The controversial character cut from Monty Python’s, ‘Life of Brian

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Released in 1979 Monty Python’s Life of Brian was the comedy troupe’s third film and undoubtedly their most controversial finding itself banned in all manner of countries and even in the UK many councils refused it a certificate thus preventing it from being shown. Hardly surprising when the film followed Brian Cohen (played by Graham Chapman) born in a stable next door to that where Jesus Christ was born and form thereon spends his life being mistaken for the Messiah,

As controversial as its was there were a number of scenes that were cut that in all likelihood would have ramped up the outrage further. Those scenes were:

  • three shepherds discussing sheep and completely missing the arrival of the angel heralding Jesus’ birth, which would have been at the very start of the film;
  • a segment showing the attempted kidnap of Pilate’s wife (a large woman played by John Case) whose escape results in a fistfight;
  • a scene introducing hard line Zionist Otto, leader of the Judean People’s Front (played by Eric Idle) and his men who practise a suicide run in the courtyard;
  • and a brief scene in which Judith (sue Jones-Davies) releases some birds into the air in an attempt to summon help.

But it was the scenes with Otto that were most likely to offend further. Played by Eric idle the character was a recurring one. A hard line Zionist and leader of the Judean Peoples front he had a Hitler like moustache and spoke with a German accent and wore a helmet with a spike sticking out the top similar to those on German WWII army helmets. His dialogue included him shouting about ‘racial impurity’ at Judeans who, like Brian had been conceived after their mothers had had romantic liaisons with Roman soldiers. It hardly helped that the logo of Judean People’s Front was a star of David which Terry Gilliam had tweaked to include a small line at each point making it not wholly dissimilar to a swastika.

The scenes with Otto were cut on the pretext that they slowed the film down although even Idle who played the character was said to be uncomfortable with and later said  about the role. “It’s essentially a pretty savage attack on rabid Zionism, suggesting it’s rather akin to Nazism, which is a bit strong to take, but certainly a point of view.”

Whereas Gilliam wanted the scenes to remain arguing that if they were offending Christians then they might as well go all in with the Jewish faith. But historian David Nash suggested that cutting those scenes smoothed the way for American distribution.. He may well have been right but the film still attracted demonstrations in the US.

In the end Otto appears only in the final crucifixion scene itself, a scene that understandably attracted a huge amount of controversy. Otto rocks up with his crack suicide squad sending the Romans fleeing in terror but instead of rescuing Brian  they commit mass suicide at the base of his cross with Otto shouting, ‘”Zat showed ’em, huh?” It would have been cut too but due to continuity and their dead bodies all over the ground made it impossible to edit out of the film

In the end despite the controversy that continues to this day the film did brisk business making $20m worldwide and is generally regarded as one of the greatest comedy films ever made.

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