In contrast to the group's first film, And Now for Something Completely Different, a compilation of sketches from the television series, Holy Grail was composed of 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. Idle used the film as the inspiration for the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical Spamalot.
In 1974, between production on the third and fourth TV series (the latter of which Cleese declined to take part in for a variety of reasons), the group decided that the time was now right to embark on their first "proper" feature film, containing entirely new material. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was based on Arthurian Legend and was directed by both Terrys: Jones and Gilliam. Again, the latter also contributed linking animations (and put together the opening credits). Along with the rest of the Pythons, Jones and Gilliam performed several roles in the film, but it was Chapman who took the lead as King Arthur. Holy Grail was filmed on location, throughout several picturesque rural areas of Scotland, with a tiny budget of nearly £150,000; the money was raised in part with investments from rock groups, such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and UK music industry entrepreneur Tony Stratton-Smith (founder/owner of the Charisma Records label, for which the Pythons recorded their song albums).
The weather was poor and the 'chain mail' (actually woolen garments painted silver) just soaked up the rain; the budget only allowed for low-quality hotels, which could not provide sufficient hot water for the team to bathe every evening; Gilliam and Jones argued with each other and with the other Pythons; and the extent of Chapman's alcoholism became apparent when he began to suffer from delirium tremens during the filming. Terry Gilliam later said in an interview that "everything that could go wrong did go wrong." Holy Grail is the only time any of them can remember the usually amiable Palin losing his temper. This occurred when Jones and Gilliam insisted on repeatedly re-shooting a scene in which Palin played a character called "the mud eater." The scene was ultimately cut from the film.
King Arthur is recruiting his Knights of the Round Table throughout England. He is frustrated at every turn by anarcho-syndicalist peasants, a Black Knight that refuses to give up despite losing both his arms and legs, and guards that are more concerned with the flight patterns of swallows than their lord and master. Finally he meets up with Sir Bedevere the Wise, Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Galahad the Pure (also called "the Chaste"), Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, "and the aptly-named Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Film." They declare themselves the Knights of the Round Table. When 'riding' to Camelot, they are given a quest by God (represented by an animated photograph of legendary cricket figure WG Grace) to find the Holy Grail.
They encounter a castle with a Frenchman who randomly taunts them with names like 'Dappy English knnnnnniggits' and odd insults such as, "I fart in your general direction!" and "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!" The Knights then retreat, weathering a barrage of livestock and executing a poorly thought-out plan to sneak into the castle while concealed within a giant wooden rabbit. Arthur decides that he and his knights should search for the Grail individually. After they split up, Sir Robin travels through a forest with his favourite minstrels, and encounters a Three-Headed Giant, Galahad follows a Grail-shaped light to the perils of Castle Anthrax (the girls of which are very interested in being spanked and having oral sex with him), Sir Lancelot massacres a wedding at Swamp Castle, and Arthur and Bedevere encounter the dreaded Knights Who Say Ni, who demand a shrubbery as tribute. They each overcome or avoid their individual perils in a variety of ways, then reunite to face a bleak and terrible winter, the happenings of which are told in the form of a Gilliam animation. Next they venture further to a pyromaniac enchanter named Tim, who leads them to a cave guarded by a killer rabbit.
After killing the vicious Rabbit of Caerbannog with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, the knights face the Legendary Black Beast of Aaargh in another animated scene, escaping this peril after the animator suffers a fatal heart attack. Their final task is to cross the Bridge of Death, which is guarded by "the old man from scene 24." Only Arthur, Bedevere, and Lancelot survive the confrontation, but Lancelot mysteriously disappears before the others can catch up to him on the other side. Arthur and Bedevere reach the gates of Castle Aaargh, only to find themselves facing the French taunter once more; the whole quest has in fact been a wild goose chase. As Arthur leads an army in a charge against the castle, a group of modern police (for the 1970s) suddenly arrive on the scene, disrupting the film's climax. They have been investigating the murder of a "famous historian," who was earlier cut down by an unidentified knight while he was presenting a television program on a topic from the film's supposed era. Lancelot has already been taken into custody, and Arthur and Bedevere are promptly arrested as well. The film ends abruptly when one of the policemen covers the camera lens with his hand, knocking the film loose.
Due to the suddenness of the ending, the first few seconds of the opening credits are sometimes shown again when the film is played on television. The organ music is often missing from cinema showings as inexperienced cinema projectionists tend to mistake the closing blank footage (with audio track) as scrap film and remove it before sending the film back to the depot.
