Movies That Everyone Should See: “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”

TIM:  There he is!
ARTHUR:  Where?
TIM:  There!
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
      killer!
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!
TIM:  Look!
      [squeak]
BORIS:  Aaaugh!
      [chord]
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

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89 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”

  1. This is one of my all time favorite comedies (Which is in my collection) No matter how many time I’ve seen this (and the musical which is based on the movie) I still laugh. The comedic timing is just perfect. Monty Python is the greatest comedy group ever.

      • I saw Spamalot in NYC with Tim Curry. During the Holy Hand Grenade scene, while the friar is reading on and on, he’s told to skip a page. So he skips his feet while continuing to read. If Spamalot comes close to where you live, I highly recommend it.

      • I have seen Spam-A-lot at the Bushnell. Like your friend said, it is a definite must see. They turned the scene of Camelot into a casino den. I’m not a big play/musical guy but this one had me in stitches.

  2. One of the funniest for sure. I may even go so far as to say its THE funniest.
    I really like the research you put into these for the back-story of the films.

    • Thanks Ian!! :D

      Glad you enjoy them.

      I totally agree that its one of the funniest… one of the issues you run into with ranking comedies though is that they’re so subjective. “Sense of Humor” plays into it so much. I would hate to have to determine what “The Funniest” movie was…

      • True. For me, its the funniest. But humour is very subjective. I’ve often thought about doing the Ten Funniest Movies of All Time as one of my top ten lists, but it was too hard to do a list like that objectively. I usually stay away from music lists for that same reason, since musical taste is also very objective.

  3. The film that rock & roll built! Brilliant choice, good Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film!

    One small point I do feel the need to make, however. That was not just some run-of-the-mill hand grenade. No, sir. That was The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch! Easily the most powerful weapon the church would have at it’s disposal.

    “She turned me into a newt!” … “I got better” – favorite line to quote, ever.

    • Ha! I did know that, I just thought the sentence read better without. I stand corrected sir!

      I hope that this quote from scripture shall absolve my oversight…

      Armaments, chapter two, verses nine through twenty-one:

      “O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.”

      LOL :D

      • “And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, ‘O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.’ And the Lord did grin. And the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths, and carp and anchovies, and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit-bats and large chu…”

        “Skip a bit, Brother…”

        “And the Lord spake, saying, “First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.”

        Every word of the whole bloody thing makes me giggle every time. You are, for the moment, absolved.

      • LOL. Good.

        Hey. It’s a good excuse to trade lines back and forth, right? I have a feeling there’s going to be a bunch of that here before this post settles. LOL!

        Thanks as always for stoppin’ by, Dak.

  4. I saw this for the first time a few years ago. I usually enjoy a good comedy (the weirder the better), and I had heard nothing but praise for it for years, so I expected good things. I found it awful and unfunny…and I never plan to give it a second viewing.

    It’s cool if you like it, though.

    • I will do my very best to refrain from pleading with you to give it just one more go. I respect your stance, even if I can’t, for the life of me, understand any of it.

    • Comedy is the most subjective of genres…

      Additionally, I dont know where you hail from Today, (LOL, you might be British even!) but there are also occasionally national and cultural divides regarding humor…

      I’ll confess I didnt like the tv show (Flying Circus) until I was in my early twenties, when I was a teen, I thought it was stupid… not sure what turned me around.

      So, I totally understand. Comedies are a very difficult thing to look at objectively.

      Suffice it to say though, this one is very pedigreed, and will likely get a lot of people (such as Dak and myself) supporting it!

      Always feel welcome to chime in with dissenting opinions though, of course!

  5. Super movie; tremendous post.
    Definitely an MTESS and in my top movies. :-)

    “Listen, lad, I built this kingdom up from nothing. All I had when
    I started was swamp … other kings said I was daft to build a
    castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same … just to show ‘em.
    It sank into the swamp. So I built a another one … that sank
    into the swamp. I built another one … That fell over and THEN
    sank into the swamp …. So I built another … and that stayed up.
    … And that’s what your gonna get, lad: the most powerful kingdom in this island.”
    -King of Swamp Castle, Monty Python’s Holy Grail

    • LOL!

