After the success of Monty Python's Flying Circus in the UK and US, the six Ambassadors of Anarchy got the right to make films. This was their second go-round (after And Now for Something Completely Different, which did feature redone versions of several sketches from Circus) and one of their most famous and oft-quoted.A complete skewering of the Arthurian legend, it tells the story of King Arthur and his attempt to build a court at Camelot (which is, of course, a silly place). Once he assembles his crew (off-screen, mostly), he has a vision of God (or a reasonable drawing of same by Terry Gilliam based on a famous cricket player), informing him that to cement his name in immortality, he must seek the Holy Grail — the cup used at the Last Supper of Christ, and which caught his blood after the crucifixion. After a long and roundabout search which leads them to the far corners of the Kingdom and past idiosyncratic knights, the world's oldest harem, and a very nasty rabbit, they discover the Grail is supposedly located in a very old castle, which has fallen into the hands of those heathen enemies — the French.Those nasty taunting bastards.Full of random quips, hilarious stand-alone scenes, and the type of comedic anarchy and anticlimax that practically defines British comedy even to this day, the movie was a low-budget success story and has become a Cult Classic over time. It also reveals Michael Palin's versatility, as he plays something like 10 roles over the course of the film. He's not alone, of course; the majority of people and about 80% of the lines are from the Pythonites, leading to some interesting blocking and directing decisions. (Watch Lancelot's helmet.)Or, if you want to be "artsy" about it, see Eric Idle's Broadway adaptation: Spamalot!Just a side note — because Terry Jones is, in fact, an Arthurian scholar, this happens to be not just the funniest but the most accurate film adaptation of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur ever made. Some of the humor, in fact, is derived from typical Pythonian spins on events and characterizations from the original tales.
The Holy Grail contains examples of the following tropes:
The cow and large wooden rabbit the French fling at the English knights (catapulting animals was a legitimate strategy for fending off invaders back then, but they were usually dead animals meant to spread disease, not actual livestock). The French can do this too, with less preparation.
Launching/dropping dead animals and other nasty things was a real tactic in siege warfare.
Those guys in the monks robes who walk around chanting in Latin and hitting themselves in the face with boards? They were called flagellants. Compared to what some of the actual flagellent sects did to themselves, their behavior, as odd as it is, is extremely mild.
Amusing Injuries: The Black Knight's limbs being lopped off in his duel with King Arthur.
You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you! I'll bite your legs off!
Animator Existence Failure: Played for laughs "when, suddenly... the animator suffered a fatal heart attack. The cartoon peril was no more."
The surprise ending to the British attack on the French castle. The reason why they didn't go through with the whole fight is because they ran out of money and time, and couldn't film the whole thing. So they just said "Everyone went to jail". Some people consider it a cop-out.
Apocalyptic Log: The message carved by Joseph of Aramathea giving the Grail's location.
Arranged Marriage: Prince Herbert's father wants him to marry a princess because her father owns the biggest tracts of open land in Britain, never mind Herbert's objections. Sir Lancelot comes to rescue Herbert because he thinks he's a Distressed Damsel.
"She turned me into a newt!" "A newt?" *beat* "I got better."
Bilingual Bonus: The Latin chorus sung by the monks while hitting themselves on the head with a two-by-four (a film-friendly version of self-flagellation). It's a real prayer and has been put to music many times, most famously by Bach. The line uttered by the monks (Pie Iesu Domina, dona eis requiem) translates to Lord, all pitying, Jesus blest, grant them thine eternal rest. However, when one factors in the satirical nature of the film, it's not really that far-fetched to assume that what they're trying to say is: "God, give them a break already!"
The swallow joke ("African or European?") comes up at least twice after the initial scene. The narrator goes on about how many swallows'-flight away Arthur and Bedevere are from Galahad and Lancelot, and the counter-question that allows Arthur to pass the Bridge of Death. Bedevere is also introduced with a coconut tied to a bird, though it's a dove instead of a swallow.
The murder of the historian.
The credits. All of the credits guys were sacked, meaning there were no end credits.
In a case of What Could Have Been: In the beginning, King Arthur was in an argument with a castle guard over whether or not a swallow could carry a coconut. In the planned ending for the film. King Arthur was supposed to do battle with the French Knights, and be saved by swallows dropping coconuts.
Halfway through the film, a historian appears to summarize the next part of the plot and is murdered. Later, Arthur, Sir Bedevere, and Sir Lancelot are stopped on their quest and arrested for his murder.
Mass firings, which carries on into the end credits. (Or lack thereof.)
