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Film: A Fish Called Wanda
Fish on poster may be deceptively sexy. You have been warned.
Otto: You know your problem? You don't like winners.
Archie: Winners?
Otto: Winners.
Archie: Winners like... North Vietnam?

A Fish Called Wanda is a 1988 British comedy film starring Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese and Michael Palin. The film is the final—and best known—film of legendary British comedy director Charles Crichton and its screenplay was written by Cleese and Crichton.

The film features a gang of criminals who double-cross each other and involves the comedic use of a steamroller.

Nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, the film is literally lethally funny (see below). Kline, who plays the eccentric thief Otto in the film, won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, a rare accomplishment for a comedic performance.

There are actually two characters called Wanda in the film. One is a fish. The other is Jamie Lee Curtis.

Later followed by a not-sequel with the same cast, Fierce Creatures.

This film contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Wanda is so charming that it is easy to miss just how ruthless she really is, at least prior to genuinely falling for Archie. Ken also counts; a timid animal lover who has no qualms about trying to bump off a little old lady.
  • Amusing Injuries:
    • Poor Ken.
    • And those poor dogs.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood."
  • Asshole Victim: The dog lady is set up to be a mean, temperamental lady who cares more about her dogs than other people.
  • Author Appeal:
  • Ax-Crazy: Otto, but it's more Played for Laughs.
  • Bad Liar: Zigzagged with Otto, who sometimes lies convincingly but also comes up with ridiculous excuses.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't call Otto stupid, or hurt Wanda (the fish).
    • Otto isn't pleased with the prospect of Wanda touching Archie's dick, either.
  • Black Bra And Panties: On Jamie Lee Curtis, no less!
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Knowing some Italian and/or Russian makes some scenes all the more hilarious, especially simce Otto is just prattling off random Italian food items.
    • If you don't know Latin, the choir-boys' singing at the dog's funeral just seems like any old sad hymn. If you speak Latin, however . . . .
    • The film's ending title card, "FIN," also counts, as it is the French equivalent of "The End."
  • Brief Accent Imitation:
    • Otto does it several times. Kevin Kline is a master of doing convincing foreign accents.
    • Archie and Otto exchange dueling examples
  • British Stuffiness: This film delightfully exploits and deconstructs this stereotype to the hilt. Archie's wife Wendy plays it pretty straight along with the Judge and the Old Lady with the dogs.
    • Lampshaded and Invoked by Archie:
    Wanda, do you have any idea what it's like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of, of doing the wrong thing, of saying to someone "Are you married?" and hearing "My wife left me this morning," or saying, uh, "Do you have children?" and being told they all burned to death on Wednesday. You see, Wanda, we'll all terrified of embarrassment. That's why we're so... dead.
  • Butt Monkey/The Chew Toy: Archie undergoes one humiliation after another. But in the end he becomes a winner.
  • The Cameo:
    • Stephen Fry has a 30 second part towards the climax as a man at the airport Otto mugs for his ticket.
    • GeoffreyPalmer also appears, as the Judge in George's trial.
    • The film's producer, Michael Shamberg, is the policeman conducting the line-up where the old lady with the Yorkies identifies George.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Wanda intends to betray everyone to get the jewels - but actually falls for Archie.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Otto, angry with Wanda, picks up a framed photo of her and smashes it with his fist. He then hands it to Ken, and flatly says "Oh, sorry".
  • Contrast Montage: Otto and Wanda engaging in over-the-top sex, meanwhile the Leachs are getting ready to sleep, in separate beds, in the most boring and unsexy way imaginable.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment:
    • Otto forcing Ken to watch him eat his beloved fish.
    • Ken getting back at him by running him over with a steamroller.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Otto over Wanda
  • Cultural Posturing: Otto is supremely contemptuous of the British. Archie uses this as a distraction technique at the climax.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Trademark dry delivery of humorous lines by John Cleese.
  • Die Laughing: The film is unique in cinema in that it is actually so funny as to prove a Real Life example. In 1989 a Danish audiologist named Ole Bentzen died of laughter watching it. The film made him laugh so hard that he ended up having an attack of tachycardia followed by cardiac arrest.
  • Dumb Muscle: Otto is really good with violence but he's challenged by almost every other task. Did he ever work for the CIA or is he lying?
    Wanda: He thought that the Gettysburg Address was where Lincoln lived.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Otto once again. Naturally, he doesn't even bother to use a rigth-hand-drive car and makes every turn incorrectly.
  • Eagleland: Otto is every American stereotype rolled into one.
  • Emotionally Tongue Tied: Otto and the word "sorry".
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch / Interrogation by Vandalism: Played With when Otto torments K-k-ken by eating his fish... alive.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Played for laughs:
