There's quite a bit of fuss being made of the 40th anniversary of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," and rightfully so. Let us not forget, however, that all six members of Python have also continued to work outside of their primary organization throughout those four decades, and their solo efforts have brought us a great deal of exemplary entertainment, both comedic and dramatic. To be fair, some are brilliant, while others are decidedly less so, but when you've got Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, or Michael Palin appearing somewhere within your film or television program, it instantly becomes worth a look for any Python fan. In compiling 40 notable solo projects from the Pythons over the course of 40 years, we established two cardinal ground rules. First, we only included the Terry Gilliam directorial efforts which featured other Python members within their casts, and second, we opted out of using any voiceover work. Fortunately, as you will soon see, there was plenty of live-action work to choose from…and with that said, let us borrow a line associated with the first project list and say, "If you want it, here it is: come and get it."
The Magic Christian (1969) – Even though it's based on a novel by an American (Terry Southern), the reasons for Anglophiles to watch this film are plentiful. The film stars Peter Sellers as Sir Guy Grand, the richest man in the world, who adopts a young man named, uh, Youngman (Ringo Starr), and sets about showing him that everyone can be bought. "The Magic Christian" boasted a highly memorable theme song (thank you, Paul McCartney and Badfinger), but for our purposes, the most important fact is that the screenplay was adapted by Messrs. Chapman and Cleese, both of whom appear fleetingly within the film, along with Python precursor (and Sellers' fellow Goon) Spike Milligan, Christopher Lee, and…Roman Polanski? True enough: Polanski is listed in the credits as "Solitary Drinker." Well, to be fair, the man's got a lot to drink about.
The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970) – As with "The Magic Christian," Chapman and Cleese both assist in the writing of this film and make ephemeral appearances (as characters named Pumer and Fromage, respectively). The real star here, however, is Peter Cook, who plays Michael Rimmer, a semi-sociopath who lies, manipulates, and even murders his way through the world in a quest to make it to the topmost spot in the food chain. It's such a British film that it was never released properly in the States, but in recent years, it's gained a certain amount of notoriety for painting an advance portrait of the sort of thing that goes on far too often in the current political climate. That "Michael Rimmer" finally made it to DVD on the same week that Tony Blair left office is arguably one of the best planned release dates in recent memory.
Romance with a Double Bass (1974) – Adapted from the Anton Chekov short story of the same name, this is a short film which stars Cleese as Smychkov, a bassist who shows up too early for the ball of a beautiful princess and decides to spend his extra time skinny-dipping in a nearby lake, where the princess is doing a bit of dipping as well. Problems ensue, however, when a thief absconds with their clothes, leading the two to team up in an attempt to get the princess to the ball without public embarrassment. Believe it or not, there are reasons to see the film beyond the fact that it provides an opportunity to see Connie Booth completely naked: it's a sweetly romantic story with enjoyable performances by both of its stars.
Fawlty Towers (1975) – Hoteliers, let this be a warning to you: if you're belligerent and obnoxious to your guests, you may very well end up having a classic sitcom inspired by your antics. Such was the case for Donald Sinclair, owner of the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, whose behavior was so utterly outrageous that it motivated John Cleese to create "Fawlty Towers." Cleese plays Basil Fawlty, a snobbish, bullheaded, self-absorbed individual who barely tolerates his daily existence as the owner of Fawlty Towers. His wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) is driving him mad, his employees Polly (Connie Booth) and Manuel (Andrew Sachs) annoy him almost as much, and don't even get him started on the guests. "Fawlty Towers" isn't just a great Britcom; it's one of the funniest television shows of all time. Only one word of warning: when discussing it, don't mention the war. (We did once, but we think we got away with it all right.)
Ripping Yarns (1976) – It has been said that the follies of our youth are in retrospect glorious when compared to the follies of our old age…or, at least, that's what Michael Palin attempts to say – repeatedly – at the beginning of the first episode of "Ripping Yarns," the post-Python anthology series that he devised with Terry Jones. Loosely inspired by Tom Brown's Schooldays, by Thomas Hughes, if the title alone doesn't give you the idea that "Ripping Yarns" is veddy, veddy British, it certainly won't take the screening of more than a single episode to pick up on it. Spoofing various genres from within what might be described as the UK equivalent of "Boys' Life," the show was rather hit or miss, but it will certainly be a delight for any Python fans that haven't seen it. Just don't go in expecting sketches: each episode is an adventure unto itself.
