Four characters, two Brits and two Americans, plot a brazen diamond heist to be carried out in broad daylight in the middle of London. They pull off their raid with clockwork precision and make off with the loot. And that is where their troubles begin. The movie is “A Fish Called Wanda” (1988) the classic caper comedy starring John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin and Jamie Lee Curtis, January (2022) on MGM HD.
Directed by the legendary Charles Crichton, from a script he co-wrote with John Cleese, “A Fish Called Wanda,” recalls the British Ealing Studio comedies of the 1950’s where Crichton began his career. Containing double crosses, broad comedy, and memorable characters, “A Fish Called Wanda” has all the ingredients for a rollicking good time. Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance, balancing seduction and screwball comedy, is worthy of Carole Lombard or Barbara Stanwyk. No man in the movie is immune to her charms. She wraps Kevin Kline’s blowhard and foul-mouthed American, Otto and Michael Palin’s gentle stuttering animal lover Ken around her finger. But the heart of “Wanda” pivots upon Curtis’ relationship with Cleese’s befuddled British Barrister Archie Leach who is definitely no Cary Grant.
But beneath the frothy mix of larceny and laughs is a deconstruction of the differences between the Brits and their American cousins. Kevin Kline renders Otto, a part for which he won the Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor, as an unrestrained All-American egomaniac who doles out obscenities for other drivers with the same heartless dispatch with which he fires his guns at anyone in his way. Cleese saves the sharpest observations for Archie. “Wanda, do you have any idea what it’s like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of, of doing the wrong thing” he explains, ”but you’re so alive, God bless you.”
And do the “wrong thing” they do – which is why, over thirty years later, “A Fish Called Wanda” is still so fun. Cleese and Crichton wrote each part with each actor in mind, and each play their parts with gusto. Michael Palin steals his scenes as an assassin who has no problem attempting to “silence” the elderly witness to their crime but is torn apart by his sympathy for the pets he inadvertently murders along the way. For fans of Monty Python, “A Fish Called Wanda” offers a delightful opportunity to see Cleese and Palin together on screen.
Cast out a line for “A Fish Called Wanda,” January (2022) on MGM HD.