A Fish Called Wanda

1988 British-American heist comedy film

A Fish Called Wanda is a 1988 British-American heist comedy film directed by Charles Crichton from a screenplay by John Cleese. It stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin as a gang of diamond thieves who double-cross one another to find stolen diamonds hidden by the gang leader. A barrister (Cleese) becomes a main character as femme fatale Wanda (Curtis) uses him to locate the loot.

A Fish Called Wanda
Directed byCharles Crichton
Screenplay byJohn Cleese
Story by
  • John Cleese
  • Charles Crichton
Produced byMichael Shamberg
CinematographyAlan Hume
Edited byJohn Jympson
Music byJohn Du Prez
Distributed by
Release dates
  • July 15, 1988 (1988-07-15) (United States)
  • October 14, 1988 (1988-10-14) (United Kingdom)
Running time
108 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Budget$8 million[2]
Box office$62.5 million[3]

It was Crichton's last film.

Kline won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[4] Cleese and Crichton received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.[4] Crichton was nominated for Best Director.[4][5]

Cleese won a BAFTA Award for Best Actor. Palin won for Best Supporting Actor.[6][7] Curtis received a nomination for Best Leading Actress. Maria Aitken received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[8]

Cleese received a nomination for best actor and Curtis received a nomination for best Actress at the Golden Globes[9][10][11]

Another movie called Fierce Creatures came out in 1997. The same actors star in it but play different characters. It does not continue the story of A Fish Called Wanda.

Plot change

George Thomason and Ken Pile are gangsters in London. Ken loves animals and he has a stutter. They plan to steal a jewels. They ask two Americans for help: con artist Wanda Gershwitz and weapons expert Otto West. Otto is a stupid and mean. Also, he does not like British people. Wanda and Otto are lovers. They hide this from George and Ken by pretending to be siblings. This frees Wanda to work her charms on them.

The robbery is successful and the gang escapes with a lot of diamonds. They hide them in a safe in an old workshop. Wanda and Otto betray George to the police and he is arrested. They return to collect the diamonds. Wanda plans to double-cross Otto as well. She finds that George has moved the diamonds. Wanda discovers the key to the safe deposit box containing the diamonds in Ken's fish tank. She hides it in her pendant.

Wanda seduces George's barrister, Archie Leach. Archie is in a loveless marriage. He quickly falls for Wanda. She gets him to persuade George to plead guilty and to tell the location of the diamonds. Otto is jealous. His interference causes Wanda and Archie's liaisons to go disastrously wrong. Wanda accidentally leaves her pendant at Archie's house. Archie's wife, Wendy, mistakes it as a gift for her. At Wanda's insistence, Archie recovers the pendant by staging a burglary. Archie feels guilty and ends the affair.

George asks Ken to kill Mrs Coady. She is the Crown's only eyewitness to the robbery. Ken tries three times. Each time he accidentally kills one of her dogs instead. This causes him great distress. The last dog's death gives her a fatal heart attack. So Otto is successful. With no witness, George seems poised to get off soon. He reveals the location of the diamonds to Ken. Otto learns Ken now knows where they are. Otto tries to force Ken to reveal where the diamonds are by eating his pet fish. He leaves Ken's favourite, named Wanda, until last. Ken reveals that the diamonds are at a hotel near Heathrow Airport.

With Otto's knowledge and Wanda's key, the pair want George to remain in jail. At his trial, defence witness Wanda unexpectedly gives evidence against him. Archie is stunned. He is flustered and messess up his questioning. He inadvertently calls Wanda "darling". Wendy realises that Archie has had an affair. She declares their marriage over.

With no career and no marriage, Archie resolves to cut his losses, steal the diamonds for himself and flee to South America. George tells Archie that Ken knows where the diamonds are. Archie sees Wanda fleeing the courthouse. He pulls her into his car and races to Ken's flat. As Archie runs into the building, Otto steals Archie's car, taking Wanda with him. Ken and Archie give chase. Otto and Wanda recover the diamonds. Wanda double-crosses Otto and leaves him unconscious in a broom cupboard. After recovering, Otto shoots his way out and is confronted by Archie. Otto is about to kill Archie. Archie stalls him by taunting Otto about American failures such as the Vietnam War. Ken arrives, driving a steamroller, seeking vengeance for his fish. Otto, who has stepped in wet concrete and cannot move, is run over but survives. Archie and Wanda board the plane. Otto clings to the outside of the plane. He curses them until he is blown off as the plane takes off.

Cast change

Production change

In 1969, Cleese and Crichton tried to make a film together but it never got started.[12] They promised each other that they would work on a film in the future.[13]

In June 1983, they began writing the script for Wanda. For the next two and half years they met three times a month to work on the script.[13] According to Crichton, "We had a week of rehearsals and then a gap of two weeks in which to incorporate any new ideas which had been thrown up and to polish the script."[14] According to Michael Palin, the original title was "A Goldfish Called Wanda."[15]

Cleese told an interviewer why he called his character Archie Leach. Cary Grant's real name was Archie Leach. Cleese said "I feel this film is as near as I'll ever get to being Cary Grant."[16]

Cleese served as co-director as the studio executives at MGM were worried about Crichton's age. He was 78 years old at the time.[12][13][17] On the set, Crichton wore a T-shirt presented to him by Cleese and inscribed "Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill".[17]

The film was shot in London during the summer of 1987.[13]

Reception change

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 93% approval rating, based on 61 reviews, with an average rating of 8/10. "Smartly written, smoothly directed, and solidly cast, A Fish Called Wanda offers a classic example of a brainy comedy with widespread appeal."[18]

On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 80 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[19]

