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On August 17, 1979, the Monty Python team brought religious satire Life of Brian to theaters. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review of the comedy is below:
Brian, according to the gospel of the Monty Python crazies, was a cherub born in Jerusalem on the same night as Jesus, but in the manger next door, a coincidence that caused the three wise men to stumble across the wrong baby before shuffling off to the right stable. (Accidents will happen.) From then on, Brian’s life is pure hell. And very funny to watch.
He’s chased by Roman soldiers for writing graffiti on palace walls (and, especially, for incorrectly conjugating his Latin verbs). Brian also gets mixed up with an A.D. terrorist group called the People’s Front of Judea, which opposes the Judean People’s Front, then gets mistaken for being the Messiah and is ultimately crucified while others strapped on nearby crosses sing a perky song called “Look on the Bright Side,” toes keeping time to the rhythm.
Irreverent? Perhaps. But in the hands of England’s six-man Monty Python group (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin), Monty Python’s Life of Brian comes off as a wacky, good-natured satire, carrying much more of a whimsical and friendly air than a sacrilegious flavor. The Warner Bros.-Orion release, produced by John Goldstone for executive producers George Harrison and Denis O’Brien, appears headed for good times everywhere but in the Bible Belt.
Everyone works hard. Terry Jones directed and plays five roles, including the mother of Brian. Terry Gilliam contributed the animation sequences and design and also plays five parts. Michael Palin, in addition to joining the others in creating the screenplay, essays 10 roles, most notably Pontius Pilate with a speech impediment (“You’re wabble wousers!” he bellows. “On with the qoo-sivictions!”). Everyone else is equally busy, playing three or more characters, all with the same sense of outrageous fun, each as goofy as a Marx brother, whether misinterpreting holy lectures (“I think he said ‘Blessed are the Greek,'” quotes one with a bad seat at a mountain sermon by Jesus) or buying rocks from a local merchant for a stoning.
Nothing makes much sense: at one point, Brian (Graham Chapman) falls off a Judean tower, gets picked up by a space ship driven by two one-eyed alien monsters briefly involved in a Star Wars-style outer-space battle, then just as quickly is deposited back home. Yet everything makes sense in its way. By jazzing up Biblical times with 1979 idioms and attitudes, and delivering everything with a good sense of elbow-jabbing fun, the Python troupe makes many of our own failings crystal clear, and whams across two worthwhile statements: thinking for yourselves and, yes, look on the bright side.
Filming was done on location in Tunisia among massive desert structures and impressive sets, and technical contributions of cinematographer Peter Biziou, editor Julian Doyle and costume designers Hazel Pethig and Charles Knode deserve special praise. The R rating undoubtedly comes from the brief frontal nudity (both male and female) and occasional explicit language, although in all instances it — like the film itself — never really dips into bad taste. But it does require ticket buyers to enter the theater with a sense of humor. — Robert Osborne, originally published on August 16, 1979.
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