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Friday Film Review: A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Genre: Romantic Crime Comedy
Grade: A

This film was an A for me when I first saw it and it’s only got funnier over the years. Top notch performances from almost everyone in it plus a great script yield a movie that still makes me laugh so much my sides hurt.

Georges (Tom Georgeson), Ken (Michael Palin), Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline) have planned the perfect jewel robbery. Wanda and Otto have also planned the perfect double cross, while Wanda on her own has got a triple cross up her sleeve. The only problem is that Georges moved the  £13 million of diamonds before Otto made the call to the police telling them Georges did it. Georges isn’t telling anyone where the loot is so Wanda schemes to romance the information out of Georges’s barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese), unhappily married to nagging wife Wendy (Maria Aitken). There’s also the eye witness (Patricia Hayes) to be eliminated. Who will wind up with the diamonds? Who apologies to whom? Who gets eaten? And who’s on the plane to Rio as the credits role?

Cleese and Palin have a long history of being funny in Monty Python sketches but Curtis and Kline blend perfectly into the mix here. There are so many funny scenes and moments – Otto sniffing his armpit, animal lover Ken repeatedly trying to off Mrs. Coady but getting one of her obnoxious Yorkshire terriers each time, Archie dancing around while undressing at a borrowed London flat only to be confronted by a family who has rented it themselves, the juxtaposition of Archie and Wendy’s boring bedtime routines with Otto spouting Italian nonsense while he and Wanda make love, the verbal calisthenics Archie resorts to in the final courtroom showdown and of course the multiple times Otto earns the sobriquet of stupid to name only a few – that I could spend the rest of the review just trying to list them all. Even after years of watching the film, none of the jokes have gotten stale and I could easily click “play” again as soon as “FIN” appears at the end.

Kline won a well deserved Oscar for his OTT, Nietzsche-quoting, gun totting, “asshole” yelling dumb American character. Cleese is an Englishman so repressed after years with his frigid wife that Curtis hits him like a hurricane and blasts him back to life. Palin as the stuttering, animal loving hit man who leaves flowers on the graves of his doggie victims is priceless. And Curtis as a woman cheerfully out for herself who ends up falling in love and getting it all is fantastic. This truly is one of the best comedies I’ve ever watched and I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.

Wanda: [after Otto breaks in on Wanda and Archie in Archie's flat and hangs him out the window] I was dealing with something delicate, Otto. I’m setting up a guy who’s incredibly important to us, who’s going to tell me where the loot is and if they’re going to come and arrest you. And you come loping in like Rambo without a jockstrap and you dangle him out a fifth-floor window. Now, was that smart? Was it shrewd? Was it good tactics? Or was it stupid?
Otto West: Don’t call me stupid.
Wanda: Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I’ve known sheep that could outwit you. I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?
Otto West: Apes don’t read philosophy.
Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.

God, I love this movie.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

25 Comments

  1. Heather Massey
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 06:21:56

    Love this film! Just seeing the post title made me want to see it again. Classic in the extreme.

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  2. Kimberly Nee
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 06:32:50

    One of the funniest movies. Ever. I know what I’m watching later! :)

    ReplyReply

  3. Sandy James
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 06:55:46

    One of my 80s favorites! So fun to see a lanky guy like John Cleese as a “sex symbol.” :)

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  4. Deb Kinnard
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:06:09

    Because of this film, my family now rates all comedy movies on the “Wanda Scale.” Wanda being a perfect 10. Anything less than 8 doesn’t get a viewing.

    Superb dialogue, writers…every exchange is spot-on.

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  5. Jayne
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:11:31

    @Deb Kinnard: The “Wanda Scale!” Love it.

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  6. Jayne
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:14:15

    @Sandy James: Before watching the movie, I wouldn’t have thought John Cleese + Jamie Lee Curtis = perfect…but it does. I love their final exchange on the airplane and how they link their fingers over the bag.

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  7. Jayne
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:16:14

    I wish whoever produced the DVD had added some extras to it – like commentaries or making of or something.

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  8. Jennifer Rayment
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:17:05

    I adore that movie, I could watch it over and over. Think I am going to watch it this weekend — Kevin Kline is outstanding in this

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  9. Carolyn Crane
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:46:57

    Thank you! This is great, because I was just wondering if it would hold up on a re-watch. Now I’m verra excited for it. Where’s my netflix cue?

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  10. Jayne
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:55:31

    @Carolyn Crane: For me, it’s held up for multiple re-watches. Enjoy!

