Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) Poster


Terry Gilliam dies more than any other actor in this movie, with a grand total of 4 deaths. His characters that die are the Green Knight (sword through the face), Sir Bors (decapitated by the Killer Rabbit), the Animator (major heart attack), and the Bridgekeeper/Soothsayer (cast into the "Gorge of Eternal Peril"). John Cleese and Terry Jones, by contrast, have no death scenes in this film at all.
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Funds earned by Pink Floyd's album "The Dark Side of the Moon" went towards funding Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). The band were such fans of the show they would halt recording sessions just to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969).
The famous depiction of galloping horses by using coconut shells (a traditional radio-show sound effect) came about from the purely practical reason that the production simply could not afford real horses.
Since the armour the Knights wore was really made of wool, and the weather conditions in Scotland and England being what they normally are, the actors spent most of the shooting days being very cold and wet. To make matters worse, the hotel where they were staying only had a limited number of baths and hot water. At the end of shooting each day, there was a mad dash to see who could get back to the hotel first, and into some hot water. The Monty Python troupe all seem to agree that they did not enjoy much of the filming experience for this movie.
In the Killer Rabbit scene, a real white rabbit was used. He was dyed with what was assumed to be a washable red coloring liquid in the shots after the battle. When filming wrapped the rabbit's owner was dismayed to learn the dye could not be rinsed off. Terry Gilliam described in an audio commentary that the owner of the rabbit was present and shooting was abruptly halted while the cast desperately attempted to clean the rabbit before the owner found out, an unsuccessful attempt. He also stated that he thought that, had they been more experienced in film-making, the crew would have just purchased a rabbit instead. Otherwise the rabbit himself was unharmed. The rabbit-bite effects were done via special puppetry by both Terry Gilliam and SFX technician John Horton.
The French tactic of pelting Arthur and his knights with livestock echoes the relatively modern legend of a medieval siege of the fortified southern French town of Carcassonne. Said to have been near starvation, the townspeople used the last of their food to pelt the besieging army to convince them, suffering likewise, that the town was well stocked with food and that the siege was hopeless. The tactic was successful, and the siege was lifted.
During one of the first screenings of the film in front of a live audience, director Terry Jones noticed that when music was played during the jokes, there was a marked reduction of laughter from the audience. He went back and edited the music out whenever a punchline was delivered. At subsequent screenings he noticed a dramatic increase in the audiences' positive reactions to the jokes. From that point on, whenever he directed, he remembered to stop the music for the funny parts.
"God" is in fact a photograph of the famous 19th-century English cricketer W.G. Grace.
The Enchanter's name is Tim because John Cleese forgot the character's original name. He ad-libbed the line, "There are some who call me...Tim".
The Black Knight was first played by John Cleese, but when Arthur cuts off the first leg a real one-legged actor (a local silversmith) was used. On the DVD Terry Gilliam reveals that a marionette was used to film the shot of the second leg being cut off, he also jokes that using the one-legged silversmith for the shot of the knight with no legs saved work, since they only had to dig a hole for one leg (Cleese has said that it was himself standing in the hole).
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. It's true: a 5 ounce bird cannot carry a one pound coconut, but furthermore, no swallow weighs 5 ounces. The barn swallow, which is what most English people mean when they say "swallow", weighs only 20 grams (2/3 of an ounce).
John Cleese as Tim the Enchanter actually stood on the pinnacle seen at the beginning of his scene. On one side was a drop he said could have killed him, and on the other was a drop he said could have maimed him. To make matters worse, the wind kept threatening to push him over either side. Between takes, he would crouch down to avoid being pushed over by the wind. The whole experience was one he remembers as being very frightening, but he did it anyway, because he knew what kind of budget and time-lines they had to work with.
During the witch hunt, Eric Idle bares his teeth and bites down on the blade of the scythe he is holding. This was not scripted; Idle was actually about to burst out laughing and bit his scythe to stifle himself so as not to spoil the take. (If you look closely, you can see him shaking slightly, trying to keep his laughing under control.) Michael Palin can be seen hiding laughter at the same time as well, while earlier in the scene John Cleese quickly turns his head to one side just before the shot cuts, though not quickly enough to hide that he has broken character and is grinning broadly. All three comment on each others' corpsing on the DVD commentary.
