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Charles Crichton
John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Maria Aitken, Tom Georgeson, Patricia Hayes, Geoffrey Palmer, Cynthia Cleese
Writing Credits:
Charles Crichton (story), John Cleese (and story)

A devious con woman plans to rip off her gangster boyfriend by seducing his moronic thug and his stuffy lawyer.

Box Office:
$7.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$115.418 thousand on 3 screens.
Domestic Gross
$63.493 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Portuguese Monaural
Spanish Monaural
French DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 5.1
German DTS 5.1
Russian Monaural
Castillian DTS 5.1
Brazilian Portuguese
Chinese Simplified
Chinese Traditional
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $9.98
Release Date: 7/5/2011

• Audio Commentary with Actor John Cleese
• “Something Fishy” Documentary
• “A Message from John Cleese”
• 26 Deleted and Alternate Scenes
• “John Cleese’s First Farewell Performance” Featurette
• “Farewell Featurette: John Cleese” Featurette
• “Kulture Vulture” Featurette
• Trailer
• “Vignettes”


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


A Fish Called Wanda [Blu-Ray] (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 20, 2017)

While Rhett Butler may have uttered the most famous cinematic profanity, his comment to Miss O'Hara doesn't stand as my favorite use of cinematic profanity. That honor goes to Kevin Kline's Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, a character who occasionally yells an outraged "asshole" at those who offend him, usually because they happen to be driving - appropriately - where he wants to go.

Kline earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his work in Fish. While he deserved it, I can't help but feel that it slights the rest of the cast. Kline offered terrific work, to be certain, but so did the other actors, and I remain somewhat unclear as to why Kline received the extra attention.

No matter - at least someone got recognized, which acts as an achievement since this kind of film usually gets the cold shoulder come Oscar time. As such, I'd best not quibble.

Led by gangster George Thomason (Tom Georgeson), a small crew pulls off a diamond heist. Two members – Americans Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto West (Kline) – double-cross George and send him to jail.

Wanda and Otto attempt to manipulate the fourth member of the group – Ken Pile (Michael Palin) – to reveal where George hid the loot. Wanda also cozies up to George’s attorney Archie Leach (John Cleese) in an attempt to recover the jewels. Wacky shenanigans ensue.

Still, I do want to emphasize that Kline doesn’t work in a vacuum, as the rest of the cast also provide very strong performances. Jamie Lee Curtis showed a surprising flair for comedy as she plays Wanda, a mercenary young lady who will do whatever she must to make a big financial score. Especially when one considers that Curtis made her name as a "scream queen", her deft touch here seems especially fine.

Two old "Monty Python" veterans round out the main cast. John Cleese plays it relatively straight as barrister Archie Leach and Michael Palin takes a broader route as stutterer Ken.

The film took a lot of heat for Palin's portrayal, as many found it to be an unnecessarily cruel stab at folks with vocal disfluency. To be honest, they're probably right, as the film takes comic advantage of Ken's problem and this stutter doesn’t really seem necessary for the story. Granted, the movie exhibits empathy to Ken's difficulty by making him the brunt of jerky Otto's taunts, but I still think the stuttering angle seems without strong merit other than as a cheap plot device.

It probably doesn't help that Ken becomes at best a semi-good guy. He's definitely portrayed as a nice fellow, but he is a criminal and an aspiring killer, after all.

Ironically, that latter aspect of his personality indicates to me what a funny film Wanda really is. Fact: I love dogs and hate to see any harm happen to them, on or off screen.

Nonetheless, I can't help but be amused at the horrible ways that the dogs owned by the object of Ken's homicidal ambition bite the dust. It may not sound like much, but for me to be less than traumatized by the ill-fates of poochies is rare, so for me to actually laugh at the sight of a flattened pup seems remarkable.

Of course, it helps that these incidents - like much in the film – are depicted in a cartoony matter. In many ways, the movie takes its comic inspiration - especially in regard to how it depicts violence – from classic cartoons.

For God's sake, a character actually gets run over by a steamroller! Bizarrely, 1988 was a big year for cinematic steamroller crushings, since one also featured prominently in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Wanda doesn't approach the cartoonishness of that film, of course, since it doesn't actually include 'toons, but it uses the same kind of energy and effect. As a result, we get a movie that lives in the best of both worlds.

Wanda stretches reality when it desires but it stays in a clearly recognizable environment and with mainly reasonably human characters. Wanda isn't the greatest comedy of all time, but it's a witty and fun film that neatly overcomes a few weaknesses.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+

A Fish Called Wanda appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer showed its age in a negative way.

Some of the issues related to sharpness. The movie often exhibited a slightly dull look, as it rarely appeared terribly crisp. Though softness wasn’t overwhelming, the film usually came across as a bit ill-defined.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement was visible. As for source flaws, I saw intermittent examples of specks, streaks and marks. These never dominated, but they created more than a few distractions.

Like many Eighties comedies, Wanda displayed fairly lackluster hues. They seemed somewhat flat and drab much of the time, with only a few examples of decent vivacity.

Blacks were also a little muddy, while shadows were reasonably smooth but not especially clear. The movie gave us a wholly forgettable image.

Similar thoughts greeted the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of A Fish Called Wanda. Remixed from the original monaural audio – which fails to appear on the Blu-ray – the soundfield remained restrained.

Music showed good stereo imaging, and a little light ambience spread to the side speakers. That was about it, though, as surround usage was negligible. Other than the music, this was a glorified mono mix, so the other four speakers didn’t have a lot to do.

