#291. Treasure Island

Like many of the classics of literature created over the centuries, Treasure Island has seen a number of different film adaptations over the years. This adventure, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in the late 19th Century, is the basis of much of our fictional understanding of pirates. We likely wouldn’t have X-marked treasure maps or one-legged sailors with parrots were it not for this novel. What’s interesting is the differing variety of film adaptations of this work. They have come in many varieties and interpretations including animated films, films with puppets, and science fiction retellings. The story itself has also transcended international boundaries, having been adapted in Russian, Japanese, French, and Italian. This week’s two films look at some unique adaptations of the classic tale of Treasure Island.

Muppet Treasure IslandMuppet Treasure Island
Year: 1996
Rating: G
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours

Those who are familiar with the Muppets know that these comedic puppets often represent real animals. From Fozzie Bear to Kermit the Frog to Miss Piggy, each of these animals has their own personality and characterizations. However, Muppet Treasure Island (1996) was not the first adaptation of this story to feature animals as some of the characters. The Japanese animated film, Animal Treasure Island (1971) pre-dates the Muppet film by a few decades. They can’t even claim a mixture of live-action and another medium (like puppetry or animation), because the two-part Russian version of Treasure Island (1988) interspersed live-action sequences with animated ones (albeit, not as well as other films have done) to tell the tale of mutiny on the high seas. Still, having a version of the story done by the Muppets gives a comedic look at this treasure-hunting adventure.

Upon receiving a treasure map from his friend, Billy Bones (Billy Connolly), Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) and his friends Gonzo and Rizzo set out to find the treasure. Unfortunately, once they are able to board a ship that will take them there, a mutiny breaks out amongst the pirates of the crew. Bones had warned Jim of a man named “Long John Silver” (Tim Curry), who was the cook of the ship until he took over as captain during the mutiny. Silver and Jim had already developed some semblance of a friendship, so his treachery makes Jim unable to trust the former cook. Once on the island, the pirates finally discover the hiding place of the treasure using the map, only to learn that the locals, led by Benjamina Gunn (Miss Piggy) have taken the treasure somewhere else. With the crew able to defeat the pirates and re-commandeer the ship, Silver is left alone on a desert island while Jim becomes a naval captain.

Treasure PlanetTreasure Planet
Year: 2002
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

Disney has been no stranger to the story of Treasure Island. In fact, their very first, completely live-action film was none other than Treasure Island (1950). This version even holds the distinction of being the first adaptation of the story made in color. If we include the aforementioned Muppet version of Treasure Island with this 1950 version, Disney has done three different adaptations of the same story. While the genre-crossing, sci-fi adaptation of Treasure Planet (2002) is certainly a new way of telling Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, it wasn’t even the first time it had been done. Treasure Island in Outer Space (1987) (or Il Pianeta Del Tesoro in its original Italian) sets the classic tale in the year 2300 in outer space. While this Italian version had Anthony Quinn portraying Long John Silver, something about the unlimited capability of animation made Treasure Planet much more the visual spectacle.

As a child, Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was inspired by the tales of Captain Flint, a pirate who was rumored to arrive and depart almost instantaneously from the ships he ransacked. Now a teenager being raised by his single mother, Jim finds a crashed spaceship near their inn and is given a holo-orb by the pilot of the ship, Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan), along with a warning to watch out for a cyborg. Recognizing the orb is a map to Flint’s “Treasure Planet”, Jim boards the RLS Legacy and is sent to work in the galley with the half-robot cook, John Silver (Brian Murray). Silver is revealed to be the “cyborg” mentioned earlier by Bones as he leads the crew to mutiny. This forces Jim to use the orb, which is revealed to open portals to anywhere in the universe, including the center of Treasure Planet, where the booby-trapped treasure horde is now set to explode.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Treasure Island tales

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#290. Muppet Adaptations

Since their big arrival in the 1970’s, the Muppets have managed to make their mark on popular culture. Most of this is due to Jim Henson’s unique and fanciful style of puppetry. While his puppets have taken different forms, from the kid-friendly monsters of Sesame Street, to the underground cave dwellers of Fraggle Rock, to David Bowie’s minions in Labyrinth (1986), the one segment of Jim Henson’s repertoire that has consistently endured over the decades has been the Muppets. While their early films focused on the Muppets interacting with the world, it has taken a long time for them to return to these types of films. In the 1990’s, prior to a twelve-year hiatus, the Muppets took to the big screen to recreate some famous stories from classic literature. This week’s two films highlight these films.

