Why Every Scrapped Monty Python Movie Never Made It to the Screen

Even comedy legends have terrible ideas sometimes
Why Every Scrapped Monty Python Movie Never Made It to the Screen

As anyone who’s ever ironically bought SPAM at the supermarket or made a trip to the emergency room after a Silly Walk-induced injury can tell you: Monty Python is one of the greatest comedy acts ever. A big reason why people love the Pythons, apart from their progressive views of the lumberjack community, is their impressive cinematic output. But the best Python movies didn’t emerge into the world fully formed. There were a lot of early ideas that were soundly rejected by the troupe and ultimately deemed unfit for the big screen, like…

Arthur King

After Monty Python released And Now For Something Completely Different, their debut movie, which was bankrolled by Playboy magazine and comprised of recycled TV sketches…

…the Pythons werent entirely happy with the experience and soon began work on an original motion picture about the Holy Grail. But Monty Python and the Holy Grail wasnt always the beloved story we all know and love; it started out as a project called Arthur King. The original version contained flashbacks to the Middle Ages, but much of it was set in modern times and followed a character named Arthur King. According to producer Mark Forstater, Arthur was kind of nebbish and a loser who was either supposed to be the real King Arthur or just a distant relative living in the present day.

Terry Jones recalled that the story ultimately concluded with Arthur finding the Grail in Harrods department store. Unfortunately for Arthur, the Pythons liked the medieval stuff more than the 20th-century segments. As Michael Palin later recounted, “We found that within these characters we could write material that did not need modern references necessarily but instead could simply have modern attitudes, which was better than making jokes about Harrods.

Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory

While promoting The Holy Grail, someone asked Eric Idle what the next Monty Python movie would be. His response? Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory. What began as an offhand quip somehow continued to evolve. According to Idle, one drunken night in Amsterdam with Terry Gilliam resulted in a number of bad-taste jokes about J.C. — like what if he was nailed inadequately to a cross by a poor workman and then offered them advice in his capacity as a professional carpenter. 

The group began taking the idea seriously, seeing as nobody had made a biblical comedy film before. So they started developing Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory in earnest, even watching old Charlton Heston movies as research. In his diaries, Palin describes early conversations about making Monty Python and the Life of Christ with characters such as Ron the Baptist.

But when it came time to write the script, the group felt that they couldnt just take the Bible story and parody or Pythonise every well-known event. As Idle claimed: It became clear early on that we couldnt make fun of Christ since what he says is very fine, but that the people around him were hilarious, and still are! Hence the reason why the focus of the story was shifted from Jesus to St. Brian and, eventually, just Brian.

Untitled Mystery Movie/Fish Musical

As they were working on the project that eventually became The Meaning of Life, the various members of Monty Python had different ideas about what the film should be about. As Palin's diaries reveal, John Cleese and Idle wanted it to be primarily about sex, while Palin and Graham Chapman worked together on a far more high-concept idea.

Palin and Chapmans pitch was to make a movie in the vein of Scottish novelist John Buchan, who had penned mystery-adventure stories such as The Thirty-Nine Steps. The movie would involve strange disappearances and unexplained deaths, with the hero having to follow various clues that could incorporate the assorted sketches they had already written. Oh, and it would open with a breathtaking, marvelously choreographed musical overture all about fish with the actors in spectacular fishy costumes. Well, at least the fishy costumes made the final cut. 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail 2

After the death of Chapman, it sure seemed like another Monty Python movie wasnt in the cards — but still, we very nearly got one. Idle came up with an idea for a direct sequel to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, set during the Crusades, in which the characters are now cross old farts who had to get together again against their will. That way, the Pythons could also parody themselves — Robin had become a salesman in France, and Lancelot was on his third wife.

The surviving members of the group, minus Cleese, even got together and started working on a script. According to Idle, It was a brilliant Python film because it started where you thought the start point was and then went backward. It was just off the wall. They even found a way to include Chapman; according to Gilliam, the Knights carried a talking box of holy relics that would be voiced by Chapman, utilizing outtakes from old Python albums.

But Cleese was, in Palins words, adamantly against doing another film, and plans for the film sank faster than a castle built on top of a swamp.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

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