      “Don’t like her? What’s wrong with her? She’s beautiful, she’s rich, she’s got huge… tracts of land.”
      :D :D

      Haha. Glad you apporve. This is a great movie. Loved watching it again. These dudes were geniuses….

  6. Oh… I love this film. I couldn’t stop laughing every time I see it. I would quote that film to death. BTW, have you seen that Monty Python documentary “Almost the Truth”? There’s a great story about Elvis Presley who loved that film to death and said “it’s just a flesh wound” during a football game. Could you imagine the King quoting that film from start to finish?

    • It’s a hysterical juxtaposition, isn’t it? :D

      I HAVE seen it, yes. In fact, I was kind of upset I didnt have it on DVD or something to reference easily… I wanted to refer to that for info, while writing this up Steve.

      Oh well, I soldiered on. I did run across a bit online that claimed that the genesis of the Black Knight joke was a story about two wrestlers that Cleese had heard once. They wrestled to such a stalemate that one of the two broke his arm trying to get out of it. When the one with the broken arm “tapped out”, people came in and separated them… untangled them. Turns out the winner was dead. :o

      Anyways, thats the story that I heard about how the joke got its start…

  7. Fantastic research in this. Chapman’s physical state didn’t show through in the film AT ALL. He was brilliant. I was also hoping you’d include the bit about not being able to afford horses. *Golf clap*

    I’m simply baffled when people say they don’t like this movie. I usually quote a few lines to them and then stare at them blankly until they slowly walk away.

    I actually might watch this in a little bit. The last 56 times just aren’t enough.

    • Yeah, I know, Chapman was awesome here, I was shocked to have learned that he was in such a bad way during filming, even though I had heard about his drinking problems before…

      I’m never really too baffled when people dont connect with a comedy. Dramas? Absolutely. Action movies, that sort of thing, sure. They seem more objective.

      But you know how humor is man, sometimes it just misses people.

      Not here for me, I love it too. :D Glad you approve Phobos, that’s always nice to hear!

  8. It’s a hilarious, brilliant and original film. The scene with the black night left me in stitches; however, I’d have to say that I prefer the Life Of Brian. Its a lot more coherent whereas this feels a bit like a TV sketch show, but that is what the Pythons do brilliantly, and it is completely evident here

  9. Ah yes. It wasn’t that long ago the topic was “The Spring Do Si Do”. Everyone started in on the “Grail” quotes. From the opening credit subtitles, “come see the many interesting furry animals, including the majestic moose!” To my favorite scene, Castle Anthrax, with the twin nuns Zoot and Dingo. This movie was the original Midnight Madness movie. People went after a night on the town and howled(literally) with every line. Great choice, needed a good laugh today. This week I found two rare unseen(at least by me) Monty Python episodes in German! What a scream! The Pythons german was so bad in the first episode, they did English with subtitles for the next one. If anyone sees the “Grail” on DVD, try to get the special edition. Eric Idle and Michael Palin do a walk through of the Scottish locations used in the film and it’s a riot. Some tour company should have picked up the idea. “See the Holy Grail locations”, that’s the ticket. I’d go!

    • I think its still on the Blu Ray, maybe I’ll go back and check it out… didnt have the time, had a “Deadline” lol.

      Glad you concur. This flick is a great one.

      Why would you be watching Monty Python in German though? LOL

      • It had English subs and hadn’t been seen in the UK. It was made and produced by German TV. They used some of it on the British episodes. Like the german philosophers against the greek ones in soccer. No action just standing around thinking!

  10. One other point of note: The budget was so low that they could not afford horses and a horse wrangler, instead opting for the knights’ squires making horse noises with halves of coconuts… coconuts which obviously should not be found in medieval England… unless perhaps they were carried to England by migrating sparrows… being grasped by the husks,

    One has to know these things when one is King.

  11. Every engineer is supposed to be able to quote at 3 lines from a Monty Python film. I loved all the Monty Python stuff. Live at the Hollywood Bowl is funny as hell and they did stuff back then that would have people suing TV nowadays.

