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I've heard from many sources that the ending to Monty Python and the Holy Grail (where it abruptly ends just before an invasion on the French castle, due to the police arriving to arrest the cast) was put in at the last moment because they were essentially out of money.

This doesn't really strike me as true, given the foreshadowing that built up to it (the historian scenes). I suppose they could have been filmed later as well and interspersed, but the impression I had always had was that they just cut the last bits of the movie, replacing them with the arrest scene, not filmed several other short scenes to mix in earlier.

Is this the case? Were all those scenes last-minute changes? If so, what was the original ending supposed to be?

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    Just as a note: scenes are rarely (if ever) shot in sequence, and it's not uncommon at all for scenes to be added or changed in a film to support a reworked ending. – user366 Aug 19 '11 at 22:42
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    Remember many sketches in their TV series ended like that. The "I Would Like to Buy an Argument" sketch, for example, ends deus ex machina of an officer stopping the sketch. British comedy does not always worry about resolving the story (watch Britcoms for a while and you'll see that they sometimes end with a major punchline to a situation than resolving the plot). Monty Python often went through the funny bits they liked, then just found an excuse to cut the skit off after they were out of ideas. It wouldn't surprise me if this is how they handled their movie scripts, too. – Tango Aug 20 '11 at 6:49
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    @Mark: I know, but I had always gotten the impression that the only scene they modified was the ending one. The inclusion of the earlier scenes is what made me question the urban legend. – Jeff Aug 20 '11 at 13:30
  • @Jeff, I presume with your high rep, you know that the checkmark can be moved. :) While I have nothing against DKuntz2's answer, I have to say that Gilles' answer is better, much more in-depth. (I usually wait a few days before checkmarking, personally...) – John C Aug 20 '11 at 15:42
  • @John C: Yeah, I do :) I agree with you, I just kinda didn't expect anything better than an answer sourced from the script itself. Then, of course, Gilles hit a home run. – Jeff Aug 20 '11 at 17:11
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Now you've gone and made me watch the extras on my DVD again.

In a 1974 BBC documentary made during the filming, Terry Jones says that the plot was completely finalized before filming:

Yeah, I think the Pythons, we usually stick fairly closely to the script, actually. They're usually pretty careful to work out, because they're so involved, usually, you have to stick, you have to work everything out in advance.

Michael Palin confirms; the plot was fixed in advance, but the details of each scene could be improvised:

It's very scripted. And then we get together, and then just about ten minutes before a take, the script is slightly rewritten. And five minutes before the take it's fairly radically rewritten. So in fact at the very last minute there's usually these little extra bits creep in.

Graham Chapman reveals a bit of the plot in his interview:

It's about a search for the Holy Grail (…). People are trying to find this Grail. — Do they? — No. No. — Isn't that rather a letdown? Don't you feel the audience… — It's a big letdown. The whole film has a great anti-climax.

Before filming began, the script underwent a lot of change. John Cleese estimates that no more than 15% of the original script remained by the time filming started. At some point, the plan was to have half the movie happen in the Middle-Ages and the other half in modern times. This is about when the quest for the Holy Grail became the main plot thread; at that stage it was to be found in Harrods (because they have everything).

The historian sequences were added at some point during the writing, well after the first draft. The first historian scene was originally Michael Palin's idea, to speed the plot along. As the scene seemed to go well, the theme was expanded to tie up the plot.

Michael Palin also came up early with the idea to end the film with the police arresting everyone. In The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations, a 2001 documentary, Julian Doyle (production manager, special effects photographer, and the police sergeant who directs the final arrest and covers the camera lens with his hand to stop the film) mentions that he very much liked the idea of the ending (I don't remember if he specifically came up with it).

I didn't hear any mention that the cost was a motivation for cutting parts of the script. Whether it was or not, the ending was clearly planned well before filming began, for artistic reasons to boot, so it's not a case of running out of money.

36

Regarding the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, according to page 248 of the 2003 edition of Thomas Dunne Books The Pythons autobiography by the Pythons:

Eric Idle- ...and only at the end do you realise there's no plot whatsoever. We didn't know how to end it. I contributed the ending because I said, "You should just stop it. The police should come in and arrest everybody, and there's a hand on the lens.' My daughter hates that end, she says, 'Is that the end? That it? I hate that." Well we couldn't afford the battle. We had all these university students on £4 a day and they shot them every angle they could, but there weren't many of them at all.

So, if you believe Erics account, the movie ended the way it was written, and it was written that way because they couldn't afford to hire enough extras at £4 a day to film a convincing battle scene. No matter how many camera angles they used to film the few students they did have, it wasn't enough. Using the police to end the picture was a cheaper and much easier solution.

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    I'm a bit surprised that this answer is so lowly voted; it seems to say the same as the others (that it was the original ending in the film), but also hits the source of the rumour - that it was written that way because of budget... – Izkata Dec 12 '12 at 18:55
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    @Izkata I liken my answer to a parrot. It's a good parrot, but it's a dead parrot. – Major Stackings Dec 13 '12 at 0:48
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    @MajorStackings - I'll give you a vote, mate. – Omegacron Sep 30 '15 at 19:41
34

I have no idea why, but I have a copy of the first draft of the Holy Grail.

The ending is the original ending. They didn't change that, but they took out the parts that lead up to it in the script. Originally an inspector was going to be following them around and attempting to find them, and does, at the end.

Source: Monty Python and The Holy Grail (Book) A First Draft by all of the Python members.

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    There is still a little of that in the film - you see the police visiting scenes from earlier in the film in short flashes. – Oldcat Sep 30 '15 at 17:17
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I remember seeing the movie, initial release, at a theater in Maryland. The movie ended with Arthur being taken off by the police which abruptly cut to an old super 8mm film of "See America in a RV" from the 50's for at least 25 minutes. It was so seamless no one in the theater could tell if it was part of the movie. People sat still for about 5 minutes then started looking around sort of bewildered. After 15 minutes some people started to get up slowly while still looking at the screen and moving towards the aisle to leave. I left after about 25 minutes of waiting for the punch line. Everyone looked so confused. It looked every bit like a Python ending joke was being played out. I still don't know what it was all about but it was a good joke on the audience.

  • Reading this now, it just sounds so hilarious that makes me feel like it was planned all the way. Made to trick people as some kind of April's Fools. – Vitor Hugo Schwaab May 20 at 19:58
1

The Python script book for Holy Grail has two scripts. The original draft actually has a much different ending. It's been transcribed here: http://www.angelfire.com/movies/closedcaptioned/grail.txt

This is not to contradict others who said the ending was what was in the original shooting script.

  • The linked script has the same ending as the movie. – ibid Apr 10 '16 at 3:35
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The ending actually was modified; it was supposed to be Arthur and the army sieging the French castle when they were saved by a bunch of sparrows dropping coconuts (in reference to the argument Arthur had at the beginning with the man in the castle as to whether or not a swallow was capable of carrying a coconut). They ran out of time and money so they put in the police arrest scene instead.

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    Hi and welcome to StackExchange. This answer flies directly in the face of other answers, which are sourced from interviews and the script...do you have a source for it you can cite, or some other reference? – Jeff Feb 24 '13 at 20:37
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    African or European swallows?? – user001 Sep 30 '15 at 16:27

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