                                                   The Muppet Christmas CarolThe Muppet Christmas Carol
Year: 1992
Rating: G
Length: 85 minutes / 1.41 hours

The Muppets have always been a group focused on comedy. What makes the choice to adapt Charles Dickens with Muppets interesting is that Dickens is rarely considered a comedic writer. Sure, he has his moments of satire and wit, but they are very British by any standard of comedy. This dichotomy somehow works for this film, as it had almost a decade earlier for the animated Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983). In fact, since the musical, Scrooge, in 1970, the only film adaptations of A Christmas Carol have been animated, with the only semi-live action version being that of The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Classifying the Muppets is a difficult task because they aren’t animated, but they aren’t really “live action” either . . . lying somewhere in between. Needless to say, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains as one of the most popular adaptations today because of its Muppet comedy.

Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) is a bookkeeper for Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), a stingy and greedy old man whose only focus is on one thing: money. On Christmas Eve, Bob asks if he and the other bookkeepers can have Christmas Day off, as it is considered a holiday. Initially declining the request, Scrooge eventually relents and goes home for the night. As he dozes off for the night, Scrooge is awoken by apparitions from his past, warning him to change his miserly ways. For the next three hours, he is taken on tours of his life by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, respectively. With each vision into better times, Scrooge’s attitudes change, finally being pushed over the edge by the depressing vision of the future. Awakening on Christmas Day, Scrooge is now a changed man and heads to Bob Cratchit’s house with some generous gifts to prove it.

Muppet Treasure IslandMuppet Treasure Island
Year: 1996
Rating: G
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours

In the hiatus between 1999 and 2011, where no Muppet films made their way to the big screen, they still managed to create a few made-for-TV movies. From the It’s a Wonderful Life-esque It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) to The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005), they’ve tackled some classic films with their adaptations. Before this, their last film adaptation of a classic piece of literature was none other than Muppet Treasure Island (1996). As is the case with most all of the Muppets’ productions, many of the main characters of these stories are portrayed by famous actors and actresses. In the aforementioned The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Michael Caine played Ebenezer Scrooge, whereas in Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Long John Silver was portrayed by Tim Curry. If anything, the Muppets are merely a vehicle to get celebrities more exposure for their career.

Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) is entrusted by his friend, Billy Bones (Billy Connolly) to keep the treasure of Captain Flint (David Nicholls) safe. This is shortly before Bones dies from receiving a black spot from one of his former crewmates. Now Jim and his friends, Gonzo and Rizzo, board a ship to find the treasure. Once on board, Jim becomes friends with the shady, one-legged cook, Long John Silver (Tim Curry). After Silver and most of the rest of the crew mutiny, they take Jim ashore to help them find the treasure. Being an upstanding orphan, Jim doesn’t give into Silver’s request to use his deceased father’s compass to aid in the treasure hunt. Even despite this setback, the pirates still find where the treasure was buried, only to learn that it has disappeared. The pirates are then subdued by the loyal crew of the ship and the mutinous Silver is exiled to the island as Jim sails on to a better life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Muppet masterpieces

#289. Charles Dickens

Much like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens is one of the most adapted authors ever to have lived. While the number of adapted works of Dickens isn’t necessarily large, especially when compared against those of Philip K. Dick, the sheer number of times Dickens’ writing has been adapted is what gives him this distinction. One does have to wonder if the prolific amount of adaptations has to do with the singular fact that Dickens’ name caries a certain amount of gravitas with it. Of course, his writings have withstood the test of time, even if their original context and political satire might be lost on modern audiences. If anything, these adaptations may be the only exposure to Dickens most people will experience. While we’ll feel guilty about having not read The Pickwick Papers, at least we’d know what it was about. This week’s two films highlight some unique adaptations of Charles Dickens’ works.

