#9 “A Fish Called Wanda”
Director: Michael Crichton
Screenplay: John Cleese, Michael Chricton
Stars: John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin
Original Release Date: 15 Jul 1988
Tagline: “A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge and seafood.
Oscars: 1 (Best Supporting Actor – Kevin Kline), 2 other nominations
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 93% Berardinelli: 4.0, #10 of all Time
Metacritic: 80 critics, 8.3 users Ebert: 4.0 – #6 of 1988
IMDB Top 250: n/a
In film criticism, there is nothing more subjective than comedy . For me, A Fish Called Wanda is the funniest film ever made. Period. Full stop. I can’t tell you how many times I have screened this film and I laugh my ass off every time. It’s a comedy that knows it’s a comedy from start to finish and gives us its most legendary line in the closing scenes (“Here c-c-c-comes K-K-K-Ken….”).
Kevin Kline’s Otto is perhaps my single favourite character in film. I love this performance. An ex-CIA “weapons man”, Otto is arrogant, stupid, jealous, gullible and strangely resourceful. He wakes up and reads Nietzsche, but he could just a s soon be reading Dr. Seuss for his philosophy. He really believes he is smart and can speak Italian. He is a great combination of explosively violent and easily confused.
Cleese plays Archie Leach (Carey Grant’s real name) who is the defence lawyer for George Tomlinson, a jewel thief. George’s “girlfriend” Wanda (Curtis) tries to seduce Leach to gather important information on the trial and the location of the hidden jewels so that she can leave George in prison and escape with Otto. The whole time, Ken, the stuttering loyal friend of George, is trying to kill the prosecutions key witness, and old woman who loves her dogs more than any person. Wanda knows that a pouty look and bit of cleavage and control just about any man, and well, she is right.
Funny is funny. I believe that anything can be funny in the right context. And in this film, we see jokes made about stuttering, torture with French fries (chips, sorry), being British, being American, foreign language fetish, public nudity, jealousy, little old ladies with heart conditions … the list goes on.
Although the laughter in this film is primarily Otto’s, it is an ensemble cast where every character gets laughs. Consider the scene in Leach’s house, where Wanda is trying to seduce Leach, Otto follows her in a jealous rage (“Touch his dick and he’s dead!”) and Cleese dry as toast wife Wendy comes home unexpectedly. This scene has Marx Brothers timing and laughs from each and every character. “My father worked for the Secret Service Mr. Manfrensinjensen”.
A Fish Called Wanda was an instant classic on its release in 1988. It was shown in theaters with the blisteringly funny short “The Cat Came Back” from the National Film Board of Canada and the two combined left me needing oxygen. It’s the only time in my life that I have paid to see a movie in theatres two days in a row.
Wanda is that rare gem: a comedy that does not try to preach, teach and become an action flick or romance. It knows its place. It lives off the rule that funny people trying to be funny in funny situations is not funny. (At no time in the film is Otto in on the laughter he creates). It’s a brilliant script, genius timing and just offensive enough to ruffle almost any brow. I can’t recommend it enough.
Final word – buy and own this film. If you see a censored version on network TV or TBS, just pass it by. It’s not funny without the profanity.
Otto: You pompous, stuck-up, snot-nosed, English, giant, twerp, scumbag, fuck-face, dickhead, asshole.
Michael Palin (Ken) based much of his character around his own father who stammered, including the fact that the stammer was less around people he liked and trusted (George and Wanda) and worse around those he didn’t (Otto).
This is the HD Version of The Cat Came Back from the National FIlm Board of Canada. One of the great animated shorts. I do not own or have rights to this clip. For your viewing pleasure only.