Saturday Night Live (1976 - 1984) –Idle and Palin hosted NBC's long-running late-night series four times each during the course of the ‘70s and ‘80s. For his part, Idle will likely never forget finding himself in New Orleans for the 1977 prime-time "SNL" special, "Live from Mardi Gras," an event which seemed to go wrong at every turn and was disrupted by rowdy fans, malfunctioning technology, and a parade which never arrived. Palin's "classic" moment, however, involved an opening monologue where – don't ask why – he put two live cats down the front of his trousers. The cats, less than certain about their predicament, then proceeded to defecate, and it is said that, due to the quick turnaround time between the monologue and the first sketch, you can see Dan Aykroyd's nose twitch unhappily as the scent of cat shit wafts into range.
Jabberwocky (1977) – Come on, everybody now: "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe / All mimsy were the borogoves / And the mome raths outgrabe." Boy, that sure wreaked hell on the old Spell Check, but how better to pay tribute to one of Lewis Carroll's most famous literary contributions? If you're tempted to reply, "By having several members of Monty Python adapt it to film," well, let's be honest: "Jabberwocky" isn't the best thing Terry Gilliam's ever directed. But, then, it was his first film, after all, and it does offer an early look at the concept of a "creaking bureaucracy," something which Gilliam would later explore far more effectively in "Brazil."
The Muppet Show (1977) – It's somewhat surprising that John Cleese was the only member of the Python troupe to serve as a host of "The Muppet Show," given that the series filmed in the UK, but there's little question that he made the most of his appearance. The running gag throughout the episode is that Cleese has little interest in doing the show in the first place, even going so far as to include a "No Pigs" clause in his contract. (Addressing Kermit, he says, "Here we are: it says I only work with the frog - that's you, right? - the bear, and the ugly disgusting little one that catches cannonballs.") Possibly owing to an issue with the fine print, Cleese still ends up doing a "Pigs in Space" sketch, as well as a bit of stretching with Gonzo, but the battle over trying to get him to do a song for the closing number is what's really priceless. Fortunately, the relationship between Cleese and the Muppets was patched up enough for him to make an appearance in "The Great Muppet Caper."
The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978) – The legend of Ron Nasty, Dirk McQuickly, Stig O'Hara, and Barry Wom – known collectively as the Rutles – has lasted far more than a lunchtime, but "All You Need Is Cash" never would have come to pass without the combined efforts of Eric Idle and Neil Innes, the former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band member who has often been referred to as the unofficial 7th member of Python. (You may remember him as the leader of Sir Robin's minstrels in "Holy Grail.") Arguably the greatest mockumentary this side of "This Is Spinal Tap," "All You Need Is Cash" remains the definitive Beatles parody, skewering their history and their music, with the latter so successful at capturing the feel of the Fab Four that a lawsuit was filed which led to some Rutles songs – including the infamous "Cheese and Onions" – receiving an addition co-writing credit for Lennon & McCartney. That seems to have been the domain of the lawyers, however, as there are documented reports that all four Beatles enjoyed the Rutles, at least to some degree. Granted, Innes has said that McCartney was a bit frosty to Idle for awhile in the post-Rutles era, but Idle claims that Paul eventually came around because Linda thought the film was funny.
Taming of the Shrew (1980) – As adaptations of this particular work by the Bard often descend into slapstick, it has been said that John Cleese agreed to undertake the role of Petruchio only after he was assured it would not be the typical sort of "Shrew" production he disliked, i.e. one in which there is " a lot of furniture being knocked over, a lot of wine being spilled, a lot of thighs being slapped and a lot of unmotivated laughter." It's fair to say that things worked out as Cleese wanted: in describing Cleese's version, the website Bardolatry.com said, "Lowbrow physical comedy takes a backseat to lowbrow bawdy wordplay," adding that "the acting excels across-the-board."
