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MGM Studios DVD presents
A Fish Called Wanda (CE) (1988)

"To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people. I've known sheep that could outwit you. I've worn dresses with higher IQs."
- Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: November 20, 2006

Stars: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin
Director: Charles Crichton

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 01h:47m:50s
Release Date: November 21, 2006
UPC: 027616062543
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-CB B

DVD Review

You might have thought that the boys from Monty Python were the rightful heirs to the Ealing comedy tradition, but who would have guessed that they'd have such a romantic streak as well? Many of the strands of the best of film comedy are woven together in charming fashion in this movie, and principally we have John Cleese to thank for it—he's the film's writer, executive producer, and leading man, and just generally seems to be the straw that stirs the drink. He wisely recruited Charles Crichton to direct—Crichton was one of the grand old men of the glory days of English comedy, with such notable titles as The Lavender Hill Mob to his credit. But his sensibility decades later doesn't have even a whiff of stodginess, and his sure hand makes watching this a pleasure.

At its most elemental, this is sort of a cops and robbers story—we meet the odious George, who with his American girlfriend Wanda and his aide de camp Ken, are planning a big-time diamond heist. Except they need one more for their merry band, someone with a way with weaponry—and so Wanda introduces George to Otto, her brother (or that's her story, anyway). Of course things run merrily awry—the plot is foiled, George is in the clink, and nobody has enough information to pull off the old double- or triple-cross and make off with the loot. Wanda concocts a plan: surely George will confide all in his barrister, so she will use her womanly wiles to endear herself to this particular officer of the court, to see what she can learn.

The real kick of this movie, though, is not in the story, but in the performances. It's a measure of Cleese's generosity and good sense that he doesn't hoard all the best lines for himself; still, he's a solid and winning leading man as George's lawyer, even if it seems a bit too clever to have named the character Archie Leach. Jamie Lee Curtis as Wanda may not be a comedienne at the top of the pantheon—you can't help but imagine what, say, Rosalind Russell or Barbara Stanwyck or Carole Lombard would do with this role—but she can be both charming and conniving, and often at the same time. Cleese's Python colleague Michael Palin is endearing as Ken, frequently hobbled by a terrible stutter—no doubt some of the most rabid in the PC brigade will see this as mocking a disability, but you can't help but think that those are people who won't find anything funny, and miss the larger point, about Ken being a rather sympathetic character overall.

And clearly the same cannot be said for his chief tormentor, Otto, played loopily by Kevin Kline in a performance that's so extreme it's got a kind of comic brilliance to it. Otto is a dope who thinks that he's a genius, a guy who thinks that reading and not understanding Nietzsche makes him an intellectual, and that barking out the left side of the menu from an Italian restaurant qualifies as foreplay. Kline is fantastically bombastic, but his Otto is so obviously a doofus of the first order that our principal question is about why Wanda would be with him in the first place. Anyway, both Otto and the movie have a macabre, darkly comic fascination with cruelty to animals—Otto does the frat boy thing and swallows all of poor Ken's precious little fishy darlings, while Ken, an animal lover and a very bad hit man, consistently misses his mark, a little old lady, while whacking out her Yorkies instead.

In a smaller and much less flashy role, Maria Aitken is perfect in the unfortunate extreme as Archie's wife—she's the paragon of a British hausfrau, hectoring her husband and nattering on and on and on, and she explains why Archie would fall for someone with the deviousness and shady past of Wanda. It's not a movie to warm the cockles of your heart, though its level of outrageousness seems mighty modest, especially by today's Jackass standards. So put a strong piece of netting over the fish tank while you enjoy this one, and you'll be just fine.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The transfer may be the most disappointing thing about this special edition, for it's full of scratches and displays a pretty dull and faded palette. It's a movie that loves London and wants to show it off, but the city is done no favors by this transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The film fares better with the audio transfer, as the dialogue is generally audible without a problem, though the level of ambient noise seems unnecessarily high, and the 5.1 track occasionally sounds overmixed.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Pink Panther, The Princess Bride, Casino Royale, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
14 Deleted Scenes
4 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Cleese
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. trivia track (see below)
  2. photo gallery
Extras Review: Disc One features an affable if frequently sparse commentary from Cleese—it's his free-ranging reminiscences, many of them focused on Crichton (who died in 1999), and he describes, among other things, getting the idea of casting Curtis while watching her in Trading Places. If you're going to listen to this, you might want to do it in concert with the accompanying trivia track—it's the Pop Up Video thing again, with little tidbits about the film gleaned from press clippings and web searches appearing on screen in a reader-unfriendly font.

The rest of the goods are on Disc Two, starting with a package (29m:37s) of fourteen deleted scenes, each of which are introduced and occasionally talked over by Cleese. They're all bits that made it to an earlier, longer assembly, and all are either not funny enough or too repetitive to have made the final cut. (Gone, for instance, is Otto's recreational activity of shooting the tails off of cats. On your guard, Intrigo.) Then, Cleese simply can't stop saying goodbye, initially in John Cleese's First Farewell Performance (18m:11s), then in a Farewell Featurette (29m:51s), both of which are pretty standard making-of pieces from the time of the film's production—they include on-set interviews with Cleese, Palin, Kline and Curtis, among others, and lots and lots of clips from the feature.

Kulture Vulture (16m:31s) is a look at the movie's London locations, and a photo gallery, called Mug Shots, offers five chapters' worth of snapshots from the set and for publicity purposes. Of more recent vintage is Something Fishy (30m:30s), which includes new interviews with the actors, recollections of Oxford days from Palin and Cleese, and everyone trotting out their Crichton impressions. Finally, there's A Message from John Cleese (04m:56s), a promotional piece pegged to the film's original theatrical release, which starts with the actor delivering this hopeful line: "Hi. My name is Meryl Streep."

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A Fish Called Wanda lives in that rarified comic air somewhere between droll and outrageous—it's very funny, only quite modestly offensive, continuously inventive, and deeply romantic. The extras on this special edition are ample, though not crucial or significantly illuminating; just keep the fish and chips at bay and away from all orifices.

 


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