Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Fish Called Wanda


Norman has taken a distinct turn for the worse over the last few weeks. He states that it’s a bad case of nerves. I think it’s the result of downing far too many martinis laced with household cleaning products. I feel that I must curtail my busy touring schedule for the near future and it may be some time before I and Norman are able to return to our regular matinee outings. I know my legions of fans are going to be terribly disappointed at not having my usual reviews of the newer talkies to enliven their humdrum lives. Therefore, I’ve decided to expand my comments to cover older films. Norman and I recently redid the home theater in an early Ottoman Empire motif with the screen behind a canopy depicting the Blue Mosque and the new DVD player in a miniature of the Topkapi palace.

Mrs. Norman Maine, of course, can never take a complete hiatus from stage and screen. To satisfy the continued call for my fabulous performances, I am in the process of creating a website complete with VickiCam where my fans can tune in and watch as I work to put together my next venture. That darling choreographer, Wakefield Poole, has promised to help me come up with some new, somewhat daring routines for my next stage outing that I can rehearse in the comfort of the home studio. I know that the world out there is just dying to see my pliers, tour jetes and buck and wings.

The first confection I inserted into the new home theater system complete with glorious technicolor, breathtaking cinemascope and stereophonic sound, was the 1988 comedy, A Fish Called Wanda , a film of which I have fond remembrances from its original theatrical run. I had originally auditioned for the title role of Wanda, even though it was a non-musical part. The crew had some difficulty getting me into the fish tank on the set so I was passed over in favor of some overgrown guppy with large angelfish wings.

The movie is a comic crime caper in the style of the old Ealing Studios comedies such as The Lavender Hill Mob or The Man in the White Suit (and was directed by Charles Crichton, a veteran of those days). It concerns the misadventures of an oddly matched set of diamond thieves including Jamie Lee Curtis as the non-piscine Wanda, Kevin Kline as Otto, her 'brother', and the Python Michael Palin as the hapless, stuttering Ken, a man with a soft spot for fish, dogs and other assorted fauna. The whole farrago is held together by yet another Python, John Cleese, as Archie Leach (Cary Grant's real name), a hapless barrister. After the successful diamond heist, one of the thieves is detained and Archie is the barrister retained to get him out of jail. He eventually becomes a foil for the other three as they all try to outfox each other and escape with the loot. As well as enacting the central role, Cleese also wrote the clever screenplay that is full of wonderful farce bits.

The standout performance is Kline's over the top dimwit, Otto (for which he won an Oscar). He chews the scenery up one side and down the other in an effortless fashion but he never throws the picture off balance, as the inspired lunacy that ensues effortlessly keeps up with the manic energy he unleashes. The film is very British in many respects, especially in its sense of humor and many of the jokes are more cerebral than are normal for Hollywood comedies. This is not the Farrelly Brothers or a teen caper. Curtis’s Wanda is the sanest of the bunch, but she has fun with her manipulations of all the men in her life in a spoof on a femme fatale .

The DVD does not offer a whole array of extra goodies but the sound and wide screen picture were excellent on my system. There were the usual cast and crew credits and filmographies.

Dog funerals. Courtroom brawls. Naked John Cleese. Boot smelling. Fish eating. Gratuitous Stephen Fry. Steamroller abuse. Gratuitous Portia in The Merchant of Venice reference. Courtroom brawl.

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