Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Fish Called Wanda and 2 Pythons Called Cleese and Palin Make Comedy Gold

The members of UK comedy group Monty Python have given the world some truly stupendous films. Together they made three uproarious films, with The Holy Grail (1975) and Life of Brian (1979) both being included in The Book. Both of those films were directed by Terry Jones, with Terry Gilliam assisting in the direction of the first, as well as himself directing The Book-worthy film Brazil (1985) as well as 2 films which are part of the book 101 Cult Movies You Must See Before You Die, the hilarious Time Bandits (1981) and the renowned Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), both in my opinion deserving of a place in The Book. And now, with A Fish Called Wanda (1988), we can add another hilarious Book-worthy film that was directed by a Python to the list. Wait, what's that? You though Charles Crichton directed this film? Well, that is true, but John Cleese, who also co-wrote the screenplay and starred in the film, assisted in the direction but went uncredited. Personally, the fact that this is Crichton's final film, the only one of his in The Book, and the fact that the comedy of the film seems so akin to Monty Python makes me think that Cleese played quite a pivotal role in the making of this film.

The film starts out as your basic Heist Film. Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin, Kevin Kline, and Tom Georgeson (whose character's name is George Tomason, hahaha) steal some diamonds. Curtis and Kline tell the police Gergeson did it so they can take the money for themselves (and Curtis plans to double-double-cross and knock out Kline to take the money for herself), but Georgeson has already hidden the diamonds away with the help of Palin. Cleese, playing the barrister defending Georgeson, is being seduced by Curtis in an attempt to get information out of him. Kline, a jealous and stupid American (aren't we all?) who likes to pretend to be intelligent by quoting Nietzsche, is not happy about this and keeps interrupting the two lovebirds, saying, "If you touch his dick, I'll kill him!"

"Oh dear, my dick is burning. Someone must be talking about it! Or it could be the herpes..."

I must say, before watching this film, when I saw that it was Kline who received the film's only Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, I was surprised. With 2 Pythons in the film, how could Kline be the funniest guy on screen? Well, after watching the film I must say Kline earned his award. His buffoonery, his sexual jealousy, his Ugly American way of thinking, and just everything about him is hilarious. Some of the funniest parts of the movie are when he and Palin are together. Firstly, Kline continues to torture Palin, at first figuratively by making fun of his hilariously exaggerated stutter, and later literally by eating his beloved fish in order to get some information out of him. Midway through the film Palin starts to suspect that Kline and Curtis, who claim to be brother and sister, are actually lovers, and to throw him off the scent, Kline pretends to be gay by hitting on Palin.

You don't want to know where he is going to stick that fish.

Of course the other characters in the film are great as well. Palin's exaggerated stutter is a constant source of hilarity, which pleasantly surprised me, as I thought it would get old after a while (it doesn't). The character's other defining trait, his love for animals, is also a source of laughs, because he keeps killing them, much to his dismay. For example, Palin is commanded to kill an old woman who is the only witness in the case against Georgeson. This old woman has 3 dogs. Each time Plain tries to kill her, he ends up killing a dog instead. In one case he watches helplessly while an attack dog he meant to attack the old lady instead sinks his teeth into one of the adorable puppies.

"Oh sh... sh... sh..., oh shhhh... shh... shi..., oh shhhhhiiii... oh bollocks!"

Curtis does a fantastic job in the film as the femme fatale, who flirts with every single male lead in the film in an attempt to get something out of him. Her kiss has the power to make suave mobsters go dumb, jealous boyfriends to hang men out of windows, shy guys to lose their stutters if only for a moment, and pompous old lawyers to go all wobbly. Ah, but she does have a weakness of her own. She gets completely wet for any man who can speak a foreign language, even if they are saying complete nonsense like "Mozzarella Parmigiano" or comparing her breasts to what I believe translates out to "The 2 beautiful cathedrals of Milan." Perhaps her most interesting relationship is with Cleese. At the start she is clearly just using him for information, but after a while his genuine love for her (and his ability to speak both Italian AND Russian) causes her to fall in love in what is actually a believable romance. Still, she gets all of her lovers into trouble, such as when Cleese gets caught stark naked by the owners of a house he is using as a getaway for his encounters with her, and has to cover his manhood with a picture of the lady of the front of her kids and husband no less!

"Ah, welcome home! What, me? Why, I was just admiring the back of your wife's head. Oh dear, that didn't come out right, did it..."

Of course Cleese is indispensable to the film. His uncredited direction is fantastic and his written dialog is absolutely hilarious. Of course, in his own acting, he brings a lot of his considerable comedic experience to the table. In one scene when he is prancing about in his underwear his movements clearly mimic his famous "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch from his Python days, to hilarious effect. The portrayals of his sad, repressed, henpecked home life will remind Cleese fans very strongly of his work on the British sitcom Fawlty Towers. And, of course, his presence brings moments of unbridled silliness that lead to big laughs.

This picture requires no comment.

Of course the picture isn't perfect. The cinematography is unspectacular, with too many angled shots in the heist scene in particular. It suffers from some cliches of 80s films, such as text at the end telling us what happened to all of the characters. But, seriously, who gives a shit. This is a comedy, and the only thing I want out of a comedy is laughs, and boy does this films deliver in that department. This is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. The laughter is nearly constant. Not a scene goes by without at least a chuckle, and some scenes had me laughing so hard I had violent coughing attacks afterwards. The humor ranges from visual to dialog-based, from subtle to insane. Even the predictable jokes are funny when these guys do it, a difficult task that I have only seen achieved by some of the better Mel Brooks films. As a comedy, it is one of the best. If you are looking for a laugh, definitely check this move out. I consider this movie to be an Essential film, and give it an official score of 9/10.

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