A Fish Called Wanda, 1988.
Directed by Charles Crichton.
Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin.
A Fish Called Wanda has been released on Blu-ray before, but this new edition from Arrow sports a fresh 4K restoration and a pair of new bonus features. Nearly everything from the prior Blu-ray and DVD releases have been ported over.
“Monty Python does a heist movie.” Yes, only two Python alumni star in A Fish Called Wanda – John Cleese as upright barrister (lawyer) Archie Leech and Michael Palin as the poor stuttering thief Ken – but the film captures many of the madcap sensibilities honed by the comedy team during their years together.
Okay, sure, a better description might be “Fawlty Towers does a heist movie,” given the fact that Cleese created that classic TV series and wrote this film. Certainly, the tone of A Fish Called Wanda is closer to Fawlty Towers than to Python’s dada-esque brand of humor, but either way you look at it, this movie does an excellent job of taking the underpinnings of a heist film and putting a thick layer of British humor atop it.
And, yes, please give a nod to director Charles Crichton, who also co-write the original story. While I’m not familiar with his body of work, I know that he was an influential director of many comedies produced at England’s Ealing Studios.
A Fish Called Wanda’s main characters are actually Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline), two robbers stuck without the loot when a diamond heist goes awry and the gang’s ringleader, George, is arrested. Wanda and Otto set up their co-thief to take the fall, but he moved the goods before being taken away. Ken knows where the diamonds are hidden, but he’s friends with George and refuses to talk. His severe speech impediment doesn’t help his situation.
Wanda sets out to seduce Leech, hoping he’ll convince George to plead guilty and say where the diamonds can be found. Leech is stuck in a loveless marriage, though, and begins to fall for Wanda, much to Otto’s chagrin. Meanwhile, poor Ken is tasked with killing the elderly lady who was the only witness to the crime, but he keeps taking out her dogs instead, which tears at his animal-loving conscience. Seeing dogs die in inventive ways may not sound funny, but it’s handled in such a way that it’s hard not to laugh.
Thus the stage is set for a story full of double-crossings and misunderstandings as Otto and Wanda both scheme to be the only one who gets away with the loot and Archie tries to reconcile his personal situation. Poor Ken also sets out to get revenge against Otto for the terrible things the psychopathic thief does to his beloved fish.
The ending isn’t much of a surprise, but the story takes some creative twists and turns to get there, and the script provides plenty of laughs from start to finish. In a sense, the film offers a bit of a twist on a “fish out of water” story, since Wanda and Otto are both Americans trying to navigate a stuffy British environment.
This new Blu-ray from Arrow features a new 4K restoration that’s supposed to be an improvement over the previous Blu disc issued by MGM in 2011. I don’t have that one, but I do have the previous two-disc DVD set and can confirm that all the bonus features found there have been ported to this edition, except an Easter egg featuring an interview with Jamie-Lee Curtis that was cut short by her cell phone ringing. Also missing are a couple outtakes that were in an earlier Blu-ray edition, from what I’ve read online.
A pair of new bonus features were added for this release: an appreciation of the film by Vic Pratt of the BFI National Archive (17 minutes) and an interview with production designer Roger Murray-Leach (7.5 minutes). The former is a nice overview of the careers of Crichton and Cleese and how they intersected for A Fish Called Wanda after some earlier near-misses. The latter is an interview with Murray-Leach about his approach to his job on the film.
The following bonus features were ported over from previous releases:
- Commentary track: John Cleese tells plenty of stories about the making of the movie and his appreciation for director Charles Crichton, who passed away in 1999. I was a bit surprised that he didn’t go the trickster route and do a parody of a commentary, as you might expect an ex-Python to do.
- John Cleese’s First Farewell Performance (48 minutes): This 1988 making-of documentary stars Crichton, Cleese, and the rest of the cast talking about the making of the movie. It combines two featurettes from the DVD set.
- Something Fishy (30 minutes): Created for the original two-disc DVD release, this is a retrospective piece featuring interviews in which Cleese, Curtis, Kline, Palin, executive producer Steve Abbott, and director of photography Alan Hume reminisce about the making of the movie and reflecting on its popularity.
- On Location (16 minutes): A featurette about the film’s locations hosted by Robert Powell. This was previously called Kulture Vulture in the two-disc DVD set and is known as Fish You Were Here in releases outside North America, just to keep everyone on their toes, I suppose.
- 24 deleted and alternate scenes (30 minutes): Cleese introduces the entire group of scenes as well as each one individually. Some are pieces fully excised from the film and others are alternate versions of existing scenes, including a different ending. This is a great example of need to cut great material if it doesn’t ultimately serve the primary purpose of the story.
- A Message from John Cleese (5 minutes): If you’re seeking the trickster Cleese in the bonus features, here he is in this introduction to the movie that was recorded before its initial theatrical release.
- An image gallery: 59 promotional and behind-the-scenes images for you to peruse. This one is different from the one in the DVD set. I’m not sure if there was a photo gallery in the earlier Blu-ray release.
- Trivia track: This option plays the movie with bits of trivia that appear on the bottom of the screen. Multi-taskers may want to enable Cleese’s commentary at the same time.
- Theatrical trailer
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★