Time Bandits (1981) – Terry Gilliam came a long way between "Jabberwocky" and this film, which takes an 11-year-old boy named Kevin on a trip through time and space with a bunch of dwarves as they try to evade the so-called Supreme Being. Throughout their travels, they meet up with several historical figures of note: John Cleese plays the most polite Robin Hood in movie history, Sean Connery is Agamemnon, and Ian Holm offers up an appropriate grouchy performance as Napoleon. Written by Gilliam and Palin, who also turns up within the cast, "Time Bandits" is one of the most enjoyable films of the ‘80s, serving as the perfect bit of escapism for kids while proving both funny and exciting enough to keep their parents entertained.
The Missionary (1982) – Rev. Charles Fortescue (Palin) is a missionary who, after a decade in Africa, has returned to England to wed his sweetheart. The bad news…? She's not interested in helping him make up for lost time, as it were. The worse news…? His new assignment is to minister to the prostitutes of London. Throw in the fact that the woman who's funding the assignment (Maggie Smith) will only continue to dole out the money if Rev. Fortescue goes to bed with her, and just watch the famed British embarrassment flow.
Yellowbeard (1983) – Graham Chapman really only took two out-of-Python starring turns in his career: 1978's "The Odd Job," and this all-star comedy, which – despite the star power – never comes anywhere close to being as funny as it should be…which is an astonishing accomplishment, as the cast includes two other Pythons (Cleese and Idle), Peter Cook, Marty Feldman, and Spike Milligan, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, and even Cheech and Chong. Nonetheless, as comedies go, this one is pretty lackluster. "Yellowbeard" received a bit of recent reevaluation after "Pirates of the Caribbean" set the box office on fire and led to just about every pirate-related film in cinematic history getting a DVD release, and Chapman does still manager to offer us some laughs, but overall it still goes down as a disappointment.
A Private Function (1984) – Michael Palin teams again with Maggie Smith to play husband and wife in this 1947-set comedy about a small English town still suffering through the food rationing which came about during World War II. Some local businessmen who want to hold a party to celebrate the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip decide to illegally raise a pig to eat for the occasion; the pig, however, is stolen by Gilbert Chilvers (Palin) on the orders of his wife, Joyce (Smith). Shenanigans, unsurprisingly, ensue.
Brazil (1985) – The problem with films which present a vision of the future is that they can sometimes look positively laughable in as little as a few years' time. Not so with Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," which has, if anything, come to look even more prescient now than it did upon its initial release. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) works in a boring job, lives in a small apartment, and suffers through life under a government not so terribly removed from George Orwell's vision in "1984," but in his dreams, he envisions a beautiful woman that he wants to find in the real world. Palin plays Jack Lint, who believes that his old friend Sam is actually part of a terrorist plot. This comes about due to a bureaucratic mishap…which, of course, is something that never happens. (Riiiiiiight.) Call it sci-fi noir or retro-futurism, "Brazil" definitely still holds up as well in 2009 as it did in 1985, but if you want the full picture, be sure to pick up Criterion's DVD release, which at 3 discs offers more "Brazil" than you can shake a stick at.
European Vacation (1985) – When ranking the four films featuring Clark Griswold and his family, "European Vacation" generally lands squarely in the third place spot, but it's still a relatively funny flick, having provided the world with at least one imminently quotable line: "Look, kids! Big Ben! Parliament!" And if there's one running gag which consistently gets a laugh, it's the poor Brit played by Eric Idle who manages to get injured every time he comes into proximity of the Griswolds. Still, he manages to remain as polite as you'd expect ("No problem, squire, no harm done, doesn't hurt much at all"), though you can sense that it's wearing a bit thin by the end of the film, when he sighs, "Still on holiday, are you?"
Silverado (1985) – The suggestion that Lawrence Kasdan's "Silverado" brought back the Western genre isn't entirely true, since it's not like there was really a major proliferation of new cowboy flicks in its wake, but it definitely showed that Westerns could still be cool. Amongst the awesome cast of Americans (Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Scott Glenn, Brian Dennehy, and Jeff Goldblum all appear), we have a token Python: Cleese, who plays Sheriff John T. Langston, a slightly overenthusiastic Englishman who has perhaps cleaned up the town of Turley a bit too much.
