Cinophile: MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL

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Many have adapted the myth of King Arthur into movies. But how many contained killer rabbits, ‘flesh wounds’ and instructions for Holy Hand Grenades?

1975 was a watershed period for Monty Python, the famous British surrealist comedy troupe. They have enjoyed a long and popular run on TV with Flying Circus, their skit show. But by the mid-Seventies things had become strained, John Cleese exited the TV production and the Pythons appeared at an end.

It must have seemed that Monty Python was dead – and at a point where they were mostly only famous in the U.K. Then they embarked on an epic adventure: the Holy Grail. Not just any holy grail, but the transition from TV to movies.

You know the story: King Arthur and his knights are on a quest to find the Holy Grail, seen as a holy symbol that would show Arthur’s right to being the true king. Only in this version God quite literally tells Arthur to do it – after berating him for all the dreary religious songs everyone keeps singing.

Many would argue – and I am prone to agree – that Life of Brian was the best Monty Python film. But Holy Grail came first. Also, Holy Grail stays much closer to the skit culture of the Flying Circus years. Though the story is about Arthur, it is very loose. there is no Merlin, Guinevere or sword in a stone.

Instead the Pythons created a pastiche of loose Arthurian elements and a lot of skit humour Virtually every scene is a self-contained gag, allowing the movie to have a lot of range: negotiating with a body collector on whether an elderly man is actually dead, fighting a black knight who doesn’t know when to quit, the scientific method of identifying a witch, debates about swallows and coconuts, the world’s worst maiden rescue, arguing with peasants over the proper forms of government, how to find a good shrubbery…

Nearly every scene in Holy Grail has become a comedy classic. You could almost say that it has contributed more to the popular repertoire of the Pythons than their TV series.

The impact of this is evident in modern culture: from the Holy Hand Grenade in Worms to Adventure Time spoofing the never-say-die Black Knight to utterances of “Bloody peasant!”, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the grandest and most persistent contributions to modern culture.

This film also cemented Monty Python’s legacy: Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam both went on to forge the Python’s cinematic reputation, John Cleese did some of his best Python work, the late Graham Chapman’s greatness was evident despite ongoing alcohol problems and the films introduced entire generations to the world of Monty Python. All because a king went to go look for a cup.

 

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The film was in part funded by Pink Floyd, particularly earnings from the band’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon album. Later another Python classic Life of Brian, would be funded by George Harrison of The Beatles mortgaging his house.
The film was in part funded by Pink Floyd, particularly earnings from the band’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon album. Later another Python classic Life of Brian, would be funded by George Harrison of The Beatles mortgaging his house.
Nearly every castle scene was shot at Doune Castle. More locations were planned, but Scottish authorities withdrew permission to film anywhere, saying the script is not historically accurate at all.
Nearly every castle scene was shot at Doune Castle. More locations were planned, but Scottish authorities withdrew permission to film anywhere, saying the script is not historically accurate at all.
All the Python actors portrayed multiple characters. Michael Palin lead the tally with ten, Eric Idle followed with eight and John Cleese appeared as seven characters. Unusually for Python productions, all the female characters, bar one, were played by women and not the Pythons in drag.
All the Python actors portrayed multiple characters. Michael Palin lead the tally with ten, Eric Idle followed with eight and John Cleese appeared as seven characters. Unusually for Python productions, all the female characters, bar one, were played by women and not the Pythons in drag.
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The film signaled a new stage for Monty Python. Made not long after John Cleese had left the popular Flying Circus TV skit show, it expanded the group properly into the feature film world. They followed with the tremendous (and highly controversial) Life Of Brian. It might be possible that most people know of Monty Python because of their movies.
The film signaled a new stage for Monty Python. Made not long after John Cleese had left the popular Flying Circus TV skit show, it expanded the group properly into the feature film world. They followed with the tremendous (and highly controversial) Life Of Brian. It might be possible that most people know of Monty Python because of their movies.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: October 19, 2015

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it’s something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway – even video nasties need love…

  • I would argue that those many who argue that LoB was better probably know more memorable quotes from Holy Grail.

    Then again they would most likely argue that the burn I just gave them was “merely a flesh wound” 😛

  • WhiteRock

    This movie was so epic and has aged pretty well!

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