is seen holding a dove in one hand and a coconut in the other, tied together in an attempt to prove that swallows can carry coconuts. According to the Internet Movie Database, "The airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles per hour, beating its wings 7-9 times per second rather than 43. And a 5 ounce bird cannot carry a one pound coconut." Further details attempting to solve this question with Strouhal numbers and simplified flight waveforms are presented in an essay.
Sir Robin's minstrels (their leader played by Neil Innes) sing of how brave he would hypothetically be in the face of horrific and graphically-described tortures, and then sing about how bravely he flees at the first sign of danger. Much to Sir Robin's relief, he and the other knights are later forced to eat the minstrels ("And there was much rejoicing").
The film ends abruptly when a group of police from the 1970s interrupt the climactic battle scene to arrest Sir Lancelot, Bedivere, and King Arthur for the murder of a "famous historian" (who looked very much like A.J.P. Taylor) earlier in the film. The Grail presumably is left in the hands of the Frenchmen in Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh. It is also possible that there is no Holy Grail, since the Frenchman who does all the talking says to Arthur, "We've already got one," and then whispers to his companions that he said they already have one, which makes them laugh.
Spoilers end here.
The film was shot on location in Scotland, particularly around Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and the privately owned Castle Stalker. The Pythons decided on a joke where the characters would pretend to ride horses while their porters banged coconut shells together, an in-joke to how BBC radio shows were made at the time (indeed, a time-honoured radio sound effect dating back to the 1930s) with the added benefit of being much cheaper than hiring horses and learning to ride them. (This gag had actually been seen previously in the sole surviving episode of the 1956 program A Show Called Fred, produced by Richard Lester and starring Peter Sellers. As all the British Pythons were fans of Sellers and The Goon Show, it is probably safe to assume some of them saw it when broadcast. Alternatively, they might have seen The Last Goon Show of All, a TV programme made for the 50th anniversary of the BBC, in which a tape of coconuts played by Princess Anne is used and acknowledged as such). The chain mail armour worn by the various knights was actually silver-painted wool (with a tendency to absorb moisture in the cold and wet conditions), whilst the many castles seen throughout the film were either Doune Castle shot from different angles or cardboard models held up against the horizon. (This was referenced in Patsy's famous line, the dismissive "It's only a model" in reference to Camelot—which it was.)
As an extension of the group's penchant for bizarre title credits, the 2001 DVD release of the film commences with the British Board of Film Censors' certification for Dentist on the Job, a film "Passed as more suitable for Exhibition to Adult Audiences", followed by its grainy black and white opening titles and several minutes of the film itself (approximately 1 minute 48 seconds). During the opening scene of Dentist on the Job, the projectionist (played by Terry Jones) realises it is the wrong film and puts the correct one on. (Dentist on the Job was a 1961 comedy starring Bob Monkhouse, perhaps chosen as an epitome of the comedy to which Monty Python had once provided an alternative. Also, Dentist on the Job's alternate title is Get On With It, a phrase that appears multiple times throughout Holy Grail.) The credits for Holy Grail have mock Nordic subtitles and many gratuitous references to "møøse" and llamas. The film has no ending credits, instead cutting to a black screen and some organ music. Due to the abrupt ending of the movie, the first few seconds of the opening credits are sometimes shown again when the film is played on television.
Profits from Pink Floyd's album The Dark Side of the Moon went towards financing the movie. The band members were such fans of the show, they would halt recording sessions just to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969).
On June 15, 2001, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was re-released on four North American screens. This version of the film was digitally restored and remastered with a new stereo soundtrack. In addition, it restored 24 seconds of material to the Castle Anthrax scene that was not originally in the theatrical release (although had appeared on several video and DVD editions of the film).
In its opening weekend, it grossed a strong US$45,487 ($11,372 per screen). It played in limited release until December 2003, playing at 26 screens at its widest point and eventually grossing $1,821,082 USD during its re-release run. This version of the film still plays periodically at North American rep theatres.
The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the movie's official soundtrack, is less of a soundtrack and more of a comedy album in its own right, which depicts the "premiere" of the film along with several other sketches intercutting scenes from the movie.
The first DVD was released in 1999 and boasted only a non-anamorphic print, about two pages of production notes, and trailers for other Sony pictures. On October 23, 2001, the Special Edition DVD was released. It includes two commentary tracks, documentaries related to the film, the "Camelot Song" as sung by LEGO minifigures (Source), and "Subtitles For People Who Don't Like the Film", consisting of lines taken from William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2. There are also two scenes synchronised in Japanese, where the knights search for a "holy sake cup" and where the Knights Who Say Ni request a bonsai. Most of the home video adaptations feature an extra scene where several characters are telling Carol Cleveland's character, Dingo, to "Get on with it!". Some of them include characters not seen yet at that point in the film, such as Tim the Enchanter, The Old Man from Scene 24 and the army at the end of the film (this scene was also shown in the Comedy Central broadcasts of the film). It also features a small featurette about proper use of a coconut.