Oliver!Oliver!
Year: 1968
Rating: G
Length: 153 minutes / 2.55 hours

When it comes to recognition from the Academy Awards, Dickens is definitely in the same class as Shakespeare. Both have had four of their adapted stories turned into films that won nominations for Best Picture. Both have had one of their stories win said Best Picture Oscar. Both aforementioned Best Pictures were also musicals. On Shakespeare’s side, we have Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Henry V (1944), and Julius Caesar (1953) as nominees and West Side Story (1961) as Best Picture (with Romeo and Juliet being nominated in 1936 and 1968 as well). In terms of Dickens’ achievements, there’s David Copperfield (1935), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), and Great Expectations (1946) as nominees and Oliver! (1968) as Best Picture. The fact that the 1960’s saw two literary musical adaptations win Best Picture merely shows you what kind of decade it really was.

To quote another famous, musical orphan, Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) had a “Hard Knock Life”. Shuffled from an orphanage to the service of an undertaker, the young boy finally escapes and travels to London to start a new life. Because he has no family or connections in London, Oliver is soon taken in by a gang of thieves and pickpockets. While he doesn’t necessarily want to commit these crimes, he still needs to eat. After he’s accused of stealing a wallet from a Mr. Brownlow (Joseph O’Conor), a bookseller comes to Oliver’s rescue with the truth of his innocence. Partly because Oliver reminds him of his niece, Brownlow decides to take Oliver home with him. Despite the luxury Oliver now finds himself in, his past acquaintances kidnap him and attempt to bring him back into a life of crime. The golden heart of a barmaid is the only piece of hope Oliver has of being saved.

The Muppet Christmas CarolThe Muppet Christmas Carol
Year: 1992
Rating: G
Length: 85 minutes / 1.41 hours

Just like we’ve seen a huge amount of Romeo and Juliet retellings, there have been plenty of versions of A Christmas Carol. I would wager that any holiday-themed story will be retold as long as that holiday remains relevant. Heck, even if it’s not relevant, people will continue to “celebrate” by reading or watching these stories. From watching Groundhog Day (1993) on Groundhog Day, to Independence Day (1996) on the Fourth of July, to V for Vendetta (2006) on Guy Fawkes Day, there are plenty of obscure holidays to celebrate with a movie. But Christmas always takes the cake in terms of holiday-themed adaptations. Of these adaptations, none is more recognizable than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Because it is such a timeless story, it has been reproduced in a large number of mediums, including puppetry (as seen in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)).

Narrated by Charles Dickens (Gonzo the Great), The Muppet Christmas Carol follows Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), a miserly old man who has pushed everyone close to him away. Because the following day is Christmas, Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog), asks for all the bookkeepers to get the holiday off. After begrudgingly agreeing to Cratchit’s terms, Scrooge arrives at his home and spends the night alone only to be awoken by the ghosts of his past: Jacob and Robert Marley (Waldorf and Statler). They warn him that his current path will lead to his demise. To emphasize the point, three more spirits visit him in the night and show him what once was, what could be, and what is to come. Gradually, Scrooge realizes the error of his ways and wakes up the next day full of the Christmas spirit.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Dickens adaptations

#277. Zombies!

If there’s been one trope that’s been done to death recently, it’s that of zombies. Perhaps this is due to the influx of post-apocalyptic stories that have been fueled by pessimism about the current aspects for our future. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that these films seem to make money. Perhaps these films are actually spreading via their own version of a zombie virus. Even films that I wouldn’t have thought could have zombies in them end up having zombies in them. Whatever the reason, it seems that almost every year passes with at least one new zombie film gracing the big screen. Of course, just like with any subgenre (this one being of the horror genre originally), eventually they become self-aware. This week’s two films examine a few different methods for dealing with the topic of zombies.

Night of the Living DeadNight of the Living Dead
Year: 1968
Rating: Unrated
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

Even though it feels like zombies have been in film for a long time, the accepted canon version of them has only been around for about 50 years. Before 1968, zombies weren’t depicted as the reanimated corpses that hunger for human flesh. This distinction was first explored in Night of the Living Dead (1968) and has stuck ever since. The reasons for zombies have varied from genetic experiments, to nuclear disasters, to chemical exposures; regardless of the method of introduction, the destruction of zombies has always remained the same: destroy the brain or set them on fire. There have been many films that have taken zombies seriously, including 28 Days Later (2002) and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later (2007). I’m not a fan of zombie films, but I did appreciate the logic applied in World War Z (2013). Still, Night of the Living Dead stands as the original by which all others are measured.

