A Fish Called Wanda
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|A Fish Called Wanda|
US theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Charles Crichton|
|Produced by||Michael Shamberg|
|Written by||John Cleese|
|Story by||John Cleese
Jamie Lee Curtis
|Music by||John Du Prez|
|Editing by||John Jympson|
|Distributed by||Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (US)
|Running time||109 minutes|
A Fish Called Wanda is a 1988 heist-comedy film written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton. It was directed by Crichton and stars Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin. The film is about a jewel heist and its aftermath. Kline won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Otto. Cleese and Palin won BAFTA Awards for Best Lead and Best Supporting for their acting.
London-based gangster George Thomason (Tom Georgeson) and his right-hand man, Ken Pile (Michael Palin), an animal lover with a bad stutter, plan a jewel heist. They bring in two Americans to help: an alluring con artist, Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis), and "weapons man" Otto West (Kevin Kline), an Anglophobe who fancies himself an intellectual. Wanda and Otto are lovers, but hide this fact from George and Ken, pretending to be brother and sister, so Wanda can work her charms on them.
The robbery goes well: the thieves get away with a large sum in diamonds. However, they are briefly spotted during their getaway by Mrs. Coady (Patricia Hayes), an elderly lady walking her three dogs. The group then hide the loot in a safe in an old workshop. Soon after, Wanda and Otto betray George to the police and he is arrested. They return to collect the loot, only to find that George and Ken have moved it. Wanda, who was planning to double-cross Otto as well, decides to seduce George's unhappily married lawyer, Archie Leach (John Cleese), who must endure a vindictive wife Wendy (Maria Aitken) and a spoiled daughter Portia (Cynthia Caylor), to find out where the diamonds are located. Otto becomes insanely jealous, and his interference, combined with instances of bad luck, lead Wanda and Archie's liaisons to go disastrously wrong. Wanda reveals that she likes Archie but would only stay with a rich man. He eventually calls off their attempted affair.
Meanwhile, George gives Ken the task of killing Mrs. Coady, the Crown's only eyewitness. During his various attempts to kill her, Ken accidentally kills off her three Yorkshire Terriers one by one. This causes him grief, as well as grave bodily harm as each attempt goes wrong. However, Mrs. Coady suffers a fatal heart attack when her last dog is killed, so Ken is ultimately successful in his mission.
Wanda and Otto want George to remain in jail, but with no witness he may get off. At his trial, Wanda gives evidence that will lead to a conviction rather than an acquittal. Archie, stunned by her unexpected testimony, fluffs his cross-examination and inadvertently calls her "darling". Enraged, George starts a brawl that leads to everyone fleeing the courtroom. Wendy is attending the trial, and Archie's antics confirm her suspicions of his (unconsummated) affair. She confronts Archie and states that she plans to divorce him. With his career and his marriage both in ruins, Archie resolves to cut his losses, steal the loot himself, and flee with Wanda to South America. Promised less jail time, George tells Archie that Ken knows where the diamonds are. Archie hurries out and sees Wanda attempting to flee the courthouse. They review what has happened and he asks why he should take her to South America with him; she counters that she has the key to the safe deposit box.
While the court drama is unfolding, Otto has been trying to get Ken to reveal the location of the diamonds. He torments Ken by eating the fish in his aquarium one by one, leaving the fish called Wanda until the end. Ken gives away the location of the diamonds at a hotel near Heathrow Airport. Otto is leaving just as Archie runs into the building; Otto steals Archie's car, taking Wanda with him. Ken tells Archie, as quickly as he can given his stutter, where they are going. The two give chase.
The protagonists all end up at Heathrow. Otto and Wanda recover the diamonds, but Wanda quickly double-crosses Otto and locks him in a cupboard. Otto escapes and is briefly captured by Archie, only to turn the tables. He is about to kill Archie, but Archie manages to distract Otto by pointing out that Americans are not always winners, as shown by the Vietnam War. While they are arguing, Otto is run over by a steamroller driven by Ken, seeking vengeance for the live fish Otto ate. Archie joins Wanda on board the plane, which taxis for takeoff. Through the plane window, Otto, who has somehow survived the steamroller attack, curses them until, as the plane takes off, he finally drops off.
- John Cleese as Archie Leach
- Jamie Lee Curtis as Wanda Gershwitz
- Kevin Kline as Otto West
- Michael Palin as Ken Pile
- Maria Aitken as Wendy Leach
- Tom Georgeson as George Thomason
- Patricia Hayes as Mrs. Coady
- Geoffrey Palmer as Judge
- Cynthia Caylor as Portia Leach
- Stephen Fry as Hutchison
The film was an enormous critical and commercial success. Kline received wide acclaim and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work. Cleese and Crichton received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Crichton was also nominated for Best Director, and Curtis received nominations for Leading Actress at the Golden Globes and BAFTA awards. Michael Palin won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Role.
In 2000, the readers of Total Film magazine voted A Fish Called Wanda the 37th greatest comedy film of all time. In 2004 the same magazine named it the 41st greatest British film of all time. In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked the film 21st on AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs, its list of the 100 funniest movies ever made. The film is number 27 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". It is also included in the Reader's Digest "100 Funniest Films" list. The movie currently holds a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Sequels and adaptations
In 2008, it was reported that John Cleese and his daughter, Cynthia (who played his screen daughter, Portia), had started to work on a stage musical version of the film. The film was adopted in Malayalam film Kakkakuyil in 2001 and later in Tamil as London.
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- ""Fish Called Wanda, A"". Goldenglobes.org.
- ""The 46th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1989)"". Goldenglobes.org.
- ""Jamie Lee Curtis"". Goldenglobes.org.
- ""Awards Database (1988)"". Bafta.org.
- American Film Institute (14 June 2000). ""AFI's 100 YEARS...100 LAUGHS"". Afi.com.
- ""Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies List is Laughable"". Projectbravo.com. 2 June 2006.
- Stefan Kanfer. "The Top 100+ Funniest Movies of All Time". Reader's Digest. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
- A Fish Called Wanda at Rotten Tomatoes
- Eden, Richard (14 June 2008). "Memories of Jamie Lee Curtis make John Cleese sing again". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 23 April 2010.
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- A Fish Called Wanda at the Internet Movie Database
- A Fish Called Wanda at AllRovi
- A Fish Called Wanda at Rotten Tomatoes
- A Fish Called Wanda at Metacritic
- A Fish Called Wanda at Box Office Mojo
- A Fish Called Wanda at The Numbers