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  11. Leslie Kelly
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 08:06:17

    My favorite comedy ever.

    I heard John Cleese speak at a screenwriting convention a few months ago and he talked a lot about this script. Interestingly, he said the whole bit about Palin and the dogs wasn’t in the original version. It wasn’t until they were shooting that he realized he had nothing for Michael Palin to do throughout the movie! Which was when he came up with the idea of the assassination attempts. Hilarious! (Even for me…a dog lover!)

    My favorite scene in the movie is when Otto catches Archie breaking into his own house, beats him up, then realizes who it is. “I’m sorry!”

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  12. Jayne
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 08:10:00

    @Leslie Kelly: Or afterwards when Otto is chasing Archie through his backyard in the dark trying to apologize and Archie keeps yelling “Don’t kill me!”

    You’d think Palin would have pointed out at some point before shooting, “hey, I’ve got nothing to do throughout the film” but I guess not! What they came up with is genius though.

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  13. Jessica Andersen
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 08:11:39

    Don’t eat the green ones. They’re not ripe yet.

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  14. WandaSue
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 08:30:59

    I suffered when that movie was out…

    “Your name is really Wanda? You mean, like the fish? Ha ha!”

    Yeah.

    Ha.

    Ha.

    The irony, is that I love the movie.

    :)

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  15. Joy
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 09:59:56

    Awesome movie.

    I particularly liked this exchange:

    Otto: You know your problem? You don’t like winners.
    Archie: Winners?
    Otto: Yeah. Winners.
    Archie: Winners, like North Vietnam?
    Otto: Shut up. We didn’t lose Vietnam. It was a tie!
    Archie: I’m tellin’ ya baby, they kicked your little ass there. Boy, they whooped yer hide REAL GOOD.

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  16. Jayne
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 10:32:06

    @Jennifer Rayment: Otto: I love watching your ass when you walk. Is that beautiful or what? Don’t go near him, he’s mine.

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  17. Susan/DC
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 10:46:11

    Another great line is when Otto wonders why Archie named his daughter after a car (her name is Portia).

    Only problem: I watched this movie early in my pregnancy when my stomach was, shall we say, tender, and I almost lost it during two scenes (eating the fish and the pearl necklace).

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  18. Ridley
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 12:24:14

    This makes me want to track down a copy of the DVD so bad.

    ReplyReply

  19. Angelia Sparrow
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 15:01:16

    I need to see this again. I remember thinking it was funny years ago. Fierce Creatures, by the same team, struck me as funnier.

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  20. Jayne
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 15:19:36

    @Angelia Sparrow: Now, I’ve heard the exact opposite – that Fierce Creatures isn’t as good. Hmmm, I’ll have to finally put that in my Netflix queue and find out.

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  21. sami
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 17:47:19

    I think Fierce Creatures had a lot to live up to. If audiences had seen it first it would have rated a lot higher, but when they were hoping for another Wanda they left disappointed. IMO it’s not quite as funny as the first, but still hilarious and well worth a watch (for the Limas alone maybe).

    The Wanda scene that sticks with me is Otto trying to interrogate K-K-Ken by threatening to eat his fish, while Ken is actually trying to give it all up but just can’t get the words out. Too funny.

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  22. SonomaLass
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 23:19:33

    I don’t think Fierce Creatures is as good, but it’s worth seeing for the chance to see that fabulous cast in action again. Like a reunion show, you know? Of course I adore Palin, Cleese and Kline jointly and severally, and Curtis has comic chops that these films really showcase.

    My son recently did a school project on DIK movies, music and books — I got to pick five movies, and this was one. (Picking five books was a lot harder, FYI.)

    Thanks for the reminder — the kids and I haven’t watched this movie in much too long.

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  23. DianeN
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 08:26:26

    You know a movie is truly great when repeating a single line of dialogue to someone who’s seen it causes you both to laugh your asses off. That line for me is “Cathcart Towers Hotel!” I actually had no interest in even seeing it until my then-teenaged son sat me down and forced me to watch. I think it might be the only movie I’ve ever sat through, rewound the VHS tape, and watched again! You almost have to do multiple viewings–you miss so many killer lines because you’re laughing out loud!!

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  24. Angelia Sparrow
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 08:50:01

    It’s been a long time since I saw either. Perhaps it’s time for a rewatch.

    ReplyReply

  25. Jayne
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 11:09:54

    @DianeN: Ah, the Immediate Rewatch. I’ve done that with very few movies but the ones which earned it are great.

    ReplyReply

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