Scientists couldn’t explain it, but for some reason the dead were coming back to life and craving the flesh of the living. The leading theory was that radiation from a probe that returned from Venus was causing these zombies to attack people. In a small farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania, a collection of survivors have holed up and continue to rebuff the onslaught of the undead. With a few of the survivors being bit by the zombies, the opinion of the remaining survivors is split. Some think they should get medical attention, while others think they should stay put. Setbacks cause the group to remain in the house, waiting for the vigilantes roaming the countryside to come and save them. Unfortunately, now there are zombies inside the house as well, giving the one lone survivor only one option: hole up on the second floor and hope that help will come soon.

ZombielandZombieland
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours

As with any genre, eventually it’s taken too seriously. This is when the parodies start to appear. The parodies then evolve into comedies. Even well-known zombie films start to become aware of their ridiculous nature. For instance, Sam Raimi‘s The Evil Dead (1981) was a serious take on the zombie theme, which was made a little funnier in Evil Dead II (1987), finally becoming completely self-aware by Army of Darkness (1992). This essentially paved the way for such films like Shaun of the Dead (2004), which takes the classic survival theme and flips it on its head. Even classic plots have been subject to the zombie treatment, the best example of which is the version of Romeo and Juliet that is Warm Bodies (2013). What’s interesting to note is that, even though they’re self-aware, these comedic zombie films still need to follow the same rules as more serious ones.

With the entire United States almost completely wiped out by “mad zombie disease”, the few survivors that remain roam the country for their own purposes. “Columbus” (Jesse Eisenberg) has survived this long by adhering to a set of “rules” that he has discovered to be the key to surviving the apocalypse. On his way back home to Columbus, Ohio, to check on his parents, he runs across “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson) and the two team up to increase their safety. While on the way, they come across two girls, “Wichita” (Emma Stone) and “Little Rock” (Abigail Breslin), who trick them and steal their car. After the two guys catch up, the four of them decide to travel to Los Angeles to have some fun, mostly because Columbus now has no home to go back to. Along the way, they meet Bill Murray and accidentally kill him before finally arriving at their destination: Pacific Playland.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 takes on the zombie theme

#232. Michael Myers

Our names connect us to the world. Sometimes our last name will connect us to our parents, siblings, and relatives. Sometimes our first name connects us to people with the same one. Of course, with many names being commonly used, you’re bound to run across someone who has your first name, if not your last name as well. If your last name is “Smith”, it’s likely you’ll probably run into half a dozen people with the same first and last name as yourself (given you have a common first name too). Even slight changes in spelling or nicknames can easily connect two very different people together. Perhaps your last name has an extra “e” in it. Perhaps you go by “Mike” instead of “Michael”. Whatever the differences may be, people will still tend to connect you to someone with a similar name. This week’s two films examine two very different Michael Myers.

HalloweenHalloween
Year: 1978
Rating: R
Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours

Those familiar with the classics of 1980’s horror films will likely recognize the names of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers. Of these boogeymen, Michael Myers is perhaps the founder of the slasher film’s archetypical villain, as his first film came out in 1978, a few years before these other classics would hit theaters. With the exception of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Myers has appeared in nine of the ten Halloween films. His motivations are simple, his methods are concise, and his legacy is timeless. Part of what makes Michael Myers a great horror character is that he is everywhere and nowhere, but still abides by most of the rules founded in reality. He’ll find the unlocked windows in his relentless thirst to kill, but can also mysteriously disappear back into the night to kill again another day.

On Halloween night in 1963, Michael Myers, a mere 6-year old boy, brutally murders his sexually-active older sister, thus sending him away to prison. While the courts want him to remain in prison indefinitely, fifteen years later he escapes and heads home on the very anniversary of his sister’s death. Once there, he begins following a group of teenagers, slowly killing off each one of them as they give in to their carnal desires. Finally, one teenager remains: Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). As she tries to protect the kids she has been given to babysit, Michael repeatedly continues his assault of the suburban home. After she subdues his attacks by using a knitting needle and a coat hanger, he is ultimately defeated a shotgun blast from the gun of the Psychiatric doctor who has been trailing him. And yet, when they look for his body, it has vanished as Michael escapes to continue the terror for decades to come.