    • Apparently, Ken thinks killing little old ladies is better then buggering people. Also, Ken feels absolutely heartbroken about killing those poor Yorkies, but can't keep from laughing when he realizes the little old lady is dead.
    • Otto feigns disgust at killing in cold blood.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: In this case Gratuitous Italian. Or Gratuitous Russian. In Archie's case, he's fluent in Russian. Otto just spits out random Italian words.
  • Fan Disservice: Otto and Wanda's sex scene, particularly with Otto's ridiculous orgasm face.
  • Faux Yay: Otto pulls this on Ken to distract him from Wanda's activities.
    Otto: I love watching your ass when you walk! Is that beautiful or what? Don't go near him, he's MINE!
  • Fawlty Towers Plot: The movie is built around convoluted lies. Archie trying to recover a locket and robbing his own house is one of the funniest.
  • Femme Fatale: Wanda, who is planning on stabbing every guy she gets involved with in the back (even Otto — when they think the loot is safely locked in the safe at the lock-up, she's seconds away from koshing Otto and running off with it before they realize it's empty). Then she ends up falling in love with Archie for real.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Ken.
  • Freudian Slip: "They're so fucking lawyer—uh, superior", as well as Archie's "Wanda" and "Darling!" in the courtroom scene.
    Judge: Mr. Leach... Darling?
    Archie: Yes dear?
  • Frying Pan of Doom: How Otto subdues Archie thinking he's a robber.
  • Funny Background Event: Otto unsuccessfully eavesdropping Archie and Wanda from behind a window of their love nest.
  • Gambit Pileup: The robbers' conflicting plans to outgambit each other.
  • Geeky Turn-On: Languages for Wanda. Any man speaking a foreign language (or faking it) gets her excited.
  • Gold Digger: Wanda asks Archie if he's rich.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Subverted when Archie holds Otto at gunpoint and gets talked into a gentlemen bout.
    Archie: (leaves the gun) I used to box for Oxford.
    Otto: Oh, yeah? (grabs the gun) Well, I used to kill for the CIA.
  • Hand or Object Underwear: Archie covers his genitals with a photograph when the new tenants of a flat arrive unexpectedly. It turns out to be a portrait of the woman of the house.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: At least to Ken.
    Wanda: I'm sorry about my brother, Ken. I know he's insensitive. He's had a hard life. Dad used to beat him up.
    Ken: (beat, smirking to himself) Good.
  • Hollywood Silencer:
    • Otto's pistol has the classic "pyoot!" noise.
    • Ken later fires a silenced Ruger Mini-14 (to shoot the wedge holding the rope suspending the giant stone block, which smashes the final Yorkie), which makes an identical noise.
  • Insult to Rocks
    Otto: Don't call me stupid!
    Wanda: Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people!
  • I Resemble That Remark:
    Archie: You are a true vulgarian, aren't you?
    Otto: You're the vulgarian, you fuck!
  • Jerkass:
    • Otto turns obnoxiousness into a form of art.
    • The family of Archie is presented as callous, superficial and emotionally distant.
    • The old lady is overly-grumpy and self-centered.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Otto.
    Wanda: "Now let me correct you on a couple of things, okay? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not 'Every man for himself.' And The London Underground is not a political movement! Those are all mistakes, Otto! I looked them up."
  • Large Ham: Kevin Kline gleefully chews the scenery in the movie, winning an Oscar in the process.
  • Laughably Evil: Again, Otto.
  • London
  • Look Behind You: Archie tells Otto to look behind him. Otto reluctantly complies, and sees Ken bearing down on him with a steamroller.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Wanda appears out of the blue and snaps Archie of his stuffiness until he wises up.
  • May-December Romance: Archie is about two decades older than Wanda. Lampshaded when she says that she's "not into necrophilia."
  • MI6: Otto isn't fooling Archie's wife with his cockamamy story about being a CIA Operative...
    Wendy: My father used to work for the Secret Service Mr. Manfred St. John-Smithson...
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jamie Lee Curtis
  • Mutilation Interrogation: The fish tank scene.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Ken's response to killing the dogs.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Well, John Cleese didn't drop his trousers just so we could admire his physique...
  • Nervous Wreck: Ken.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Otto models himself on a Nietzschean ubermensch and is constantly talking and reading about Nietzsche's philosophy. Despite being a consummate Know-Nothing Know-It-All, Nietzsche appears to be the one subject he actually knows something about.
  • No One Could Survive That: Ken running Otto over by a steamroller. Fortunately for Ken, it's deep cement and there's enough room for Otto to manage to not get flattened.
  • Oh Crap: Otto is greatly amused to see that Ken is baring down on him in a steamroller ... until he discovers that he's gotten stuck in the cement right in the steamroller's path.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: "Miserere Dominus, canis mortuus est" during the funerals, latin for "Have mercy, O Lord, the dog is dead".
  • One Mario Limit: This trope (or the reaction to its aversion) is one of the many examples of Otto's stupidity. When he hears that Archie's daughter is named Portia (a homophone of "Porsche"), he asks why on earth he would name her after a car.
  • Ordered Apology
  • Overly-Long Gag: Ken's slow, slow approach on his steamroller, chugging through the background behind Otto.
  • Pet the Dog: Ken's love of animals
