A Fish Called Wanda (1988) – Charles Crichton

 

The final recommendation from Kind Hearts and Coronets in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film is a personal favorite of mine. This was Charles Crichton’s last film, but I’m so glad the recommendations allowed me to see two more of his films I had never even heard of, Hue and Cry (now a favorite) and The Lavender Hill Mob.

Written by John Cleese, this film just seems to perfectly combine British and American humor to make a classic that is still incredibly hilarious to watch.

A group of criminals led by Georges (Tom Georgeson) is getting ready to pull off a heist to steal a bundle of diamonds. His crew is composed of his girlfriend Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her lover, Otto (Kevin Kline) an ex-CIA operative with an intelligence problem and Ken (Michael Palin), who loves animals and has a bit of a stutter.

When Georges is arrested, and identified by an elderly woman and her three dogs, two plans are set into action… Ken is to rub out the old lady (and inadvertently offs one dog after another in hilarious circumstances) while Wanda decides to get closer to the barrister working the case, Archie Leach (Cleese) – which is Cary Grant’s real name by the way.

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Hilarity ensues on all fronts as Otto is provoked endlessly by being called stupid, who in turns hits on Ken to keep him distracted, while Wanda starts to fall for Archie especially when she finds out he’s multilingual and hearing Italian and Russian never fails to excite her, which arouses Otto’s jealousy.

All of it combines to make for one laugh after another, with endlessly quotable dialogue, and brilliantly priceless moments.

Everything works in this film, for me there isn’t a missed joke or opportunity, each of the actor brings their A-game, and it shows. It also looks like a lot of fun! Yes, I know comedy is hard, but this group makes it look easy.

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There are countless moments that make me laugh aloud, Otto peeking in windows, beating Archie up, flirting with Ken… Wanda playing everyone off of everyone else, the priceless moment when she comes out of the bathroom and you realize she’s waxing her upper lip… Ken’s pain, who loves animals so much, when he accidentally kills the dogs, or when Otto is eating his pet fish one after the other in an interrogation sequence… Archie’s unhappy home life, his Russian while stripping, the looks on his face when he is simply bewildered by some of the things happening or being said around him.

While I was watching this film, I couldn’t believe it had been so long since I had seen it, because this one is just priceless, and needs to be viewed regularly. This is a comedy that can be both smart and goofy, that relies on a line of dialogue as much as physical comedy, something that seems to be sorely lacking from a lot of comedies nowadays that seem to want to pander to the lowest common denominator instead of striving to be more.

If you love your comedies, and you haven’t seen this one, you need to, and if you have seen it, isn’t it time to watch it again?

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