A Fish Called Wanda

It only requires John Cleese to be involved and I’m buying a ticket. When you add a cast which includes Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, it becomes a must-see.

You also have to admire any production which successfully combines crime and humour and the fact that Cleese collaborated on the screenplay with Charles Crichton, who also directed Wanda, would explain why this flick succeeds where so many others fail.

Despite running for almost two hours, there’s never a dull moment as all our senses are continually challenged by the hilarious twists and turns of the plot and characters. Like the gang of bumbling, mismatched robbers in the Ealing comedy, The Ladykillers, thirty-three years earlier, this rogues gallery has to be seen to be believed. There’s George (Tom Georgeson) and Wanda (Lee Curtis) his American girlfriend plus her lover Otto played by Kline and Ken, George’s stuttering accomplice played by Palin. None of these amateur crims can be trusted and so, as the plot evolves they each attempt to secure the stolen jewellery for themselves. George is framed for the robbery by Wanda and Otto, but Ken conceals the booty in his fish tank at home.

Enter Archie, the lawyer defending George, and played magnificently by Cleese. Not surprisingly, Archie has a few professional and domestic problems (though there’s not a sign of Sybil), and the latter render him vulnerable to Wanda’s overtures, though her motive for the seduction is less than pure. Otto reacts to this new, evolving relationship with jealousy, largely ineffectual, but whilst you never really dislike the Kline character, the scene where he humiliates Ken and taunts him over his beloved fish is exceptionally memorable. Joking about fish and chips whilst leisurely consuming some of Ken’s prizes combined with the recurring thread of US-British rivalry, showcases the psycho killer Otto. Similarly, in the closing scene at the airport involving a steamroller, wet concrete and lots of drums, it is satisfying to see Otto get his just desserts.

No one can match the Poms when it comes to humour and the former Monty Python stars, Cleese and Palin, are prime examples of just how brilliantly the UK can capture human frailties and bring them to the big screen. More than twenty years later, it’s still as fresh and entertaining as it was when first released.

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