The film was 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 cardboard models held up against the horizon. (This is referenced in Patsy's dismissive line, "It's only a model" - another example of fourth wall breakage.) The only exception to this is the very first exterior shot of the castle of the Swamp King, which is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex — all subsequent shots of its exterior and interior were filmed elsewhere. The chain mail armour worn by King Arthur was authentic, but as worn by the various knights was silver-painted wool, which tended to absorb moisture in the cold and wet conditions.
The film was co-directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, the first major project for both and the first project where any members of the Pythons were behind the camera. This proved to be troublesome on the set as Jones and Gilliam had different directing styles and it often wasn't clear who was in charge. The Pythons evidently preferred Jones, who as an acting member of the group was focused more on performance, as opposed to Gilliam, whose legendary eye for good cinema artistry was admired but generally thought to be too fussy, especially for a film with the "silly" tone of Holy Grail. 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. The two later Python feature films, The Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, both have Jones as the sole director.
Originally the knight characters were actually going to ride real horses, but after the minuscule budget was discovered to not run to this the Pythons decided on a joke where the characters would walk while miming horse-riding, as their porters banged coconut shells together. The joke was derived from the method used since the 1930s, by BBC radio shows and old-time radio in general, to convey the sound of hooves clattering. This was later referenced in the German release of the film, which translated the title as "Die Ritter der Kokosnuss ("The Knights of the Coconut").
The use of coconuts leads to an extended, tangential discussion on how coconuts could have found their way to the British Isles. The possibility of swallows carrying them, absurd as it seems, reappears in a key moment late in the film and helps Arthur advance his quest.
As an extension of the group's penchant for never abiding to a generic formula, 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 nearly two minutes of the film itself. 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 humour to which the style of Monty Python had once seemed like a revolutionary alternative. Also, Dentist on the Job's alternate title is Get On With It, a phrase that appears multiple times throughout Holy Grail.)
---Is the above comment a request for new sections within the article, or a request to expand the table?-- Bob the Wikipedian
|Actor||Main Role||Other roles|
|Graham Chapman||King Arthur||God, Hiccoughing Guard, Middle Head of Three-Headed Knight|
|John Cleese||Sir Lancelot||Second soldier in opening scene, Man in plague scene with body, Black Knight, Villager in Witch Scene, French taunter, Tim the Enchanter|
|Terry Gilliam||Patsy||Soothsayer in Scene 24, Bridgekeeper, Green Knight, Sir Bors (First to be killed by rabbit), Weak-hearted animator (Himself)|
|Eric Idle||Sir Robin||The Dead Collector, Villager in Witch Scene, Confused Guard at Swamp Castle, Concorde, Roger the Shrubber, Brother Maynard|
|Terry Jones||Sir Bedevere||Dennis's mother, Left head of Three-Headed Knight, Prince Herbert|
|Michael Palin||Sir Galahad||First soldier in opening scene, Dennis, Villager in Witch Scene, Right head of Three-Headed Knight, King of Swamp Castle, Monk, Main Knight who says "Ni", Narrator|
|Neil Innes||Sir Robin's Minstrel||Monk, Page crushed by rabbit, Villager in Witch Scene|
|Carol Cleveland||Zoot||Dingo (Zoot's twin)|
|Bee Duffell||Old crone|
|John Young||Historian||Man who is "not dead yet"|
|Rita Davies||Historian's Wife|
|Sally Kinghorn/Avril Stewart||Winston/Piglet|
Knights Who-Say-Ni, The French, The Cops, The Black Knight, The Three Headed Knight, The Keeper of the Bridge of Death (a.k.a., the man from scene 24), The Killer Rabbit, and the Legendary Black Beast of Aaargh
The legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh [King Arthur's pronunciation: [ɑːɡ]] is a famous creature from the film. The beast dwells in the Cave of Caerbannog, the entrance of which is guarded by the vicious killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. The Beast's name was coined by Brother Maynard, who announced "It's the Legendary Black Beast of... Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh!" as he falls into the Beast's jaws.
In the film, the Knights of King Arthur's Round Table encounter the Black Beast in the Cave of Caerbannog while they are reading the carvings written by Joseph of Arimathea which tell the location of the Holy Grail. The characters are distracted by the carvings, which say that the Grail is located in the "Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh", and as they try to figure out what the Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh is, the Beast sneaks up on them from behind. The monster (which comically appears in the film as an animation, in which he has multiple eyes, two legs, and is quite colourful instead of black) then eats the scholar Brother Maynard and Sir Alf (whose death was cut out of the film) and chases the fleeing knights.