Spies Like Us (1985) – Terry Gilliam has always spent so much time behind the camera or at the drawing board that he's rarely been interested in doing any acting, and that doesn't change much with his brief role in this film, where his big dramatic reading as Dr. Imhaus involves asking the question "Have we received the last shipment of penicillin yet?" He does have one big claim to fame in the film, however: he's responsible for setting off the lengthy series of introductions between Emmett Fitz-Hume, Austin Millbarge, and the other physicians. "Doctor?" "Doctor." "Doctor?" "Doctor." And so on.
Clockwise (1986) – Are you one of those people who lives their life on a highly regimented schedule, never veering away from it, no matter what the cost? Then you'll appreciate how completely flustered Brian Stimpson (Cleese), headmaster of Thomas Tompion Comprehensive School, gets when his notorious punctuality fails him while attempting to attend a speaking engagement at a conference of fellow headmasters. Watching Stimpson completely fall apart is hysterical, and as Cleese films go, this one tends to rank not far below "A Fish Called Wanda" with those who've seen it, but it remains relatively unknown, as it only scored limited theatrical release in the States. If you can find it on video, however, you're in for a treat.
Labyrinth (1986) – We admit it: this feels a bit like cheating by including this film in our list, since no member of Python actually appears in it. (At the very least, it goes against the spirit of the Gilliam rule we established in the intro.) But it's so rarely mentioned that Terry Jones helped to co-write the script of "Labyrinth" that we felt like it was our job to get the information out there a bit more. Kim "Howard" Johnson's book, "Life Before and After Monty Python – The Solo Flights of the Flying Circus," Jones acknowledged that Jim Henson had the original idea for the film, "but I really agreed to do it in the basis of the characters. I wanted to have a fairly free hand at the episodes. I just started fresh, using the same characters. I'd undertaken the thing in a rather cavalier fashion. I'd read their synopsis, and they'd had a novella of the film-to-be. It was about ninety pages of story, and I thought it didn't work at all, so originally I said I wasn't interested. Then after a couple of bottles of wine with Jim, I said "All right, maybe I'll spend three weeks writing and see if something comes up.'" And something did.
Cheers (1987) – Although Cleese received Emmy nominations for his guest appearances on both "Will and Grace" and "3rd Rock from the Sun," his only win to date came courtesy of what is remembered by most as one of the funniest "Cheers" episodes of all time. Cleese played Dr. Simon Finch-Royce, one of Frasier Crane's former colleagues and a well-regarded marriage counselor, but when he declares Sam and Diane utterly unfit to be man and wife, the two refuse to believe his assessment and proceed to hound him into insanity. In a desperate attempt to get them to leave, so that he might get some sleep, he opens his hotel window and shouts to the world, "Hear this, world: the rest of you can stop getting married. It's been done to perfection. Envy them, sofa, envy them, chair, for you shall never be as cozy as they, for their union shall be an epoch-shattering success, and I stake my life on it." Dr. Finch-Royce never appeared on the series again. We presume that it is because he died.
The Mikado (1987) – Given that Eric Idle was the member of Python who sang lead on the group's most memorable number ("Always Look on the Bright Side of Life") and later managed to turn "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" into a Broadway extravaganza, it should be rather easy to accept that, in the late ‘80s, he was game to tackle a Gilbert and Sullivan production. Idle tackles the lead role, Ko-Ko, the tailor who is appointed Lord High Executioner and must find someone to execute before the arrival of the Mikado, a.k.a. the emperor of Japan. Oh, except that this version takes place in a British seaside resort toward the end of the Art Nouveau period of the 1920s. Idle turns in a fine performance, and the costuming looks extremely cool, but your appreciation will come down to whether or not you enjoy a good musical.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) – If "Brazil" was the film that first gave Terry Gilliam the reputation of being a filmmaker interested in making his films look good, no matter what the cost, then "Munchausen" cemented that status. Its cost varies wildly depending on which source you use (we're pretty sure it was somewhere between $23.5 million and $46.63 million), but given that it only made about $8 million, it was an unquestioned box office flop. Critics, however, tend to really dig it, and at the very least, you can see the money Gilliam spent to bring his vision to the screen. John Neville's performance as the Baron is wonderful, as is the supporting cast, featuring Idle as Munchausen's fleet-footed associate, Berthold, Robin Williams as the King of the Moon, and Uma Thurman – who looks particularly breathtaking as Venus.
