A Fish Called Wanda (Blu-ray Review)

Get ready to put the other hand up as the zany classic comedy A Fish Called Wanda hits Blu-ray from Arrow Films.  In 1988, John Cleese, former Python and the mastermind behind Fawlty Towers, teamed up with the veteran Ealing Comedy director Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob) to produce another classic of British comedy – A Fish Called Wanda.  Cleese plays Archie Leach, a weak-willed barrister who finds himself embroiled with a quartet of ill-matched jewel thieves – two American con artists played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, Michael Palin’s animal-loving hitman and London gangster Tom Georgeson – when Georgeson is arrested. Only he and Palin know the whereabouts of the diamonds, prompting plenty of farce and in-fighting as well as some embarrassing nudity and the unfortunate demise of some innocent pooches.  Nominated for three Academy Awards and winning one for Kline’s outstanding supporting turn as the psychopathic Otto, A Fish Called Wanda has stood the test of time, earning its rightful place among its creators’ remarkable comedy pedigree.  Features on this Arrow release include a full-length Commentary by Cleese, a slew of Making of docs and more!


George Thomason is a London gangster with a new job on the horizon – a jewel heist.  And while he has a regular partner in the form of frail stuttering pal Ken Pile, George is forced to enlist a couple of Americans in the form of con woman Wanda Gershwitz and Weapons man Otto West to get the job done.  As far as George knows Wanda and Otto are brother and sister, but the two lovers falsely use this as a front for Wanda to be able to seduce her way into the hearts of both George and Ken and facilitate a double cross for the goods.  But when said double cross goes both ways and George is arrested and hides the jewels, it’s up to a sexy and savvy Wanda to seduce the George’s very stoic barrister Archie Leach to get the location of the loot.

Yes, the story is a basic hijinks set up with a heist at the helm, but co-writers John “Fawlty Towers” Cleese and Charles Crichton wisely fill their film with every style of comedy that works.  And to back up their outlandish ideas they cast actors that perfectly suit the silly styling and drive the humor home.  To cover the slapstick angle, Monty Python alum Michael Palin brings pitch perfect over-the-top camp to his role as the animal loving stutterer Ken.  (The scenes where he accidentally kills canines and also tries to stop Otto from eating his favorite fish Wanda are priceless!)  In the area of droll British humor, Cleese finely fits the stuffy yet passionate role of barrister Archie who is quick with the witty quips and one-liners.  In terms of raw smart sex appeal, Jamie Lee Curtis is a wonderful femme fatale who not only oozes sensual appeal, but also elicits laughs with her uncontrollable animal affinity for foreign languages.  And bringing up the rear, character quirk is given a shot of nitroglycerin with the performance by Kevin Kline as the obtuse and jealous Otto.  (It’s so good he won the damn Oscar for the work!)  All bring a riotous nuance to both their characters and the films mirthful tone and it’s why Wanda even with its simple story scenario is elevated to a comedy classic.

The Wanda gang tried to strike lightning twice with their reunion via a “spiritual sequel” years later with a film called Fierce Creatures, but their hilarity heart just wasn’t in it.  (A lame story didn’t help either!)  Unafraid to do whatever it took to get a laugh, to go out on a limb in the name of all things funny and matching comedy and character together in a perfect playful union, A Fish Called Wanda and the merry band of men (and women!) didn’t just bring the funny – it killed it.

(Review reposted from previous Forgotten Friday Flick)


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: For a comedy shot in 1988 the film quality here is as crisp as they get – 4K does not disappoint!

Depth: Lots of spacing between characters and dog crushing sets.

Black Levels: This flick is pretty bright – go figure!

Color Reproduction: Lush, lively and lovely old chap!

Flesh Tones: Lots of implied flesh via Curtis – it looks pretty damn good!

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.


Audio Formats(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English LPCM Mono

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: We hear the howl of Kline’s animalistic character with surprisingly clarity!

Low Frequency Extension: The growl of dogs and the like comes through loud and clear.

Surround Sound Presentation: While the dialogue here is a center channel affair, no complaints filling the room during busy bits.

Dialogue Reproduction: Where most of the funny comes from can be head clear as day.


The Blu-ray for A Fish Called Wanda features a brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative comes complete with a Reversible Slip Cover plus a Booklet featuring writing on the film by Sophie Monks Kaufman on the first pressing.

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Writer/Star John Cleese – A surprisingly thoughtful track with Cleese commenting – most of the time wondering if things are funny.  (They are!)

John Cleese’s Final Farewell Performance (SD, 48:03) – This 1988 documentary on the making of A Fish Called Wanda featuring interviews with actors Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin, Kevin Kline and director Charles Crichton is an interesting if not odd egg.  You get some interview footage with someone asking Cleese about his own failed marriages – real or comedy you decide!

Something Fishy (SD, 30:32) – A straight forward stories told 15th anniversary retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Cleese, Curtis, Kline and Palin, executive producer Steve Abbott and director of photography Alan Hume.  Talk includes the fact that the American cast didn’t understand the script, the film initially got bad reviews (thanks NY Times!) and tales of old director Crichton having to lie down at lunch.  (Plus you get some impressions of him to boot!)

An Appreciation By Vic Pratt (SD, 16:55) – More like a lecture and history lesson from Pratt of the BFI National Archive.

Interview With Roger Murray Leach (SD, 7:31) – Production Designer Leach talks building sets around actors and actions and that the original Wanda died and her double was used unbeknownst to everyone.

On Location (SD, 16:31) – A truly horrible extra with Robert Powell taking fans to like three locations and the rest is jammed with more of the same info filler and trivia – yipes!  (Take a note from the Sean Clark book of locations on how it’s done dude!)

A Message From John Cleese (SD, 4:56) – A tongue-in-cheek introduction recorded for the film’s original release with Cleese going off about Meryl Streep and Curtis’s film Perfect.

Deleted And Alternate Scenes (SD, 29:37) – A massive twenty-four deleted/alternative scenes with introductions by Cleese – funniest involve Otto shooting the tails off cats, some post man kiss barfing and Otto looking for the loot.

Plus there’s also an Image Gallery (SD, 0:58), Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:28) and a Trivia Track.


What a package!  With a five-star film, packaging and a booklet that screams look at me and enough quality extras that would kill fifty canines, this lovingly put together Arrow Video release is a must collect.  You will not be….DISAPPOINTED!



I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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