Day one of filming was plagued with problems: after an extended trek into the Glen Coe hills the crew's only sync camera sheared its gears and the team could only shoot mute shots that involved crossing the Bridge of Death. Graham Chapman suffered from delirium tremens (a side-effect of his alcoholism) and froze when trying to cross the Bridge of Death, thus having to be doubled by the first assistant director.
Graham Chapman's alcoholism (which he tried to suppress with Antabuse) caused problems during filming, and not just through his repeatedly forgetting his lines. The first day of shooting required Chapman to cross the Bridge of Death. When working on Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969), Chapman had been used to drinking heavily to calm his nerves. He quickly discovered to his dismay that the crew had no alcohol on the set, and the nearest town was too far away for a quick trip to purchase any. Consequently, he was visibly stressed, shaking, sweating and moving slowly throughout the scene, yet he was known to be an experienced rock climber. Not knowing about his alcoholism, the crew wondered if Chapman's heavy costume caused the stress; it was actually alcoholism-induced DTs.
Michael Palin plays the most characters (12).
Both John Cleese and Terry Gilliam performed all their stunts during the duel between Black and Green Knight. They both had to learn to manage big and heavy swords and to do some acrobatics, though never being recognizable, wearing both heavy armors and full helmets. They both avoided use of stunt-men because, as they said in commentaries, they had a lot of fun in enacting the duel.
Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Genesis all contributed to the film's budget.
Though he was renowned as the most restrained and unflappable of the Pythons, when Michael Palin was asked to do a seventh take of the scene where he crawls through mud, he had, in his own words, "A jolly good blow-up." John Cleese and Graham Chapman were so astonished that they gave him a round of applause.
Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film is Michael Palin's infant son William.
For the Japanese release, "Holy Grail" is translated "Holy Sake Cup."
As part of their stained glass and interior decoration, several medieval cathedrals included illustrations of virtues and vices. The vice of cowardice was depicted as a knight running away from a rabbit. Notre Dame in Paris has no fewer than three such medallions of the "Killer Rabbit".
The gorilla hand turning the pages was director Terry Gilliam's. The hand turning pages before that is that of Gilliam's wife.
Terry Gilliam was originally supposed to play Sir Gawain, whose role would have consisted of repeatedly breaking the fourth wall and pointing out how special effects and other aspects of the film's production were achieved. His role ultimately ended up being turned into Patsy, with his medium awareness jokes being summed up in the character's only speaking line: when he sees Camelot Castle, he says "It's only a model". (The stage play gives Patsy a much bigger role.)
Graham Chapman (as King Arthur) was the only member of the cast to wear real chain mail armor. It weighed about 25 pounds. The rest of the cast wore knitted wool, painted to look like metal.
The Dead Collector's line, "Because he hasn't got shit all over him" was ad-libbed by Eric Idle.
In an auction of movie costumes in March 2007, the helmet worm by Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones) sold for $29,000, more than ten times the original estimate.
Two weeks before location shooting was scheduled to begin, the Scottish Department of the Environment withdrew permission for the Pythons to shoot within their castles, saying that the film's script would be "incompatible with the history and fabric" of the castles. The interiors of Camelot and Swamp Castle, and exteriors of Castle Anthrax, French Castle and the opening castle were all shot at Doune Castle (with various rooms redecorated and reused many times). Recently-rebuilt Castle Stalker was used for the Castle Aarrgg. Both of these were privately owned and could be used. The Constitutional Peasants' castle and Camelot are each 10ft high plywood models (hence Patsy's comment) which had a tendency to blow over in the middle of each take; hence the trailer shows another in-joke, with King Arthur knighting someone who just built a large castle but when the plywood building falls over Arthur stabs him.
According to Michael Palin, "casting was largely determined mainly by who'd written what. Castle Anthrax was a Galahad thing and I'd written that with Terry, so I was cast as Galahad; Terry had written Bedevere; Lancelot was a mixture of stuff we'd written, but John seemed to fit that well; Eric had written Brave Sir Robin, so he got the Sir Robin parts, and the rest were subsidiary parts, which again I think were probably largely to do originally with who wrote what".