Arthur and his men are unable to combat the beast and are almost killed by it, until the animator (essentially Terry Gilliam portraying "Himself") inexplicably suffers a fatal heart attack, thus ending the "cartoon peril". At this point the Beast turns white and disappears.
On 15 June 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, and when the film was shown on TV in the UK) where Zoot's "identical twin sister Dingo" gets side-tracked in conversation, and she randomly remarks on how much she is enjoying this scene. Several characters, including Tim the Enchanter, God, and the army at the end of the film, tell her to "get on with it!".
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 US$1,821,082 during its re-release run. This version of the film still plays periodically at North American repertory theatres.
Originally, Neil Innes wrote an authentic medieval score for the film, with appropriate instruments, but as accurate as it was, was ultimately deemed too 'quaint' for the film. It was decided to instead use music from the DeWolfe Music production library in London, who the Pythons had used for musical cues dating back to their television series (including recordings of The Liberty Bell March for the series and later live shows).
The imposing first track was considered by Terry Jones to be an homage to one of his favourite film directors, Ingmar Bergman.
The dramatic music played during Sir Lancelot's misguided storming of Swamp Castle is The Flying Messenger by Oliver Armstrong, from the DeWolfe library.
The flagellant monks are chanting a phrase from the Latin Requiem mass, pies Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem, which in English is rendered, Holy Lord Jesus, grant unto them rest. They then hit themselves in the head with wooden boards. This is an obvious reference to flagellants during the time of the black plague, a practice also seen briefly in the movie The Name of the Rose . This practice can also be seen in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.
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.
In 1995, The Criterion Collection released the first available letterboxed edition on laserdisc in North America, featuring, for the first time, a deleted 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. It has been available on all subsequent DVD releases. Additional audio tracks included commentary by directors Jones and Gilliam, and the film completely dubbed in Japanese, portions of which were excerpted with translated subtitles as examples and used in subsequent DVD releases. It also included a theatrical trailer which began with English dialogue (including Michael Palin in 'Gumby' character voice), eventually changing to Japanese, which concluded to appear as a mock advertisement for a Japanese restaurant across the street from the exhibiting theater, and includes an outtake with the cardboard cutout of Camelot falling in the distance.
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. On 23 October 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, and in the opening has a conversation between two people written in "Swedish". 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. It also includes a small featurette, presented by Michael Palin, about the 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 on Sheriffmuir near Stirling once they had 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. This DVD edition is missing the "Swedish" subtitle of the film's title card - "Mønti Pythøn ik den Hølie Gräilen".
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 (Terry Jones) mumbles that it is the 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 the alternative title of Get On With It!).
On 16 September 2003, a "Collector's Edition" DVD was released that includes the features of the previous "Special Edition" as well as a copy of the Screenplay. This set came in a collectible box.
On 3 October 2006, an "Extraordinarily Deluxe" DVD was released that includes the features of the previous "Special Edition" as well as other, new features. These include 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 1985, an unofficial text adventure game called The Quest for the Holy Grail appeared for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum computers, released as a budget title on cassette tape by Mastertronic. While the game borrowed many concepts from the movie (the three headed knight, the white rabbit, holy hand grenade, shrubbery, etc.), the plot of the game made no real attempt to follow the plot of the film. Reviews of the game were not kind, lambasting it for weak humour and ease of completion.
In 1996, 7th Level released the official 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."
The MUD Starmud contains an area that is based closely upon the movie.
The game Fallout 2 contains a random encounter that resembles the bridge of death. The area contains the bridge and an NPC character who will ask you questions, stump him and he is cast out into the gorge. The game has a separate random encounter in which several characters in power armor request the holy hand grenade of antioch. The hand grenade does not exist in the game as-shipped, but can be located by hacking the game files.
John Cleese remarked in the 2003 'autobiography' of Monty Python that he'd noticed that Holy Grail was normally ranked as the best Python film in America, while he and his fellow Brits generally preferred Life of Brian. He claimed he was "always surprised" by this, citing Holy Grail as being "less mature" and lacking in moral message.
According to the autobiography The Pythons, Eric Idle had 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. Most of the team thought the idea to be reasonably promising. However, John Cleese did not want to do it, which made Idle realize that "[the group] would never, ever work together again," especially since Graham Chapman had died the year before.