Crashing Through The Harem: Sir Galahad fights his way through a forest in a storm until he finds Castle Anthrax, which has a Grail-shaped beacon overhead. He bangs on the door, and when it opens he falls inside. He meets several young women, one of whom tells him that the castle contains eight score young blondes and brunettes, all between 16 and 19½. As Sir Galahad escapes from two naughty female doctors, he enters a room filled with the aforementioned eight score young women. Just as he decides to stay, some of the other knights "rescue" him and get him to continue the Grail quest. He then proceeds to call them gay.
Brother Maynard: Three is the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four thou shalt not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.
This sounds exactly like an oral tradition (where repetition helped cement things in memory) that got transcribed exactly when it got written down. See above about Terry Jones being a history geek.
Parts of the Book of Armaments bear an uncanny resemblance to the Athanasian Creed, which affirms the Christian doctrine of the Trinity in agonising detail; to quote just a tiny section:
"...and yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God..."
Derailed For Details: In the opening scene, King Arthur's attempt to summon the Lord of the local castle derails into a discussion of how exactly King Arthur acquired a coconut shell in Medieval England, and ends with an argument over the migratory patterns of swallows. This even turns up later in a Brick Joke.
Determinator: Deconstructed, figuratively and literally, by the Black Knight scene. Cleese even said he based it on a school lesson in never surrendering, that Cleese found rather ridiculous (as it was about a Greco-Roman wrestler who died in the ring rather than lose the match).
God: Arthur! Arthur, King of the Britons! Oh, don't grovel! If there's one thing I can't stand, it's people groveling. Arthur: Sorry— God: And don't apologize. Every time I try to talk to someone it's "sorry this" and "forgive me that" and "I'm not worthy". What are you doing now!? Arthur: I'm averting my eyes, oh Lord. God: Well, don't. It's like those miserable Psalms — they're so depressing. Now knock it off!
Distressed Damsel: Subverted, although the audience is in on the subversion in this case.
Dope Slap: King Arthur to Sir Bedevere and the King of Swamp Castle to Prince Herbert.
Double Take: The French soldier when he sees the Trojan Rabbit.
Downer Ending: Arthur gets arrested by (modern-day) police officers in connection with a trans-temporal murder committed by an entirely different person earlier in the film. The climactic battle with the French never happens.
Lancelot: O Fair One, behold your humble servant Sir Lancelot of Camelot. I have come in answer to your mess— oh, I'm terribly sorry!
The Dung Ages: Remember, Arthurian scholar. This was actually one of the first movies to show that conditions back then weren't like what they showed you in the movies. The corpse collector is able to identify Arthur as a king specifically because "he hasn't got shit all over him."
Dying Clue: "He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the castle of AAAAaaaaaargh." Of course, it turns out the castle is actually called "AAAAaaaaaargh".
King Arthur: What happens next? Bedevere: Well, now, uh, Launcelot, Galahad, and I wait until nightfall, and then leap out of the rabbit, taking the French by surprise — not only by surprise, but totally unarmed! King Arthur: ...Who leaps out? Bedevere: Uh, Launcelot, Galahad, and I, uh, leap out of the rabbit, uh, and, uh.... (looks around at who are very obviously still standing next to him, and besides which are now openly facepalming) l-look, if we built this large wooden badger...
Face Palm: Upon recognizing a glaring flaw in the Trojan Rabbit plan.
Gag Sub: The opening credits and those on a DVD release.
For the record, the DVD Gag Sub is actually entirely composed of lines from William Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 2. It's marketed on the DVD as being "For People Who Did Not Like The Film." Only it isn't Henry IV. It's just the film's lines put into more Shakespearean terms.
Actually, all the lines are FROM Henry IV. They're just not in Shakespeare's order, and some are just fragments of lines, chosen to fit the lines actually spoken in the film.
The bridge-keeper attempts to invoke three questions before letting them cross (which are relatively easy... If you aren't indecisive). If they fail (either by not knowing one of the others or simply being indecisive with one of the questions), they are hurled down a fiery crevice. When Arthur gets his turn, specifically when he gets to the third question (about the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow), Arthur actually asks for clarification as to whether he meant an unladen African swallow or an unladen European swallow. The bridgekeeper then admits he doesn't even know, with predictable results.
The Knights of the Round Table when the French taunters catapult the Trojan Rabbit at them.
Hollywood Tactics: Go, Sir Lancelot, you psychotic berk! Chop that castle down with your sword! Justified, though, in that this was how Lancelot actually acted in Malory and other early sources. "Mentally unstable berserker prone to stress-induced fugue states" doesn't even begin to cover him.
