Kevin Kline and Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Wanda-ful

I remember watching "A Fish Called Wanda" when it first came out and not being impressed by it; oh I enjoyed the now ironically funny scenes be it Michael Palin with chips up his nose or John Cleese's strip tease but the movie left me disappointed. So with some trepidation I decided it was time to revisit "A Fish Called Wanda" and I can say that the much younger me got it wrong or at least didn't understand how funny this movie was and still is. Despite being over 20 years old those big jokes are still funny but the performances seem to be even funnier and the whole caper aspect of it is just brilliant, something I didn't get when I first watched it as a teen.

Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis - Trading Places) and her boyfriend Otto (Kevin Kline - The Big Chill) are in England to help Georges (Tom Georgeson) and Ken (Michael Palin) rob a bank of diamonds and all goes well as they pull off the job and stash the diamonds in a safe at a garage. That is until Wanda and Otto want the diamonds for themselves and having shopped Georges to the police discover they have already been double crossed by Georges who has moves the diamonds elsewhere. Now Wanda must seduce Archie (John Cleese - Silverado), Georges' barrister to try and find out where the diamonds are, whilst Otto keeps and eye on Ken who in turn is trying to kill Mrs. Coady (Patricia Hayes) who is the only witness to their crime that can identify Georges.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Wanda Gershwitz in A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

It's worth mentioning that whilst John Cleese not only wrote but helped in directing "A Fish Called Wanda" it is Charles Crichton who is the main director and fans of Ealing comedies will recognize the name because he directed amongst other things "The Lavender Hill Mob". And between Cleese and Crichton they have almost delivered an update on those Old Ealing Crime Capers, as we have a group of people who having stolen a collection of diamonds try and stitch each other up.

As such "A Fish Called Wanda" has a very simple but also convoluted storyline, simple because it is basically Otto and Wanda trying to get the diamonds which Georges has hidden after they robbed a bank. But it is convoluted because things get messy as Wanda tries to seduce Archie whilst Otto is jealous and Ken, the stuttering fourth member of the gang tries to off a witness who can identify Georges. And of course everyone is in it for themselves whilst pretending to be friends and so you have the back stabbing as Wanda stitches Georges up whilst also ready to knock out Otto whilst Otto is ready to kill the lawyer Archie and also Ken.

The thing is that "A Fish Called Wanda" does become seriously convoluted, well any movie which manages to include John Cleese doing a strip tease, several dogs dying, Michael Palin ending up with chips stuffed up his nose and Kevin Kline seducing Jamie Lee Curtis by talking Italian is pushing things to the limit. Yet it never gets out of control or feels like a series of set pieces as every single joke relates to something else in the movie and it is why it is such a great comedy full of great comedy writing. Plus of course it does have countless and I do mean countless great comedy scenes from those iconic ones to almost the irrelevant such as when Wanda gets turned on by Archie talking Russian.

Of course great writing and great jokes only work when you have great actors and the combination of Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin and John Cleese are simply brilliant. There is not a duff performance from any of these talented actors and everyone shines in fact whilst no one tries to steal a scene it almost feels like they were trying to outdo each other for being as daft as possible and it works. This foursome are the stars of the movie but the supporting performances which include Patricia Hayes and John Cleese's own daughter Cynthia are just as good.

What this all boils down to is that I may have not enjoyed "A Fish Called Wanda" the first time I watched it many years ago but I now understand why so many people rate it as one of the best comedies ever made. From great writing to great performances there is barely a minute which doesn't get you laughing and it almost feels like it is getting better with age.