TIM: There he is!
ARTHUR: What, behind the rabbit?
TIM: It is the rabbit!
ARTHUR: You silly sod! You got us all worked up!
TIM: Well, that’s no ordinary rabbit. That’s the most foul, cruel,
and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on.
ROBIN: You tit! I soiled my armor I was so scared!
TIM: Look, that rabbit’s got a vicious streak a mile wide, it’s a
KNIGHT: Get stuffed!
TIM: It’ll do you a trick, mate!
KNIGHT: Oh, yeah?
ROBIN: You mangy Scot git!
TIM: I’m warning you!
ROBIN: What’s he do, nibble your bum?
TIM: He’s got huge, sharp– he can leap about– look at the bones!
ARTHUR: Go on, Boris. Chop his head off!
BORIS: Right! Silly little bleeder. One rabbit stew comin’ right up!
ARTHUR: JESUS CHRIST!
In the late 1960s, six British comedians combined forces to create “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, a legendary British sketch comedy program. Michael Palin and Terry Jones had met at Oxford, while John Cleese and Graham Chapman and Eric Idle attended Cambridge. All were involved in variety of comedy projects and television shows prior to coming together to work on the show, including work on a children’s show (“Do Not Adjust Your Set”), which Terry Gilliam worked on as an animator.
The first episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” aired in late 1969, with the initial series pick up being for 13 episodes. BBC shuffled the episode airings around haphazardly, often airing them late at night, making it difficult for the show to develop an audience. Yet word of mouth spread, and the show picked up enough of a following to get renewed. It would run for four seasons (series) from 1969-1974, for a total of forty-five episodes. It has since spawned numerous films, albums, books, and a broadway musical.
The show would eventually place as the fifth greatest British TV show of all time by the British Film Institute in 2000, and in 2007, TIME magazine included the show on its list of the 100 Best TV Shows of All Time.
In 1974 the troupe embarked on their second feature film, yet their first of new material… “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Their first, “And Now for Something Completely Different” (1971) consisted of the Pythons reperforming skits from their television shows… the movie was an attempt to introduce the show to American audiences.
Thus “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” would be the ensemble’s first attempt at an original film. The problem is, no movie studio would fund it. “And Now for Something Completely Different” had turned a reasonable profit in Britain, but hadn’t been successful in America, and that had been the aim. So, instead, the Pythons turned to famous musicians for financing. The group approached Elton John, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, as they were all familiar with the tv show, had money, and could potentially be enticed by the possibility of tax write-offs at a time when income taxes in the UK were oppressively high.
The resulting budget for the film was extremely low. Yet as is often the case, being frugal wound up leading to inspiration. For example, the running joke of squires clacking coconut shells behind the knights as they galloped about on foot emerged from the fact that the film couldn’t afford real horses. The opening credits were shot so plainly because the production had run out of funds, but they added jokes in with mock subtitles and the bit about the crew who produced the credits being sacked.
One way the Pythons would conserve money was to direct the film themselves. Jones and Gilliam had always wished to try their hand at directing, and so they agreed to split the directing duties (along with all the llamas, LOL).
Of course, neither of them had ever directed a film before.
Atop of which, having tag team directors isn’t optimal for the success of a film. The differences between the two caused some friction amongst the troupe. Reportedly, the members of the ensemble vastly preferred working with Jones as opposed to Gilliam. Gilliam was reportedly far more demanding and far less focused on the comedic aspects of their performances and/or the scenes as a whole, choosing instead to focus on the visual aspects of the shots.
In addition, Graham Chapman, who played King Arthur, was experiencing problems related to alcoholism. He was trying to manage his drinking with Antabuse at the time, but it was proving unsuccessful. When he arrived for shooting, he discovered that the nearest towns were too far away for him to drive off to and drink or purchase alcohol, and the crew had brought none with them. As such, he was going through withdrawal symptoms during production, including delirium tremens. He was repeatedly forgetting his lines (the film was rigorously scripted and rehearsed in order to keep the budget manageable), and occasionally experienced difficulties with the physical requirements of the part, such as crossing the bridge of doom.
In spite of the tremendous adversity, however, the Pythons created a work of comedic genius. A farcical take on the Arthurian legends, the movie apes the individual “tales” styling of the original legends by structuring several smaller “adventure” segments strung together by the through-line of the quest for the grail.
Of course, the adventures of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” are patently ridiculous. The Knights of the round table are repelled from castle walls by flung farm animals. Brave Sir Robin reveals himself to be a coward who runs from conflict. Sir Galahad needs to be rescued… from a castle full of wanton women. Sir Lancelot massacres a wedding party. They’re pitted against a line-up of wacky foes such as the Black Knight, who won’t concede defeat even as he is reduced to being a quadruple amputee, The Knights Who Say “Ni!”, who demand a tribute of a shrubbery, and the Rabbit of Caerbannog, which is so deadly, they have to kill it with a hand grenade.
Like “Flying Circus”, the film is interspersed with Gilliam’s surrealistic animations and the occasional musical number. It lends to the absurdist nature of the film. As silly as some of the actual events are, any and all seriousness is removed when the movie shifts into a cartoon when a line of trumpeters stick their horns in their asses.
In “Holy Grail”, the animations aren’t simply inter-scene transitions, either, the characters interact with them, and the move the story along at times, such as when Arthur and the Knights receive the quest from God, or towards the end of the film, when they encounter The Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh
To top it all off, the film is a wealth of quotable, hysterical dialogue from beginning to end. Serious proclamtions in the face of lunacy, outright idiotic logic, and ridiculously silly nonsense. One could practically use the entire IMDb quotes page to support that… here’s just a few…
“You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power, just because some watery tart threw a sword at you”
“I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”
“We want… A SHRUBBERY!!”
And of course, “It’s just a flesh wound!”
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is easily one of the funniest movies ever made, and widely hailed as a comedy classic. It’s close to 40 years old now, but the humor is timeless… it’s so absurd that it will never go out of style. Millenium from now, people can still watch this movie and crack up, thinking, “What the hell are these guys doing?” and then belly laughing at it.
It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”