Six weeks after release it reached number one at the box office in the United States.[3] It eventually grossed $62,493,712 in the US.[3] It was the number one rental video in the US in 1989.[20]

During the initial run of the film, a Danish audiologist named Ole Bentzen died during a screening when his heart rate rose to an estimated 250–500 beats per minute from laughing at a scene too hard, leading to a fatal heart attack.[21]

In 2016, Empire magazine ranked A Fish Called Wanda 35th on their list of the 100 best British films. They called it "a must-own for any British comedy fan". They said, "it made possible Richard Curtis's later Brit-com oeuvre by establishing that British eccentricism can sell, revived the world's interest in Ealing comedies, and allowed a character with Cary Grant's real name – Cleese's bumbling lawyer Archie Leach – to live again on the big screen".[22]

Accolades change

Award Category Name Outcome
Academy Awards Best Director Charles Crichton Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Kevin Kline Won
Original Screenplay John Cleese and Charles Crichton Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role John Cleese Won
Kevin Kline Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Jamie Lee Curtis Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Michael Palin Won
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Maria Aitken Nominated
Best Original Screenplay John Cleese Nominated
Best Film Editing John Jympson Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy John Cleese Nominated
Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Jamie Lee Curtis Nominated

The film is number 27 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".[23] It is also included in the Reader's Digest "100 Funniest Films" list.[24]

In 1999, the British Film Institute ranked it 39th of the BFI Top 100 British films of the 20th century[25]

In 2000, the American Film Institute placed the film 21st on its 100 Years...100 Laughs list.[26]

In 2003, AFI nominated Otto West as a villain from this film for AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.[27]

James Berardinelli of ReelViews awarded the film four out of four stars in his review;[28] it is also number 10 on his "Top 100" list.[29]

Sequels and adaptations change

The main actors worked together again in 1997 to make Fierce Creatures. It is not a sequel or prequel, but is similar in style to A Fish Called Wanda. It is called a spiritual sequel. The actors played different characters. Fierce Creatures was not as well received by critics or audiences as A Fish Called Wanda.[30]

The novelization of Fierce Creatures, written by Iain Johnstone, who co-wrote the film, begins with a letter from Archie (John Cleese's character in the first film) to his brother Rollo. According to the letter:

  • Archie and Wanda are still living happily in Rio, and Wanda enjoys having a new child (or multiple children) each year;
  • Otto visited them once, having left South Africa after Nelson Mandela's election and the end of the apartheid regime; he is looking for like-minded individuals to form a similar group of National Socialists, and Archie and Wanda are both heartily glad when he is gone;
  • Ken is still master of ceremonies at the London Sea World; before visiting Rio, Otto "looked him up" as if they were old friends, but did not even get close before Ken had security guards throw Otto out of the park.

A loose Indian adaptation, Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav, was released in 2005.[31]

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.[32]

References change

  1. "A FISH Called Wanda (15)". British Board of Film Classification. June 15, 1988. Archived from the original on September 21, 2020. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  2. "'A Fish Called Wanda' turns 30: an oral history of a comedy classic". SBS. April 2, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "A Fish Called Wanda (1988)". Box Office Mojo.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "The 61st Academy Awards (1989) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org.
  5. "Nominees & Winners for the 61st Academy Awards". Oscars.org. August 24, 2012. Archived from the original on March 8, 2012.
  6. "Awards Database (1988)". Bafta.org.
  7. McCall, Douglas. "Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969-2012, 2d ed." Google Books. July 21, 2014.
  8. "1989 Film Actress in a Supporting Role | BAFTA Awards". awards.bafta.org. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  9. "Fish Called Wanda, A". Goldenglobes.org. Archived from the original on April 14, 2013.
  10. "The 46th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1989)". Goldenglobes.org. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010.
  11. "Jamie Lee Curtis". Goldenglobes.org. Archived from the original on April 14, 2013.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Oliver, Myrna (September 16, 1999). "Charles Crichton; British Director of Movie Comedies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Harmetz, Aljean (March 26, 1989). "'Fish Called Wanda' a Crichton keeper". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved December 29, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  14. Vallance, Tom (September 15, 1999). "Obituary: Charles Crichton". The Independent. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  15. Palin, Michael (2009). Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988. St. Martin's Press. p. 412. ISBN 978-0-312-68202-6.
  16. Alexander, Michael (August 15, 1988). "His Love Life May Be Fawlty, but John Cleese Is Reeling in Cash and Kudos with a Fish Called Wanda". People. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Bergan, Ronald (September 14, 1999). "Charles Crichton". The Guardian. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  18. A Fish Called Wanda at Rotten Tomatoes
  19. A Fish Called Wanda at Metacritic
  20. "Vid biz often outsmarts b.o.". Variety. December 27, 1989. p. 1.
  21. "10 People Who Literally Died From Laughter". March 17, 2015.
  22. "The 100 best British films". Empire. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  23. "Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies List is Laughable". Projectbravo.com. June 2, 2006.
  24. Stefan Kanfer. "The Top 100+ Funniest Movies of All Time". Reader's Digest. Archived from the original on October 7, 2010. Retrieved December 16, 2010.
  25. British Film Institute - Top 100 British Films (1999). Retrieved August 27, 2016
  26. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 24, 2016. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  27. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 4, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  28. Berardinelli, James. "A Fish Called Wanda". ReelViews. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  29. "Berardinelli's All-Time Top 100". ReelViews. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  30. "Fierce Creatures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  31. Neelam Sidhar Wright (2015). Bollywood and Postmodernism. Edinburgh University Press. p. 218. ISBN 9780748696352.
  32. Eden, Richard (June 14, 2008). "Memories of Jamie Lee Curtis make John Cleese sing again". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on May 27, 2009. Retrieved April 23, 2010.

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