  • Plethora of Mistakes: The robbery goes off without a hitch. After that...
  • Rant Inducing Slight: Otto gets completely ticked off by the polite way in which Archie calls him crazy.
    Archie Are you totally deranged?
    Otto: (utterly disgusted) You pompous, stuck-up, snot-nosed, English, giant-twerp, scumbag, fuck-face, dickhead asshole!
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Otto. For example, shooting a metal safe is not a good idea (as evidenced by the ricocheting sound.)
  • Refuge in Audacity: When a family walks in on his nude prancing-about, Archie feigns indignation that they dare walk in on him.
    "Will you leave immediately, please?"
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: With a steamroller.
  • Rule of Three:
    • Otto is repeatedly involved in car crashes or near crashes, the first two times running the same dark red car off the road, and the third time having a minor collision with a light blue car - at the same time alerting Archie that Otto is escaping with his car. In each occasion he calls the other driver an asshole, followed - or preceded in the actual crash - with a metallic crunching noise. (Being an American, he keeps forgetting to drive on the left.)
    • Then there's those three poor doggies.
  • Running Gag: Courtesy of Otto:
    • "ASS-HOLE!"
    • "What was the middle part?"
    • Otto sniffing his own armpit doubles as Character Tic
  • Shout-Out/Genius Bonus: John Cleese's character is called Archie Leach, which was Cary Grant's real name. An scene with Otto and Wanda borrows one iconic moment from a fight between Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story.
  • Sleeping Single (See Unfair Sex below)
  • Speech Impediment: Ken's, much mocked by Otto.
    "Look, it's K-k-k-Ken, c-c-c-c-coming to k-k-k-k-kill me! How are you gonna c-c-c-c-catch me, K-k-k-k-ken??"
    • Michael Palin researched stuttering extensively so as to not needlessly offend stutterers in the name of comedy.
      • Palin's father had a stammer, and Palin himself helped set up the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children in London. He is Vice President of the charity Action for Stammering Children.
  • Stealth Pun: Most movies have "The End". This one has "Fin".
    • "Fucking Limey cement!"
  • Straw Nihilist: Otto. Ironically, he seems to be more knowledgable about the subject then most other examples, and it seems to be the one thing he isn't a Small Name, Big Ego about.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Archie.
  • Tap on the Head:
    • "Ciao, stupidissimo!"
    • Otto does the same thing later to Stephen Fry.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Otto, and he revels in it, such as snorting his own armpits.
  • Torture for Fun and Information: Otto stuffs food up Ken's nose while holding him prisoner. He then speaks at length about philosophy, and then starts to eat Ken's pet fish alive so he'll tell him what he wants. Hilarious.
  • Trivial Title: It's named after Ken's pet fish, which has very little do do with the plot. Certainly less than the human Wanda.
  • The Unfair Sex: Subverted with Archie and his wife.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Wanda has to decide between smoking and nonsmoking seats on a plane.
  • Unpronounceable Alias: Otto makes up the name "Mr. Manfrenjensen...den". It's made more hilarious when the person it's being given to goes on to pronounce it perfectly.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: During the character introductions, the film cuts back to George's flat just as he's finished explaining his plan, so we only get to hear about "the middle bit... about the police". The rest of the plan goes off almost without a hitch.
  • Video Credits: Over the opening credits, to introduce the main players.
  • Villain Protagonist: Three quarters of the main characters (Wanda, Otto and Ken) are thieves looking to keep their loot (and at least in the case of the first two planning to betray their leader over it.)
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Archie & Wanda (and Ken) get their happily ever afters, while Otto goes to work for the South African government... but they just left George sitting in jail.
    • They didn't explicitly reveal what happened to him, but Archie told George that Wanda's statements in court meant that he was now certain to be jailed for a long time, and that only implicating Wanda, Ken and Otto in the robbery could reduce the sentence. Since Archie never brought them to account, we can assume that George got the original, very long sentence. On the other hand, since it was quite apparent that his barrister was having a "relationship" with the key witness, it's possible that a mistrial could've been declared. And with basically no evidence left against George (Wanda having left for South America) he certainly would have gotten off.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Parodied: Archie & Wanda move to Rio, have 17 kids, and fund a leper colony; Ken becomes Master of Ceremonies at London Sea World; Otto emigrates to South Africa (in the late 80s) and becomes Minister of Justice.
  • William Telling: In the bank heist in the beginning, as the four thieves are about to get away with their bank heist, Otto pulls an apple out of his sack and places it on a bystander's head. He readies his crossbow, scaring the bystander, but he's stopped by Wanda (not the fish) before he can pull the trigger.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: When Archie realizes what's going on and his wife threatens divorce, he quickly makes plans for himself - and Wanda.

The Fearless Vampire KillersCreator/Metro-Goldwyn-MayerForbidden Planet
Felix the Cat: The MovieFilms of the 1980sFrantic

alternative title(s): A Fish Called Wanda
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