Tuesday, April 10, 2012

#603. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Directed By: Charles Crichton

Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline

Tag line: "A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood"

Trivia:  John Cleese's character is called Archie Leach, which is Cary Grant's real name

A Fish Called Wanda, a 1988 film directed by Charles Crichton, not only starred two members of England's funniest sextet, Monty Python (Michael Palin and John Cleese), but was also penned by Cleese, arguably the troupe’s most famous alumnus. So imagine my surprise when, after seeing A Fish Called Wanda, a British comedy through and through, I walked away feeling the best part was played by an American. 

Professional thief George Thomason (Tom Georgeson) has just stolen a fortune in jewels. His girlfriend and accomplice in crime, Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis), wants them all to herself. So, she seduces yet another accomplice, a dim-witted American crook named Otto (Kevin Kline), and together they makes plans to double-cross George and run off with the loot. An anonymous call (made by Otto) leads to George’s arrest, but to Wanda’s dismay, George hid the diamonds before being picked up, and only his stuttering sidekick, Ken (Michael Palin), knows where they are. Assuming George might divulge the location of the jewels to his lawyer, Wanda sets her sights on Barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese), who's unable to resist her charms. Unfortunately for Wanda, she falls for Archie as well, leaving her to deal with both a crumbling scheme and a half-crazed Yank. 

A Fish Called Wanda works for a number of reasons. For starters, the script, co-written by Cleese and director Charles Crichton, is superbly witty, with a multitude of twists and turns that tie together nicely in the end. Delivering on the story’s humor is an all-star cast, not the least of whom is Cleese himself as Archie Leach, the nervous barrister who finds he needs more out of life than his pleasant, upper-class existence affords him. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Wanda, by far the cleverest character in the story, provides Archie with his avenue of escape, but wants something in return. Michael Palin has long been my favorite member of the Python troupe, and here plays Ken, the stuttering errand boy who's very fond of animals. 

Each of these performances is top-notch, yet heads and shoulders above them all is Kevin Kline as the insanely jealous Otto. As played by Kline, Otto isn’t just stupid; he’s downright nasty, heaping abuse on every Englishman he sees. When Wanda announces her plans to entice Archie in order to locate the diamonds, a confused Otto replies, “I thought Englishmen didn’t like women”. He reads philosophy, yet can’t remember that, in England, you drive on the other side of the road. Kline's also the catalyst for the film’s funniest sequence. Having followed Archie and Wanda to their secret rendezvous, Otto bursts in, locks Wanda in the closet, then turns to Archie demanding an apology. The pay-off for this scene is hilarious. 

Kline would win the 1989 Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Otto, an award he certainly deserved. In A Fish Called Wanda, Kline did more than outshine two of England’s finest comedy minds; he did it on their home turf!


SJHoneywell said...

When this film came out, I was convinced that nothing could ever be funnier.

Today, it's still in my top-5 comedies of all time.

DVD Infatuation said...

I'm with you! I couldn't stop laughing when I saw this in the theater, and it's held up well on repeat viewings

Thanks for the comment!