A FISH CALLED WANDA. Today, such a film could not be made

Currently, a film like “A Fish Called Wanda” couldn’t be made—at least not in the mainstream without problems.


12 February 2024

a fish called wanda

The film “A Fish Called Wanda” was born in John Cleese’s mind in the early 1980s. He came up with a scene in which a stuttering person has to quickly convey important information. He shared his idea with Charles Crichton, the future director of the film, who added the sequence of crushing the villain with a steamroller. Through several brainstorming sessions over five years, the two men wrote the script for a comedy about a jewel heist and its unforeseen consequences. Crichton directed the film, despite producers’ concerns about his advanced age. Cleese assisted him in some scenes.

Currently, a film like “A Fish Called Wanda” couldn’t be made—at least not in the mainstream without problems. The film pokes fun at almost everyone, which was characteristic of Monty Python’s work, to which two cast members belonged—Cleese and Michael Palin. The movie mocks stutterers, homosexuals, and criticizes English stiffness and pomposity. Americans are also satirized, symbolized by the not-so-bright Otto (played excellently by Kevin Kline), naive middle-aged men chasing money, vain English housewives, and dog-loving, self-absorbed retirees. The film reflects negative human traits such as greed, vanity, and stupidity. It’s frightening to think who might be offended if the film premiered in today’s politically correct times.

Despite all this, the film is genuinely funny. The script contains elements of screwball comedy, romantic comedy, heist movies, and crime, and it holds together well, with the main cast excelling in their roles. Jamie Lee Curtis (whom Cleese decided to hire after seeing her in John Landis’ “Trading Places”) is seductive yet romantically inclined. Cleese’s character struggles in a failed, tiresome marriage, oppressed by a bored wife and capricious daughter (played by the actor’s real child), and tempted by Wanda, who initially only wants information from him. However, Kevin Kline steals the show as the impulsive yet utterly inept criminal Otto, who tries to read philosophy classics but understands nothing from them (no, Aristotle wasn’t Belgian). Otto’s character was so popular with audiences that the creators decided to change his intended fate. Kline himself was honored with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Michael Palin’s stuttering character, in love with his fish, completes the picture of a joyful gathering of individuals.

a fish called wanda

Reportedly, a viewer laughed so hard during the interrogation scene (the one with the French fries) that they had a heart attack, reminiscent of Monty Python’s sketch about the funniest joke in the world. Although I doubt anyone else is in danger of watching “A Fish Called Wanda”, it’s definitely worth taking the risk and giving this English comedy a chance. It guarantees excellent entertainment and also provides a trip to simpler times when creators didn’t have to be as careful with their words, and audiences approached pop culture productions with more ease, simply expecting entertainment (if possible, at a high level), rather than searching for hidden messages in every scene or dialogue. John Cleese still considers “A Fish Called Wanda” the best film he ever appeared in.

In 1997, a spiritual successor to “A Fish Called Wanda” was made, titled “Fierce Creatures”. The entire main cast returned, but it failed to replicate the success of the original, although that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time watching it.

Text written by Piotr Zymelka.



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