The film features absolutely no end credits.
According to Terry Jones, the scene with Lancelot and Concorde required twenty takes. While the second take was perfect, the cameraman noticed that there was a lot of smoke in the background. At one point, an annoyed John Cleese quipped, "Well, was the smoke funny enough?"
The Python crew generally considered this to be one of their lesser movies despite its popularity. John Cleese often says they think Life of Brian (1979) is their best work. But it has also to do with their bad memories of the filming of the movie.
The major knights all have appropriate artwork on their shields and armor. The cowardly Sir Robin has a chicken for his emblem. Bedevere, a man of science and nature, has a tree. Lancelot, an overzealous knight that often kills without thought, has a vicious dragon emblem. King Arthur, who receives a vision from God in the sky/sun for his quest, has a symbol depicting the sun. Sir Galahad, a pure knight who has his purity tested with a visit to a castle filled with temptresses, has a holy cross. And the Black Knight has a wild boar, which is quite representative of his stubborn personality and refusing to admit defeat.
The establishing shot showing the "forest of Ewing" is actually stock footage of Yosemite Valley.
There were numerous disagreements between Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Gilliam was more focused on technical aspects, while Jones was more focused on the comedy. After this, it was agreed that Jones direct the further Python films.
Many of the extras in the film are actually technicians and stagehands, including the designer and the editor playing policemen, the film's musician playing the bearer killed by the Trojan Rabbit, the costume designer playing one of the minstrels and the wife of the producer of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969) playing the historian's wife.
According to Terry Gilliam, on his very first shot, the camera broke.
At the beginning of the "Bring out your dead" scene, two nuns with gigantic mallets can be seen. The original script called for them to be pounding on a man tied to a cart, but the scene was cut and that glimpse is all that remains.
King Arthur refers to the "shrubbery" woman as an old crone. "Old crone" was the name given to old women who were (usually) kidnapped from a local English village by Crusading knights to find and cook food and wash the knight's clothing while on a Crusade. Due to the their usually advanced age and lack of food, amongst other factors, few old crones survived the Crusades. And not because people kept saying "Ni!" to them, either.
Terry Gilliam designed the boat used in the finale. When they first saw it, the rest of the Monty Python troupe were greatly impressed by it.
The chicken on Brave Sir Robin's shield is facing to the right (the bearer's left, or "sinister" in heraldry terminology). As Sir Robin is holding the shield in his left hand, this means that the chicken is effectively seen to be running away from the battle.
The movie actually starts with the opening sequence of Dentist on the Job (1961).
The film's abrupt ending came about because it didn't have the budget for a large-scale battle sequence.
Unusually for a Monty Python feature, all the female roles (apart from Dennis's mother, played by Terry Jones) are played by women. In the TV series and the two following films, almost all the female roles are played by men.
In several scenes the monks chant in Latin: "Pie Iesu domine, dona eis requiem". The translation of this is: "Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest." It's part of the standard Latin funeral rite. The German heavy metal band Blind Guardian sampled this on the opening track of their album "Follow the Blind".
Premiere voted this movie as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006.
According to Michael Palin, "I remember one day when we'd been doing a lot of crouching with the castle in the background and Terry Gilliam asked us to crouch once more because there was a lovely shaft of sunlight coming and catching John's helmet. John went absolutely berserk, saying 'You know, I'm not waiting for a shaft of light to strike my fucking helmet. We've been here for four hours, we've crouched and it's cold. What are you waiting for? The moon and the stars to arrange themselves around my head'" Gilliam recalled, "When we did the scene where they are at the battlements and the cow is thrown over it was a matte shot and the only way to do it was to dig a hole in the ground and have them all on their knees. John was going apeshit because he was uncomfortable. I finally said, 'Fuck it. It's your sketch, you wrote it. I'm just trying to make it work. And this is a tricky shot here'. So I said, 'Fuck you', and went off in a snit and laid down in the grass, saying I'm not going to direct this".
Scenes such as Arthur approaching the first castle and Lancelot's running dash to Swamp Castle were filmed on Hampstead Heath, a London park beside one of the city's busiest road junctions.