A Fish Called Wanda (1988) – You can argue about the relative merits of "Brazil" ‘til the cow drops, but when it comes to determining the single best post-Python film, we'll stand by "A Fish Called Wanda" every single time. Although it's centered around a jewel heist and features a few well-helmed action scenes (thank you, Charles Crichton), make no mistake: this is one of the funniest comedies of the 1980s, if not the 20th century. John Cleese wrote the script, giving himself the plum role of Archie Leach, a lawyer who, as a result of defending George, one of the jewel thieves, finds himself being seduced by Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), who wants to know where George has hidden the loot. Archie's married, but unhappily so, making him easy prey for Wanda, but she surprises herself by actually falling for him, a turn of events which frustrates her partner, Otto (Kevin Kline). Michael Palin also appears, playing Ken, George's right hand man. Bit of a stutterer, our Ken, but a good chap overall. Watching Cleese and Kline interact never fails to be hilarious, but in truth, "A Fish Called Wanda" is uproarious from start to finish.
Jake's Journey (1988) – This might well have made it higher on the list were it not a pilot for a TV series which was never actually picked up, but those who were witness to the 2004 ABC special, "The Best TV Shows That Never Were," have seen enough to testify that it had the potential to be for Graham Chapman what "A Fish Called Wanda" is for John Cleese. Seemingly inspired as much by "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" as "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," the show found a modern-day American teenager hurled into a medieval world filled with knights, witches, ogres, and even talking lobsters. Sadly, CBS opted out of the series (reportedly because its sensibilities were too British), and – probably coincidentally – Chapman died not long after.
Michael Palin: Around the World in 80 Days (1989) – Palin has done so many travel documentaries over the past two decades that there's literally an entire generation who knows him better for his work in that genre than they do for his time as a member of Python. This, however, is the one that really got the ball rolling for him. Taking his cue from Jules Verne's novel, in addition to maintaining the same deadline as Phineas Fogg, Palin forbade himself from using any kind of transportation that did not exist in Verne's time…or, in other words, airplanes were a no-no. Palin attempted to mirror Fogg's route as well, and with his trusty film crew (a five-man group collectively known as Passaporte), presented his experiences to BBC viewers as well as readers, later offering a book which offers far more details than could ever have been fit into a miniseries.
The Big Picture (1989) – Christopher Guest is so well known for his mockumentary method of filmmaking that it's often forgotten that, between "This is Spinal Tap" and "Waiting for Guffman," he made a "normal" film that's pretty darned good. Filled to the brim with a list of top talent which includes Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a hilarious but uncredited Martin Short, the designated Python representative within "The Big Picture" is Mr. Cleese, who plays a bartender in a brief black-and-white moment inspired by "It's A Wonderful Life." ("I can't serve you no more, Mr. Chapman, it's no good for you. It's eating up your insides.") It may be short, but it's certainly sweet.
Erik the Viking (1989) – Upon its initial release, Roger Ebert gave "Erik" a staggering zero-star rating, describing it as "an utterly worthless exercise in waste and wretched excess, uninformed by the slightest spark of humor, wit or coherence." It's not as bad as all that…and, really, how could it be?...but even its defenders would likely agree that Terry Jones – who wrote, directed, and starred in the film – didn't end up pulling together the Viking equivalent of "Holy Grail" that this had the potential to be. Still, there's something endearing about the idea of a cast that includes Jones, Cleese, Tim Robbins, Eartha Kitt, and Mickey Rooney. In 2006, a "Director's Son's Cut" of the film – helmed by Bill Jones – was released on DVD, featuring re-ordered scenes, tighter pacing, and a completely remixed and re-dubbed soundtrack. One suspects, however, that Ebert probably still wouldn't like it.