ShrekShrek
Year: 2001
Rating: PG
Length: 90 minutes / 1.5 hours

As mentioned in last week’s post, horror and comedy are about as far away from each other as any two genres can be. With such a famous name attached to an infamous villain, it’s no wonder that Mike Myers chose to use this nickname when he began acting on television in the 1980’s. He hit his comedic stride in the early 1990’s when he appeared on Saturday Night Live, establishing quite a few recognizable skits, one of which, Wayne’s World (1992), was his first foray into feature films. A few years after the sequel, Wayne’s World 2 (1993), Myers added multiple roles to his repertoire when the Austin Powers trilogy began with Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Shortly before this trilogy ended, Myers started yet another successful franchise by voicing the eponymous green ogre in Shrek (2001).

Living a content life in his swamp, Shrek (Mike Myers) is rudely awakened one day to find that his home is now a refugee camp for fairytale characters persecuted by Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). Deciding to take this up with the man himself, Shrek sets out to Duloc, but not before running across a talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) who decides to join him. After besting an assortment of knights, Shrek reaches an agreement with Farquaad to rescue a princess in exchange for removing the unwelcome guests from his swamp. One adventure later, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is rescued from her dragon’s keep by Shrek and Donkey, only to be disappointed by her rescuer. On their trip back to Duloc, Shrek and Fiona eventually become fond of each other, even though she carries a dark secret. Now it’s up to Shrek to save her once again, but now from Lord Farquaad.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 mismatched Michael Myers

Bacon #: 2 (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me / Rebecca Romijn -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)

#231. Jamie Lee Curtis

Much like romantic and action films are two very different genres on either end of a gender spectrum, comedic and horror films could not be any further from each other in terms of similarities. In fact, this dichotomy can probably be traced all the way back to Ancient Grecian theatre, with the dual masks of Sock and Buskin representing the genres of comedy and tragedy, respectively (which I realize I’ve written about before). As such, it can be somewhat difficult to act in both genres well enough to be known for both. After all, each genre requires somewhat different skills. To excel in comedy requires timing and delivery, whereas the horror genre requires certain amounts of ignorance and persistence. Despite the difficulties, Jamie Lee Curtis has managed to make herself an icon of both comedy and horror. This week’s two films examine these two genres in her repertoire.

A Fish Called WandaA Fish Called Wanda
Year: 1988
Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

If we are to believe this amusing quotation, Jamie Lee Curtis has committed most of her career to this difficult task. To her credit, quite a few of her performances have been in timeless comedy classics and have also earned her recognition in the form of multiple awards. Films like Trading Places (1983), True Lies (1994) and Freaky Friday (2003) have shown that she has consistently maintained her comedic talent over the decades. That being said, the heyday of her comedy was definitely from the mid-1980’s to mid-1990’s with A Fish Called Wanda (1988) landing square in the middle of it. Of course, this observation is partly due to films like Christmas with the Kranks (2004) and Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008) receiving mixed to poor reviews, both of which featured Curtis.

A different Wanda from the titular fish, Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis) is one of two American con artists who have been brought over to London to perform a jewel heist. Her partner and lover, Otto West (Kevin Kline), pretend to be siblings so she can seduce their employers: mob boss George Thomason (Tom Georgeson) and his lackey, Ken Pile (Michael Palin). After the successful heist, Wanda and Otto betray George, resulting in his arrest. In order for him to stay in prison, Wanda continues to use her feminine wiles on Archie Leach (John Cleese), George’s lawyer. While Ken attempts to kill the one eyewitness of the burglary, the courtroom hearings do not go as planned, causing Archie to now want the diamonds for himself. Fortunately, Wanda knows just where they are, so the two of them grab the money and retire to Rio de Janeiro.

HalloweenHalloween
Year: 1978
Rating: R
Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours

Before Jamie Lee Curtis began her comedy career, she was known as the “scream queen” for her roles in early 1980’s horror films. In fact, Scream (1996) highlights her role as one of the founding forces of the horror film cliché, even if she didn’t directly appear in it. What’s interesting is that, while she is prominently featured in quite a few horror films, they were all released in a two-year period. Films like The Fog (1980), Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), Roadgames (1981), and Halloween II (1981) compromised the golden years of slasher films, and all of them starred Jamie Lee Curtis. Some of these films were even remade years later, to critical disdain; The Fog (2005) and Prom Night (2008) being of note. Still, the role that started Curtis down this horrific path was that of Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978).