Rather more specifically, this scene is a parody of the rescue of Guenevere near the end of Morte d' Arthur.
Hollywood Torches: Appear during the Camelot, Castle Anthrax, Swamp Castle and Cave of Caerbannog sequences.
Hugo Award: Nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1976.
Just a Stupid Accent: John Cleese's taunting Frenchman hangs a lampshade. Further played with when one of the French knights actually does speak French (or uses commonly known French words), and the other Frenchmen don't understand a word.
Frenchman #1: C'est un cadeau! Frenchman #2: Huh? Frenchman #1: It's a present! Frenchman #2: Oh! Oui, un cadeau! Frenchman #1: Oui! Oui! Allons-y! Frenchman #2: What? Frenchman #1: Let's go. Frenchman #2: Oh!
Lampshade Hanging: Seeing as this is Monty Python, of course there's a lot of this. A notable example in the Camelot song — "but many times we're given rhymes / that are quite unsingable"... rhyming with "table".
Literal-Minded: Prince Herbert's guards are so literal in their interpretation of their orders that they allow Herbert to engineer his rescue because in the process he never does anything they were told to keep him from doing.
Miles Gloriosus: "Brave" Sir Robin, who has a troupe of troubadours to follow him about and sing of his praises. Unfortunately he runs away at the first sign of danger, and they incorporate his cowardice into their song....
Also in a deleted scene with Zoot (which does still appear in several versions of the movie) and within several other scenes throughout the film. Note of course that in most instances, the Overly-Long Gag is itself an intentional Running Gag and a Lampshade Hanging.
Red Shirt: Bors, Gawain and Ector. They appear suddenly and without introduction before The Rabbit of Caerbannog and they are promptly dispatched. (Of course, in Malory and the Vulgate Cycle these are three of Arthur's most prominent knights - Terry Jones having a bit of fun with the traditions again?)
Rewriting Reality: The knights escape a cartoon monster when the animator dies of a heart attack.
Graham Chapman got so drunk, he was absolutely terrified this would happen. So a stunt double ripped off his clothes and strutted across the bridge. You might notice how strangely determined the guy looks when doing this.
Rule of Funny: The driving force behind all technology in the movie. Why else would the French have their catapults already aimed at the Britons, but unloaded? How else would one explain the existence of the Holy Hand Grenade? Okay, the movie thrives on this trope.
The counting of the Holy Hand Grenade. "Five is right out."
Also, subverted. The third castle in the swamp fared even worse than the first two. But the fourth one stayed up.
Further subverted in a scene cut from the ending sequence: The old man from scene 24 appears — for a third time, of course — as Arthur is about to board the boat to the Grail castle and intones, "He who would cross the Sea of Fate must answer these questions twenty-and-eight." Arthur just picks him up and throws him in the water before getting into the boat.
Sir Robin's minstrel: Brave Sir Robin ran away./Bravely ran away away./When danger reared it's ugly head,/He bravely turned his tail and fled./Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about/And gallantly he chickened out./Bravely taking to his feet,/He beat a very brave retreat.
Describing a woman as having "large tracts of land" accompanied by hand gestures indicating she has a large chest. The potential bride is described as having property, which, given the era, she would not have owned outright, but would have made up her dowry, to go to her husband upon marriage. Thus she was literally "well-endowed." Of course it today's language a woman is "well-endowed" if she has a large chest.
The Stinger: Aversion — a black screen and two minutes and forty seconds of repetitive organ music.
Storming the Castle: Three times: when they try to storm the French castle early on, when Lancelot attacks the castle by himself and when Arthur's army charges the French-controlled Grail castle at the climax.
Lancelot storms Anthrax to save Galahad from "almost certain temptation", and Swamp Castle to save the distressed... prince.
Stuff Blowing Up: Tim the Enchanter, to the point of interrupting the knights mid-sentence for no purpose but pyrotechnics.
Trope Overdosed: Yes and No. Given that this movie was the Trope Namer for many of the listed tropes on this page, Monty Python And The Holy Grail is only trope-overdosed in retrospect. Back when the movie premiered (in 1975), it mainly was 91 minutes of (often ground-breaking) weirdness.
Unusual Euphemism: A man in the movie wants his son to marry a woman so he can inherit her father's property, but the son is unwilling. He tries to convince him with a couple of reasons, ending off with how she has "Huge... tracts of land," with a gesture that is less suggestive of real estate and more suggestive of womanly curves.
Turned around on the knights, later. They are drained of their will by the word "it". Oddly enough, the knight says it at the top of the scene with no harm done, but then hits himself with it for damage during the fadeout.