Nuns on the Run (1990) – With a title like "Nuns on the Run," you know it's going to be a silly affair, and, indeed, that's precisely what it is. Idle and Robbie Coltrane – best known to American audiences as Hagrid in the "Harry Potter" films – play Brian and Charlie, two semi-competent petty criminals who decide to take the money and run, as it were, from their gang. Unfortunately, they botch their escape and are forced to seek refuge in a convent, pretending to be nuns. Those who practice Catholicism will know: is it possible that these are two of the ugliest nuns ever? Brian wouldn't know: he's not Catholic. As a result, Charlie has to give his partner a crash course in order to help perpetuate their fraud. It's all very silly, often falling into legitimate stupidity, but it has its charms. Not many of them, perhaps, but some, certainly.
American Friends (1991) – Though comparatively few people have seen the film, this period romance was a very personal project for Palin, who based the screenplay on a story taken from his great-grandfather's diary. The film revolves around Francis Ashby (Palin), an Oxford academic who, while hiking the Swiss Alps, meets two Americans – Caroline Hartley (Connie Booth) and her 18-year-old ward, Elinor (Trini Alvarado) – and finds that he has feelings for them both, particularly Elinor. Don't go looking for laughs, but if you'd like to see a fine dramatic performance by Palin, it's well worth your time.
G.B.H. (1991) – On a roll with his dramatic roles, Palin also participated in this miniseries – which, to be fair, has some funny moments, too – about the British government trying to discredit a Militant Labour leader Michael Murray (played by Robert Lindsay) and thereby end his political momentum. Given that we're talking about the government, it's no surprise that the plan to take down Murray is incredibly complicated, and in the process of trying to keep himself safe, Murray crosses paths with Jim Nelson (Palin), who serves as the headmaster of a school for disturbed children. If the only reason you've heard of "G.B.H." is because Elvis Costello composed the soundtrack, you should really check it out: yes, Palin's good, but it's a uniformly strong production throughout.
Splitting Heirs (1993) – The fact that "Splitting Heirs" has never been released in England probably tells you all you really need to know about the film's dispensability. The premise revolves around a British lord and duchess accidentally leaving their son and heir in a restaurant and having the child switched out by the cook; the true heir is adopted by an Indian family in London, and the other baby is raised by the duchess in America. Fast-forward 25 or so years: Idle plays Tommy Patel, the true heir, and Rick Moranis is Henry Bullock, the imposter who doesn't know he's an imposter. In truth, though, neither actor is the best reason to see the film. You'll enjoy watching Barbara Hershey and Catherine Zeta Jones a lot more, and in typical fashion, John Cleese steals the film in his role as Raoul P. Shadgrind, a lawyer who tries to kill Bullock but fails miserably in his attempts.
The Crusades (1995) – The idea of having one of the stars of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" serve as your host through a trip through the history of the Crusades sounds like a match made in heaven…and it is. In addition to serving as the narrator for this History Channel series, Terry Jones appears onscreen as well, touring several significant locations from the era in question as well as demonstrating the lifestyle of those who lived through the Crusades. (It's a rough life to get paid to take a Turkish bath. Jones manages to bring his customary wit to the subject at hand, successfully lightening up a pretty dark period (no pun intended) in history and educating viewers in the process. If this isn't actually used in history classes, it certainly should be.
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (1996) – First of all, if you're British, then you'll better know this film as "The Wind in the Willows." And second of all, if you're American, then you possibly won't know this film at all, as it took three years to score Stateside release, due to its distributor – Disney – having precious little faith that it would translate well to kids in the U.S. They were right, of course, but it's still a great deal of fun for Anglophiles, providing a rare reunion of Idle, Palin, Cleese, and Jones (who also directed), with additional assistance from fellow funny Brits Steve Coogan, Stephen Fry, and Nigel Planer (Neil from "The Young Ones") and music courtesy of John Du Prez, who went on to co-write "Spamalot!" with Idle.
Fierce Creatures (1997) – Obviously, no one can watch the reunion of Cleese, Palin, Kline, and Curtis without comparing it to their first go-round, "A Fish Called Wanda," but if you approach "Fierce Creatures" with a desire for a slightly randy slapstick romp, it's pleasant enough. Cleese plays Rollo Lee, who takes over management responsibilities for the Marwood Zoo, which is owned by Australian tycoon Rod McCain (Kline), but Rollo's attempts to suck up to "Rod almighty," his skeevy son Vince (also played by Kline), and McCain's new employee, Willa Weston (Curtis), lead to near revolt amongst the zoo employees, one of whom – Adrian "Bugsy" Malone – is played by Palin. It's fun to catch the "Wanda" and Python references throughout the film (at one point, someone remarks about "beautiful plumage"), but it's mostly just enjoyable to see these four actors getting the opportunity to have a bit more fun together.