A high school student in Haddonfield, Illinois, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is concerned that someone is following her. Her friends dismiss this feeling, considering that the day is Halloween, and a lot of spooky things are likely to happen that night, regardless. Later that night, the girls find themselves babysitting, an opportunity a few of them use to have sex with their boyfriends. Unfortunately, Laurie’s original fear that someone was stalking her turned out to be true as the girls and guys are murdered by recently escaped killer, Michael Myers (Will Sandin). Soon, Laurie is the only one left alive, trying to protect the children she is babysitting from the knife-wielding maniac. After a few successful assaults, Laurie is finally saved by Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), the psychiatrist who has been tracking Michael. Unfortunately, the killer disappears, even despite a shotgun blast to the chest.

2 sum it up, 2 films, 2 Jamie Lee Curtis genres

Bacon #: 1 (Queens Logic / Kevin Bacon)

#230. John Cleese

Comedy is a strange and confusing beast. While some elements of it are formulaic, other aspects are confusing and weird. Most people understand the underlying structure of a knock-knock joke, or a “chicken/road” scenario, but sometimes the joke is merely that something absurd and silly has occurred. Often, this sillier comedy is accentuated by a straight-man, also known as a foil. This foil acts in a proper manner and is most closely associated with very stiff and humorless occupations. The dichotomy between the straight-man and the comedian shows the difference between the two, thus inducing comedy. If there’s one style of comedy that excels in the absurd vs. the common, it is British comedy. John Cleese is one of the iconic faces of British comedy, mostly for his straight-man act. This week’s two films focus on the comedic work of John Cleese.

                                                Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy GrailYear: 1975
Rating: PG
Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours

The television show that truly launched John Cleese into stardom was that of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And while most of his roles were of normally serious professions, he managed to make them incredibly silly with his deadpan comedic timing. Having only appeared in three of the four seasons of the show, it became obvious in the final season that his presence is what made the program uproariously funny. Fortunately, even though he stopped performing on the show, he did participate in all three of the Monty Python movies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983). Almost as a spiritual successor to the TV show, Holy Grail had Cleese once again cast in many “uptight” roles opposite silly characters, or using his deadpan talents to be the silly ones himself.

In Holy Grail, John Cleese portrays Sir Lancelot the Brave, a knight of King Arthur’s (Graham Chapman) Round Table. Cleese then takes on the role of the “undefeatable” Black Knight, challenging Arthur to a battle which he “loses”. The group of knights then make their way to Camelot before deciding to go somewhere less silly. At this point, God (Graham Chapman) appears and tells them to find the Holy Grail. The first place they look is a French outpost where they are taunted by a French soldier (John Cleese) and are forced to retreat. When they split up to increase their chances, Lancelot arrives at Swamp Castle and rescues an effeminate prince from an impending marriage. Regrouping, they run across Tim the Enchanter (John Cleese), who guides them to a deadly rabbit, Beast of Aaargh, a quizzical death-trap, and (finally) the location of the Grail, where the Frenchman reappears to taunt them again.

A Fish Called WandaA Fish Called Wanda
Year: 1988
Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours

One of the sketches from Flying Circus involved the “world’s funniest joke”, which happened to be so funny that it could kill someone. Even though the sketch didn’t kill anyone, John Cleese can claim that he did kill someone with his comedy talents. A Danish man by the name of Ole Bentzen was watching A Fish Called Wanda (1988) when a scene with John Cleese came on that made the man laugh so hard that his heart began to beat almost 500 times a minute! As such, he died from a heart attack almost immediately. Of course, most of comedy comes from writing, which is probably why Cleese was co-nominated for Best Original Screenplay with director Charles Crichton. After all, a man can’t possibly kill someone with laughter unless the jokes he writes are actually good.

Archie Leach (John Cleese) is a lawyer defending George Thomason (Tom Georgeson), a gangster who pulled off a diamond heist and was turned in by the two Americans who were brought in to help: Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto West (Kevin Kline). In order to find out where George had hid the diamonds, Wanda seduces Archie to get him to convince his client to plead guilty while also revealing the location of the stolen gems. Things go slightly awry when Wanda’s other lover, Otto, ruins her attempts to successfully get Archie to consummate their affair. In the process, Archie’s marriage and career are now defunct, leading him to take the money and run to South America. As luck would have it, Wanda has the key to the safe deposit box where the diamonds are stashed, which leads to her and Archie heading to Brazil together, where they have 17 children and start a leper colony.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Cleese classics

Bacon #: 1 (The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)