A Fish Called Wanda
directed by Charles Crichton and John Cleese
starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin and Kevin Kline
MGM, Arrow MVD
After the Monty Python troupe broke up, the members continued to make films in various combinations. One of the best is this 1988 Academy nominated comedy/heist film starring John Cleese as a stiff, conservative barrister seduced by an evil yet very sexy Jamie Lee Curtis (as Wanda) and dogged by her psycho brother Otto (Kevin Kline, “Best Supporting Actor” that year). Kline is the gun wielding American Psycho, Michael Palin (Ken Pile) is the stuttering animal lover and buffoon of the job. George (Tom Georgeson) leads the job and is quickly nabbed. We spend the next hour or so looking for the diamonds as Curtis seduces John Cleese who is assigned as George’s barrister. She wants him to confess and reveal the diamonds location, and all that plot just serves as a frame work to hang the comic styling of Cleese and Kline and Palin. Doors slam, illicit lovers come within millimeters of being caught, and sight gags like a steam roller chase through concrete illuminate the screen. Cleese plays his best stiff upper-class nerd complete with barrister’s wig and inappropriate sexual follies. Kline’s gun nut persona is an acrobatic standup act and Palin extracts gentle humor out of a man who can only stutter. His one assignment is to kill the only eye witness to the job, but all he does is pick off her yappy dogs one by one. Curtis is a snappy dresser but she doesn’t need wear revealing clothes or talk dirty; she drips with that magic sex aura that gets men to abandon their middle class lives for a life on the run. A cameo by Steven Frey lurks near the end, and the Heathrow scenes takes us back to a time when you could run up to an air plane at the last minute and still get a first-class seat to Rio with only a passport and a credit card.
There’s plenty of “The Making Of” features, commentary by Cleese and various other directors, producers, and location directors. While bits of the comedy are a bit dated (and comedies age quickly) the overall effect is a fun romp through London and the long history of British heist movies. A Fish Called Wanda keeps all the energy and suspense of the genre, but whips it into hyper drive by never quiet revealing just how self-aware the directors are about the whole project. It’s a 30-year-old film that feels like it was shot last week, and that’s an accomplishment.