The Out-of-Towners (1999) – Someone at Paramount may have been convinced that the time was right for a remake of Neil Simon's 1970 film, but there are very few who would suggest that Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn came anywhere near the performances of Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. Thank goodness for Cleese, who livened up the film by offering a twist on his classic Basil Fawlty persona as the hotel manager…though Basil was never caught dancing to Donna Summer's "Bad Girls." Still, if you want to see him in cranky hotelier mode, you're far better off watching "Fawlty Towers" instead.
In the Wild: Lemurs with John Cleese (1999) – Although the more predictable animal-related inclusion from Mr. Cleese would be the 1994 live action version of "The Jungle Book," we're quite partial to this PBS special. In 1988, five black and white ruffed lemurs that had been bred in captivity were released into the wild in an attempt to help kickstart the re-population of the species. As a near-lifelong fan of the lemur, Cleese embarked upon an expedition – one which took him by plane, French colonial train, jeep, and foot – to find the lemurs and see how things were going. It's a bit rough going for Cleese, given that he's got a bum knee, but he maintains his sense of humor throughout, and the lemurs are as cute as the dickens.
The World Is Not Enough (1999) / Die Another Day (2002) – Although Desmond Llewellyn appeared as Q in every James Bond film from 1963 to 1999 save "Live and Let Die," it was only inevitable that the time would come for him to pass the torch onto another letter. In "The World is Not Enough," John Cleese was introduced to the Bond universe as R…or, at least, that's what 007 presumed his character's name to be. In return, Mr. Bond received a snarky response typical of the Q Branch: "Ah, yes, the legendary 007 wit…or, at least, half of it." By the time "Die Another Day" rolled around, Llewellyn had passed on, leaving Cleese as the new head of the Q Branch. Sadly, however, the reinvention of the Bond flicks which began with "Casino Royale" has had no place for a Python in its ranks. More's the pity: they could do with a bit of lightening up.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) / Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) – Cleese also found his way into another film franchise as the new millennium began, though his appearances as Nearly Headless Nick in the "Harry Potter" films were fleeting. He's only turned up in two of them thus far, and even in those, his presence has tended to only last long enough for viewers to say, "Hey, look, it's John Cleese!" Rumors had floated around that Nick would be returning in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," but there was no sign of him, and the likelihood of seeing him again in "The Deathly Hallows" seems slim. Oh, well, we'll always have the Chamber of Secrets…
Rat Race (2001) – Ever since the release of "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in 1963, Hollywood has made sporadic attempts to recreate the fun of that film, but they've never managed to capture the same kind of magic. Still, "Rat Race" came closer than most. Cleese plays Donald Sinclair, the eccentric billionaire owner of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, who sends six teams on a quest to a train station in Silver City, New Mexico, where a duffel bag containing two million dollars is residing in a locker. Each team has a key to the locker, and the first team who gets there wins the money. Cleese does most of his work during the film's bookends, but given that the cast includes Rowan Atkinson, Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Dave Thomas, Wayne Knight, Kathy Najimy, and Breckin Meyer, it's not like you won't be entertained between his appearances.
Honorable Mention: Spamalot (2004) – It bears the Python name, so it seemed wrong to put it within the list proper, but having watched "Monty Python: Almost the Truth," it seems evident that the other four surviving Pythons basically let Eric Idle run with his idea for a "Holy Grail"-inspired musical. In the documentary, they all conceded that he was the one in the group who had a way with songs, and he proved it in a big way with "Spamalot," which received 14 Tony Award nominations and took home the award for Best Musical of the 2004–2005 season. Co-written with John Du Prez, the musical has played in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, London's West End, Australia and New Zealand, Spain, Germany, and Sweden, so it's fair to say that "Spamalot" will keep Monty Python's legacy alive for many years to come. Still, as Terry Jones acknowledged, "It isn't really Python. It's very much Eric."