The DVD "Special Edition" includes "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations", hosted by Michael Palin and Terry Jones, which 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). Many scenes were filmed in or around Doune Castle, "Scene 24" and the blood-thirsty rabbit's "Cave of Caerbannog" were in sight of Loch Tay, near Killin, and "The Bridge of Death" was in Glen Coe. In the closing battle scene, shots facing "Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh" were filmed at Castle Stalker but the shots looking the other way towards the huge army were filmed later somewhere near Stirling once they'd managed to get enough people - one of them being author Iain Banks, then a student, as he recounts in his non-fiction work Raw Spirit. It should be noted that this DVD edition is missing the "Swedish" subtitle "Mønti Pythøn ik den Hølie Gräilen" in the film's opening title screen.
In this special edition DVD release, the opening credits of the 1961 film Dentist on the Job is seen before the voice of the projectionist (presumably that of Terry Jones) mumbles that this is wrong film. The film stops abruptly and a slide reading "One moment while the operator changes reels" is seen on screen. The projectionist can be heard scrambling to start the correct film (Dentist on the Job has an alternative title of Get On With It!).
On October 3, 2006, an "Extraordinarily Deluxe" DVD was released that includes the features of the previous "Special Edition" as well as other, new features. These include the original 4:3 aspect ratio, songs from the Spamalot (with accompanying animation), a "Holy Grail Challenge" feature, and a "Secrets of the Holy Grail" feature. The aspect ratio for the "Extraordinarily Deluxe" DVD is 1.66:1, whereas the previous Special Edition features a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Also, the "Extraordinarily Deluxe" DVD restores the "Swedish" subtitle missing from the Special Edition.
In 1996, 7th Level released Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail. It used footage and imagery from the film, as well as audio clips (some new) and featured an animated version of a scene never filmed entitled "King Brian The Wild".
Minigames included variations on popular games such as Whack-A-Mole ("Spank the Virgins") and Tetris ("Bring Out Your Dead").
A collectible card game using the characters and plot of the movie was released by Kenzer & Company in 1996.
A number of works, such as video games, novels, newspapers, and even anime pay homage to this movie, an indication of its huge following. For example, after beating a nerd with a stick in the controversial game Bully, he might moan "It's only a...flesh wound...". Also in the video games Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat Trilogy, the female character Kitana transforms into a small, white killer rabbit for her animality.
In the DVD commentary for the The Lord of the Rings films, director Peter Jackson admitted crowd scenes with rural peasants were tricky to design, as they could easily remind viewers of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Also, in The Two Towers commentary, previsualization artist Christian Rivers makes a clever comment comparing Helm's Deep to Camelot, saying, "it's only a model."
In the "Weird Al" Yankovic song White and Nerdy from his album Straight Outta Lynwood, he says "I memorized Holy Grail really well / I can recite it right now and have you ROTFLOL."
In the Warhammer 40,000 table-top strategy game, the Black Templars, a Space Marine chapter thematically based on medieval crusading knights, have access to the grenade of Antioch.
In the James Bond movie Die Another Day, Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is involved in a virtual simulation where he deliberately shoots through M to kill the terrorist holding her. When chastised by Q, played by John Cleese, Bond says, "Check the tape. You'll find he's dead and she only has a flesh wound," likely a reference to Cleese's famous "just a flesh wound" line (as the Black Knight) in Holy Grail.
An episode of Histeria! had a sketch debating the existence of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Sir Galahad. At the end, the characters opt to retreat, shouting out "Run away!" like they do in the film. Also, a portion of the witch accusation scene was paraphrased in a sketch about the Salem witch trials.
According to the autobiography The Pythons, Eric Idle proposed the idea of a Holy Grail sequel in 1990. According to Idle, the movie would be about an attempt to bring the knights together for one last crusade, as a sort of self-referential statement about the Python group. The team, however, did not want to do it, which made Idle realize that "they would never, EVER work together again."
* The flaggellant monks are chanting a phrase from the Latin Requiem mass, pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem, which in English is rendered, Holy Lord Jesus, grant unto them rest. They then hit themselves with wooden boards.
* None of the Pythons can recall why they got an actual old woman (Bee Duffel) to play the old crone when any of them could have done it just as easily. The actress is, however, complimented on the DVD commentary.