A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

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Brilliantly barmy and British in humour. The two Americans help mock the English behaviours and pretty much the entire film does a grand old job of making silly and creating fun. It’s defintley a story that comes with that Monty Python quirk but of course that’s never a bad thing and it livens up the heist story to the eleventh degree.

The plot sees two London based men plan to steal some diamonds. They are Ken Pile (Michael Palin) and George Thomason (Tom Georgeson – brilliant name play). They get the assistance of two Americans, a brother and sister team. Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto West (Kevin Kline). The heist goes without a hitch but then the diamonds are moved and betrayal of the group comes into effect. We find out the truth behind the pairing of the Americans and the con artist ways of Wanda lead her to try and seduce the barrister Archie (John Cleese) representing George to try and make him get his client to reveal the whereabouts of the diamonds.

The story is genius and dreamt up by John Cleese and Charles Crichton, Cleese is in charge of writing this sharp comedy and he does a fantastic job of stirring up numerous funny sequences. Crichton directs with enough pizzazz to keep the story zipping along and that aides the snappy comedy to hit all the time. The idea of heists are always something that can lead to disaster so putting this into the comedy mould is already a recipe for success. Then with the additional bonus of double crossings, tran-Atlantic oppositions and slapstick you’ve attained a golden egg of a film. Or perhaps a goldfish if we’re to be more Ken and love animals. The heist itself is all over and done with quite quickly but even though that gets rid of any dramatic tension it clears the path to get straight onto the aftermath and the funny events to follow and boy oh boy do they ever.

There are a fair few number of scenes and ideas that are cleverly constructed and come with that British Python stamp of identity. The torture scene of poor ol’ Ken is probably the most recognised image from the film, what with chips being used to block the airways and his fish being subjected to unwelcome sushi trials. Then later on his stutter makes for the famous moment between Palin and Cleese as the latter attempts to find out where Otto and Wanda are heading. It’s great team work and Palin sells the stammer as if he really does suffer from the condition. The moment as he tries to sing the hotel name is priceless. Then there’s the bonkers seduction scene in Otto trying to convince Archie’s wife that he’s CIA as Wanda scuttles back and forth trying to evade being spotted. Otto is just loud mouthed hilarity and his character constantly trying to keep an eye on Wanda and ruining her chance to get info out of Archie is spot on funny. It’s the use of constant recurring comedy that ticks the box as you don’t expect it to return and then when it does it makes you laugh more because you don’t expect them to keep pushing at it. The constant plight of Ken trying to kill an old lady is so devastatingly funny and awkward too.

Cleese plays the manic descending into chaos barrister as Cleese can only do and his timing and clumsy humour gives the character that needed pathetic yet likeable edge that makes you root for him. Jamie Lee Curtis is utterly believable as a smooth temptress with a knack for smarts and wily con tricks, you believe that she’s nice and wants to demonstrate she has a heart open for love too even if Otto always tries keeping that shut. Palin is just charmingly dumb but the nicest of the group and he really does go all out to play the stuttering battered nearly deranged man as he nears the end. Kline does a lot to steal the show and deserves the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor just because he gets into the obnoxious gritty role of Otto. He is thoroughly annoying but laughably so and he’s insanely stupid, though don’t tell him I said that. The repetition of him calling out on Brits being pompous is a nice tool to counter balance the set up of Americans as fools, the film in general plays on taking the mick out of both parties.

It’s a caper through and through and an intelligently written farce that gives space for all of the heist team to shine and play their own comedy card. It truly deserves the comic status it still holds and it is a classic. It’s one of those films that can and should be given that title. Comedy always works when you utilise the humour of character and this film leaps upon that. Kline gleefully romps around as the funniest figure but all cut a dashing comic form and all run around in this dazzling script to provide huge doses of laughter for the audience. I can’t honestly think of any substantial weaknesses.

A proper exploration of comedy in character and witty storytelling that does a great job in showcasing numerous scenes of vulgarity, stupidity and all out madness.

8.5/10

 

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