There was once a section in my local video store called “Monty Python” which was sandwiched between the “Steve Martin” and “Cheech & Chong” sections, basically a shelf with their films with MONTY PYTHON written in magic marker underneath. The section had only two Monty Python movies, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” while the rest was their solo work being passed off as Monty Python projects. The problem was that there are only five Monty Python movies, two of which was remakes of sketch comedy from their television shows. Python fans wanted more. Distributors realized this and several solo projects have been promoted as Python movies.
This all goes back to 1977 and Terry Gilliam’s second movie “Jabberwocky” having co-directed “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” with Terry Jones two years earlier. Needing an actor to play the lead character Dennis Cooper Gilliam turned to fellow Python Michael Palin. Terry Jones showed up for a brief cameo as a poacher who is the Jabberwocky’s first victim, and Gilliam himself appeared in a cameo as another victim. This was a mistake. Gilliam, the director of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” had done another medieval comedy two years later that included half the cast of “…Holy Grail”. Everyone was expecting a sequel to “…Holy Grail” and now here comes along something that seems like a sequel.* The American distributor of the film promoted it as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail II: Jabberwocky” which Gilliam found out about and immediately put a stop to this. But it was too late and to this day many think that “Jabberwocky” is the sequel to “…Holy Grail”.
All it takes is for a movie to be written by a Python and to have two or more Pythons in the cast for it to be tagged as a Python movie. Amnesty International held a number of all star concerts to raise money for their cause. Members of Monty Python appeared in the earlier concerts including “Pleasure at Her Majesty’s” where all but one member appeared officially as Monty Python. The show was taped as a television special which was immediately bootleged and shown in grind house theaters as “Monty Python meets Beyond the Fringe”. John Cleese hosted the next two concerts “The Secret Policeman’s Ball” and “The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball”, one which he was joined by Michael Palin and Terry Jones, the other which he was joined by Graham Chapman. Both concerts were released to theaters in England to raise money for Amnesty International. A decision was made to combine both movies editing them down to mostly the celebrities American audiences were familiar with and release it to North American theaters as “The Secret Policeman’s [ Other ] Ball”. The distributor knew that the Monty Python connection would be the movie’s selling point. A poster of the film gave no clue that it was a concert film. It was a drawing of the celebrities in the concert movie in a ballroom all acting wacky with John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman up in the front of the crowd. Purposely promoted as the new motion picture from those guys from Monty Python the promoter was able to successfully hide the fact that it was a concert movie. Siskle & Ebert were caught off guard, and when they reviewed it on their show “At the Movies” hey seemed shocked that it was a concert movie. “Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl” had been released earlier that year and reviewers held the Policeman’s Balls in comparison, usually giving that concert a bad review because this time the Pythons were barely in it.
“Time Bandits” was yet another movie to have three Pythons, Terry Gilliam as writer and director, Michael Palin as writer and in a few cameos, and John Cleese as Robin Hood in an extended cameo. This was enough for the movie to be promoted as “from the people who brought you Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. The American trailer added voice overs in silly tones to make it seem more like a Python movie while the Cleese and Palin cameos were prominently featured. Little or no mention was made that the lead actors were really a little boy and his dwarf friends. If “Time Bandits” could be passed off as a Python movie then so could “Yellowbeard”. It had Graham Chapman, who wrote the script, as the lead and featured Eric Idle and John Cleese in supporting roles as opposed to short cameos. The last movie to be promoted as a Python film was “A Fish Called Wanda” which ended up changing everything. Suddenly John Cleese and Michael Palin were in a movie that was more successful in America than their previous Python movies. In the movies that followed they were both promoted as being from “A Fish Called Wanda” instead of being from Monty Python. And with “….Meaning of Life” being the final Monty Python movie released to theaters each member was able to build up a resume of solo work on their own. Gilliam had “Brazil” and “The Fisher King”. Idle had a hit with “Nuns on the Run”. Jones and Palin began doing educational documentaries. Cleese went on to be a character in the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises. Later collaborations such as “Fierce Creatures”, “Splitting Heirs” and “Wind and the Willows” were all released without with little or mentions of cast members being in Monty Python.
*At the time “Jabberwocky” was released it was not unusual for a sequel to have only one cast member from the first movie as the lead and maybe one or two other cast members who agree to return for a brief cameo just to establish their characters still exist.