Splitting Heirs: Before they were feuding, John Cleese and Eric Idle made an obscure 90s comedy

Long before their public feud, things between Eric Idle and John Cleese were friendly enough that they made a non-Python movie together.

splitting heirs

While two of Monty Python’s most famous former members, Eric Idle and John Cleese, are embroiled in a very public feud, it wasn’t always this way. In recent weeks, Idle has been vocal about how he feels the Monty Python estate is being handled, with him targeting Terry Gilliam and his daughter, Holly, who manages the rights, directly. John Cleese jumped to their aid, writing on X (perhaps in a tongue-in-cheek way) that (referring to Idle) “we always loathed and despised each other, but it’s only recently that the truth has begun to emerge.” 

Now, this might need to be taken with a grain of salt, as Cleese has a notoriously dry wit. Let’s not forget that he eulogized his best friend, Graham Chapman, by saying, “Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard! I hope he fries.” That was lovingly tongue-in-cheek, although Idle and Cleese always seemed to have a frostier relationship than the others. But, it wasn’t always so, with Idle and Cleese once making a non-Python movie together called Splitting Heirs, that’s been somewhat lost to time.

That 1993 film was Idle’s attempt to break into the American market as a solo comedy star, similar to how Cleese had with A Fish Called Wanda. Indeed, Idle had a minor hit in 1990 with the memorably titled Nuns on the Run, but Splitting Heirs was to be more ambitious. It paired him with Rick Moranis, who was coming off the Honey I Shrunk the Kids movies at the time and was about two babies that got switched at birth. Rick Moranis is an American who finds out he’s a long-lost heir to a family of British aristocrats, but his best pal, who shares the same birthday as him, becomes convinced that he is, in fact, the heir. The friend – you guessed it – is played by Idle. 

In the film, Idle tries to recover his presumed birthright through a series of schemes, but he gets into trouble when he consults with a shady lawyer, played by John Cleese, who believes he wants Moranis dead – which is not so. The film is an amusingly old-fashioned romp, but it likely seemed dated in 1993 in a way A Fish Called Wanda had not, and it died quickly at the box office. It’s mostly known for being one of Catherine Zeta-Jones’s first movies, with the twenty-three-year-old actress being the girl both Idle and Moranis are fighting over.  One of the strangest things in the movie is that Idle is playing a character at least twenty years younger than he was at the time (he was fifty when this was made and is playing a guy in his late twenties- early thirties) and not too convincingly. One might say the whole movie is a tad ego-driven, with Idle’s two love interests being played by two of the sexiest twentysomethings in England at the time (Zeta-Jones and Sadie Frost), but then again Cleese got to romance Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda, so who cares?

But again, the most notable thing is that Cleese co-stars (in a glorified but extended cameo), in a solo movie made by the one guy everyone assumed was his biggest rival. It’s interesting to see them work together in a non-Python film, and I imagine Cleese had a decent enough time making it, as he hired this film’s director, Robert Young, to make his Wanda follow-up, Fierce Creatures.

Indeed, it’s sad to see Idle and Cleese at odds, as both men are in their eighties, and one always likes to assume that by the time we reach that milestone, we’re beyond petty things such as money. Alas, that’s rarely the case, isn’t it?

If you want to see Splitting Heirs, you can buy it here, but at the moment, it’s not streaming anywhere. 

Have you ever seen this rather obscure romp? Let us know in the comments. 

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.