John Cleese's young daughter was on the set during the filming of the Black Knight scene, and after seeing the "fighting", remarked to Connie Booth, "Daddy doesn't like that man, does he?"
Patsy only has one line in the movie: "It's only a model."
In the "kill the witch" scene, Cleese would vary his comic timing for each take. The final take used starts at 18mins 8secs. Cleese's pause is so long that it makes Eric Idle start to 'corpse' (break character). To fight this, Idle starts biting his scythe.
The French soldiers' master is identified as "Guy de Lombard" - Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo (1902-1977).
Bee Duffell (Old Crone) died before the cinema release.
Movie was adapted as a Broadway musical in 2006 called "Spamalot".
The Pythons' young friend Douglas Adams made an oblique reference in the radio script of "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" to the Shrubbery scene. This "shrubbery" note was to indicate a silly term tacked on, much the same as "We need...a shrubbery!" was tacked on. It was meant to be just a note in its rough form, but was typed up by mistake and ended up in the finished script.
Additional cat abuse includes a cat being stepped on during the Knights of Camelot Dance scene.
The original plan for the chief Knight-who-says-"Ni" to have John Cleese supporting Michael Palin on his shoulders, but somewhere along the way it ended up as just Palin standing on a ladder.
When King Arthur and his knights reach Camelot,the trumpet fanfare is the identification fanfare for Rediffusion Television. Rediffusion produced Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967) and At Last the 1948 Show (1967), two programs featuring the members of Monty Python before teaming up.
Immediately after the second encounter with the Knights Who Say Ni, the original script had a lengthy sequence involving a character named King Brian the Wild, who enjoyed getting people to come to his castle, having them sing in close harmony, and then having them killed by his archers. The Knights of the Round Table nearly end up meeting this fate themselves, but Sir Robin unwittingly saves the day when he shows up in the nick of time, and the archers shoot his minstrels instead. King Brian would most likely have been played by Eric Idle, given that Sir Robin is absent for most of the sequence, though there have been some reports that the role was written for the Pythons' friend, stage-and-screen legend Brian Blessed. The next Python movie was entitled Life of Brian (1979).
At the start of the Tale of Sir Robin, there is a slow camera zoom in on rocky scenery (that in the voice over is described as 'the dark forest of Ewing'). This is actually a still photograph of The Gorge at Mount Buffalo National Park in Victoria, Australia. The production manager Julian Doyle stated in 2000 during an interview with Hotdog magazine that it was a still image filmed with candles underneath the frame (to give a heat haze). This was a low-cost method of achieving a convincing location effect.
On the DVD audio commentary, John Cleese expresses irritation at a scene set in Castle Anthrax, where he says the focus was on technical aspects rather than comedy.
According to Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones got the directing job because they were the only ones who were interested in it.
In the elaborately illustrated pages that precede various scenes, "Lancelot" is spelled two different ways - "Launcelot" and "Lancelot".
According to the home video commentary track, the large princess that Prince Herbert is supposed to be married to is named "Princess Lucky." The giant "H" and "L" outside of Swamp Castle stand for "Herbert" and "Lucky."
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Of the three Monty Python feature films of original material/stories, this is the only one whose opening credits are not accompanied by the animations of Terry Gilliam.
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The sun on King Arthur's tunic and shield has a mustache.
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Among the extras is the future writer Iain Banks, who was studying at nearby Stirling University at the time.
The musical piece that plays at the very beginning of the movie is "Ice Floe 9" composed by Pierre Arvay. Which was a musical piece borrowed from DeWolfe Music - Production Music Library.
The very first shot filmed was King Arthur crossing the Bridge of Death. The very last shot was Lancelot endless running towards the castle, done as a last minute pick-up re-shoot in London (that small shot of Lancelot was actually filmed much earlier, on location, but John Cleese's running was deemed "too silly", generating a laugh and ruining the joke when he suddenly appears).
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Assyria (now part of Iraq) had four capitals throughout its history: Ashur (or Qalat Sherqat), Calah (or Nimrud), the short-lived Dur Sharrukin (or Khorsabad), and Nineveh.
Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones spent two weeks scouting locations in Britain. On the special edition DVD and blu-ray editions of the film there is a bonus documentary about the location scouting with Gilliam and Jones revisiting several of the locations they used in the film and several more that were considered but never used.
Of the three Monty Python films of all original material, this is the only one in which the Three Wise Men do not appear.
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The Amstrad CPC Computer Game "Dark Star" (Firebird) had a scoreboard where quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail served as placeholders until it was gradually filled up with players scores.
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Michael Palin wrote in his diary, "Graham Chapman ended up being seduced by an elderly Aberdeen gentleman on a fishing holiday. Graham resisted evidently, but was well pissed and woke me about 1 o'clock, banging on my door, saying he was Ethel the Kaiser. On Monday night, he woke me again, and just after I'd dropped off I heard him in his room saying he was Betty Marsden very loudly in a variety of silly ways. On Tuesday night, however, he was kind enough to be content with putting a note under my 'With Best Wishes, Betty Marsden' written on it".
Part of the cast and crew's frustration with Terry Gilliam's direction arose from his need to be technically precise regarding the positions of the actors in a frame. Gilliam had been doing the animation sequences for the Python's television show using small cutout figures and scenery. When it came time for him to set up a scene, he'd treat the actors like they were the same small figures he'd been using for years.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
According to Michael Palin, he originally had a blonde wig for Galahad. It was discarded, as it made him look like Jan Morris.
The dead collector early in the film deduces that Arthur must be a king because "He hasn't got shit all over him." At the end of the film, the French soldier empties a chamber pot on him, so he does indeed have shit all over him.
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The final battle scene where the English army is visible in shot was filmed in Stirling on the rear of Dumyat, one of the Ochil hills, close to the now closed Sheriffmuir Inn.
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There is a New Age Therapy that involves resonating the Sinuses with strange sounds, including "Ni".
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Sir Lancelot's loyal manservant who gets struck by an arrow is called Concorde. Concorde was the name of Dennis Moore's horse in the Dennis Moore sketches in Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969) (TV Series). Both Sir Lancelot and Dennis Moore is played by John Cleese.
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It makes sense that Lancelot rescues Galahad from Cadtle Anthrax since, according to Arthurian legend, Lancelot is Galahad's father.
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There is a city in Morocco called Nador.
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Though Lancelot's charge through the castle is meant to be entirely chaotic, the moment where he kicks the bride in the chest can be seen in a flash in the scene where Princess Lucky's bridesmaids are preparing her for the wedding.
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Connie Booth: John Cleese's then-wife as the "witch."


The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Some major scenes scripted, but never filmed:
  • additional "Knights who say Ni!" scene, they intend to call themselves "the Knights of Nicky-Nicky"
  • additional police detective scenes
  • several scenes where Arthur and the knights meet "King Brian, the Wild".
  • After the Bridgekeeper, they come upon the Boatkeeper. "He who would cross the Sea of Fate Must answer these questions twenty-eight!"
  • Arthur and his knights end up finding the Holy Grail at London's famous Harrods department store.
The theatrical release contains 527 jokes, including 42 in the opening credits, for an average of one joke every 10.5 seconds.
In the Castle Anthrax sketch, Galahad suspects that Lancelot is gay, which Lancelot flatly denies. In the Swamp Castle sketch, Lancelot meets the effeminate, "ladylike" Prince Herbert ("Alice"), who seems to be gay, although this is never clearly stated. In the 2006 "Spamalot!" stage show, Herbert is clearly stated to be gay, and helps Lancelot come out of the closet.
The only knights that finally get to cross the Bridge of Eternal Peril are Sir Lancelot, King Arthur and Sir Bedevere. The bridge was constructed by a Scottish mountaineer and was perfectly safe, though scary. Graham Chapman suffered from giddiness, having not had a drink before filming started for the day, so the assistant cinematographer crossed in his place. John Cleese and Terry Jones crossed the bridge by themselves.
The word that the "Knights of Ni" can't stand to hear is "It".
The King of Swamp Castle says that Sir Lancelot killed "all those guards - they cost 50 pounds each", meaning that Sir Lancelot killed £300 worth of guards.

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