Audio quality was acceptable. Speech occasionally showed a little edginess, but the lines usually seemed reasonably concise and distinctive. Music had good clarity though it lacked much range; highs were slightly muted and lows lacked punch.

The same held true for the effects. Those elements showed decent definition but no better than that and didn’t pack much impact. This was a serviceable soundtrack and nothing more.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 Collector’s Edition DVD? Audio was very similar, as the lossless track didn’t add much punch to the presentation.

Visuals also failed to create a great improvement – the superior aspects of the format made the BD more concise but it still suffered from similar problems. Indeed, I’d bet both the DVD and the BD came from the same transfer. This was a passable presentation that could use an upgrade.

The Blu-ray includes most of the DVD’s extras, and first comes an audio commentary from actor John Cleese, as he provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Cleese chats about the film’s origins and development, script and story issues, memories of director Charles Crichton, casting, performances and collaborating with the actors, the film’s depiction of London, and other production issues.

While Cleese offers some good notes, he also tends to throw out a little too much praise, and he goes silent too frequently. Neither issue significantly mars the commentary, however, as Cleese usually gives us useful information.

Cleese mainly sticks with script and acting, which makes sense given his focus. This ends up as a generally compelling commentary, though not a great one.

A 30-minute, 32-second documentary called Something Fishy offers notes from Cleese, actors Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin, producer Michael Shamberg, executive producer Steve Abbott, and director of photography Alan Hume. The show starts with a quick overview of Cleese’s career and the evolution of Wanda.

We get some notes about director Charles Crichton, elements of the script’s composition, casting and characters, aspects of the various performances and interactions, cut snippets and reshoots, and screenings and reactions.

After an audio commentary and a trivia track, inevitably we find some repetition here. That said, not a lot of duplication occurs, and the involvement of so many additional participants adds to the package. It starts slowly but gets very good once it digs into casting and shooting the film.

“Fishy” offers plenty of great insights, and all involved come across as frank and funny. The documentary works well and turns into a solid program.

A Message from John Cleese runs four minutes, 56 seconds. Shot as a promotional element back in 1988, it shows Cleese as he touts the movie to American promoters – and does so in a humorously poor manner. It’s funny and enjoyable to see.

26 Deleted and Alternate Scenes fill a total of 29 minutes, 38 seconds. That running time includes introductions from Cleese. He gives us notes about what we’ll see and lets us know why they cut the sequences. I agree with the majority of the edits, as most prove redundant or simply unnecessary.

We also see some more graphic elements like blood related to the death of the dogs. Seeing these bits shows what a mistake it would’ve been to feature the more gruesome side of things, since those parts work only because they’re so cartoony. A few amusing moments emerge – I especially like a discussion between Otto and Wanda about their relationship, and the subplot in which Otto uses cats’ tails for target practice – but most deserved their fate.

Under the “Featurettes” category, we find three pieces. John Cleese’s First Farewell Performance goes for 18 minutes, 12 seconds and presents a piece created concurrent with the film’s shoot. In addition to behind the scenes materials, we get interviews with Cleese conducted by Iain Johnstone.

They chat about Cleese’s frequent threats to give up comedy, his writing methods, making Wanda more palatable for Americans, and working with Crichton and the actors. We also get a few remarks from Kline, Palin, Crichton and Curtis.

As with most featurettes of this sort, “Performance” works best when it focuses on shots from the set. We find lots of nice elements from the shoot, and these prove interesting. The interview segments are too brief to add up to much, but they’re played straight enough that they add a bit to the package.

Next we find the 29-minute, 53-second Farewell Featurette: John Cleese. This essentially acts as a continuation of “Performance”, as it presents more from Johnstone’s sessions and delves further into the production.

Here Cleese chats about cut sequences, filming the bit where he hangs from a window, working with the other actors, his character, his personal life, and his plans for the future (as of 1988).

Since “Farewell” resembles “Performance”, my comments for it apply here. It includes all the same strengths, as I continue to like this program’s behind the scenes materials.

Actually, “Farewell” is a bit less effective than “Performance” just because it pads its time with movie clips. Few of those appear in “Performance” but “Farewell” uses quite a few of them. It’s still fun and informative, however.

For the final featurette, we get Kulture Vulture. This 16-minute, 31-second program mixes elements. Film expert Mark Adams gives us some notes about the production while host Robert Powell provides a tour of Wanda locations.

Since most of Adams’ comments appear elsewhere, we don’t learn much from him, and the glimpses of movie sites proves only moderately interesting. This ends up as a mediocre program.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we finish with Vignettes, an area that gives us three short clips that appeared as Easter eggs on the DVD.. “The Key to Wanda’s Heart” presents an 89-second clip that shows an alternate version of the scene in which Wanda extracts information from Ken.

“Jamie Lee Curtis’s Halloween Memento” reveals a one-minute, 43-second interview clip with Curtis in which she discusses subsequent gift exchanges with Cleese and gets interrupted by a phone call from husband Chris Guest. Cool fact: Curtis’s ring tone plays the theme from Halloween.

Lastly, we get a 27-second outtake in which “Mr. John Cleese Shows His Thoughts on the United States of America”. All of these are fun to see.

What does the Blu-ray lose from the DVD? It drops a very good trivia track and a mediocre photo gallery. I don’t know why these fail to reappear.

After almost 30 years, A Fish Called Wanda holds up nicely. The film barely shows its age and offers a droll sense of humor mixed with excellent performances. The Blu-ray offers mediocre picture and audio as well as a nice array of supplements. While I enjoy the movie, this Blu-ray disappoints.

To rate this film visit the CE review of A FISH CALLED WANDA

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main