    Holy Grail is probably my favorite comedy. The humor is slapstick, intelligence, and stupidity all rolled into one. Sir Gallahad’s scene ended great when Lancelot pulled him from Castle Anthrax and Gallahad kept saying I could’ve handled them. Lancelot replies, No you couldn’t. Gallahad then goes, I think you’re gay.

    I watch this movie at least 1-2 times a year while kicking back and having a few brews. On a side note, check out my beer photos on FB. There is a Monty Python Holy Ail beer, made from tempered witches. It’s a decent beer too.

    • I can handle peril. A little peril, perhaps? Please? Lol

      Tempered witches? Lol. Does it taste like wood? :D

      Glad you like this one, it IS hysterical. I don’t know that it’s my favorite… I probably still go with either Caddyshack, Blazing Saddles or Airplane, depending on the day of the week, but this one is definitely up there, for sure.

  12. Love this movie. Has me in stitches every time I watch it. I sometimes wonder what it might have been like if it had had just a bit more of a budget… while the abrupt ending actually works for this film (as opposed to some other comedies with non-standard endings), it wasn’t the original intent of the Python crew. They simply ran out of money to keep shooting, and had to write a quick ending. Really wonder where it would have gone otherwise.

    One of the best things about it is just how much fun they were clearly having, and of course, their tendency to ad lib. If you look closely at the witch-burning scene, you can see Eric Idle bite down on his scythe to keep from laughing, because John Cleese kept shouting “Burn the witch!” more than his script called for. The witch, of course, was played by Cleese’s wife….

    • Love the ending here though! It fits so well with the absurdity of everything. Almost as if nothing in the movie had any purpose… The ultimate senselessness. They didn’t complete the mission, we’re they even in the middle ages? It was ridiculous!

      A lot of times these things are serendipitous.

      Heard about that biting the knife thing, somewhere myself this week, too. LOL

  13. “What also floats in water?”

    “Bread!”
    “Apples!”
    “Very small rocks!”
    “Cider!”
    “Cherries!”
    “Mud!”
    “Churches!”
    “Lead!”
    “A duck”

    (the crowd collectively draws in their breath)

    Love this movie so much. I love “Life of Brian” just a bit more, but “Grail” is just so quotable, it’s almost cliche when geeks gather that it gets quoted.

    • Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?

      WOW! Two votes today for Life of Brian over this one. I always thought this was the hands down fave, but I just might be mistaken!

      That scene is one of my favorites. The flawed logic is so ridiculous, I love it. Bedevere is my favorite Knight from this flick because of it (Although, not my favorite character mind you, and Arthur is King and not Knight. LOL)

      Extra points to the Peasant who answered “Churches”. That’s a beaut, right there.

  14. Monty Python in general is not my cup of tea & I’m not a fan of this one, HOWEVER, I can as a lover of films appreciate why this is & should be an MTESS. Absolutely enjoyed your write up & found the background info interesting. I’m just not a Brit Comedy kinda gal. :)

  15. Spot on! “Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?” LOL!

    Check out this recreation of The Knight of the Round Table with Lego–one of my favs! I giggle everytime! :D

    • No, on second thought let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.
      :D

      Yeah, Lego reenactments are great, aren’t they? LOL that’s “God bless the Internet” stuff right there.

    • Thank you for reading it!

      My friends and I have quoted it quite a bit over the years, as well. It’s got such a wealth of material to pick from, LOL!

      Dennis’ rant at the beginning of the movie is priceless. “Oh, now we see the violence inherent in the system!”

      I “cite” that one a lot. LOL There’s tons to pull from all over the place though :D

  16. Hi, fogs!

    “What is the airspeed of a laden Swallow?”
    “I fart in your general direction!”
    “Your father was a hamster and your mother smell of elderberries!”
    “‘Tis but a flesh wound!”
    “Break out the Holy Hand Grenade!”
    “What’s you favorite color?!”

    Who says the Brits can’t write funny?

    • LOL. Not me, I never did. There are times when humor doesn’t translate, but not with these guys. They’re a riot across the board!

      “Are you sure he’s got one?”

      “Oh, yes, it’s very nice!” LOL! :D

      Glad you approve of this entry to the series Jack! :D

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