M&C Interview: John Cleese talks A Fish Called Wanda – 2 Disc Collector’s Edition

“I wanted to film ‘A Fish called Wanda’ in London, and make it look lovely, what Woody Allen and Gordon Willis did for New York in ‘Manhattan.’” Says John Cleese, who wrote the story,  then partnered the screenplay with his good friend, the late director Charlie Crichton, as they worked out the details of their screwball comedy “poolside years ago in the South of France.” smiled Cleese, remembering the veteran British director Crichton who also directed the Ealing studios classic, The Lavender Hill Mob.

“I wanted to film a scene where someone with a stutter was trying to get out something very important, and the listener had barely contained patience.  He (Charlie) had wanted to film someone being steamrollered before he retired.” Cleese quipped.  “We managed to work out both scenes in ‘Fish Called Wanda’ and it made him very happy.”

The film is coming to DVD in a special 2-disc Collector’s Edition DVD on Nov. 21st. The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen and features English 5.1 Dolby Surround and Mono, as well as French Dolby Surround, Spanish Mono and English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Disc One special features include an excellent Audio commentary with actor/writer John Cleese and a Trivia Track. Disc Two features include deleted and alternate scenes with introductions by John Cleese; with Something Fishy featurette; “Easter Eggs”,  Jamie Lee Curtis’ Halloween Cell Phone,  John Cleese’s Thoughts On The USA, Wanda Kissing Ken, John Cleese’s First Farewell Performance featurette A Kulture Vulture featurette, A Message From John Cleese, Mug Shots still gallery; and the Theatrical trailer.

“Wanda” is a fish tale centered on Archie Leach, a proper Englishman and barrister (lawyer) who gets into trouble when he falls for a bespectacled American woman named Wanda, who flirts her way into his brain and torments him with a renewed lust for life.

Unbeknownst to Archie, he is just part of her grand plan to secure stolen loot, and send her other criminal boyfriend “George” (played brilliantly by Tom Georgeson) away to the big house.  Complicating matters is Wanda’s hyper verbal and astoundingly flexible “brother” Otto, another plot red herring, and the faithful criminal cohort to George, pleasantly polite Michael Palin as “Ken” who has a time of it trying to bump off a cranky old lady who witnessed their collective jewel heist, and who figures out Wanda’s game before anyone. 

A Fish Called Wanda is a must own for your film library.  It moves at a quick pace that combines an assortment of capers that artfully blends sex, murder and greed into a veddy British farce.  Pitch perfect in its hilarity, it has held up beautifully over time.

“Wanda” stars Monty Python alums John Cleese as Archie Leach, which was Cary Grant’s real name, and Python pal Michael Palin plays the suffering and animal empathetic “Ken” who is tormented by the deliciously evil Kevin Kline.  Kline plays the Nietzsche-quoting lothario and terribly rude “Otto” who delights in mocking Ken’s every mangled syllable.

“Kevin moves like no other actor I have worked with,” said Cleese.  “He is elegant in every physical move, inventive and possesses amazing athleticism” Kline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in this film.  He is a joy to watch, and his moment with Maria Aitken, who plays Leach’s hectoring wife “Wendy,” known as the “Harvey Manfrensengen” CIA scene, is a comedy classic jewel.  It is no mistake that the vehicle Otto drives in London is an oversized and out of place Lincoln Continental, as he crashes into and nearly kills and maims pedestrians while yelling “asshole” to everyone in his path.  Otto embodies the ugly “know it all, answer for everything” boorish American persona to a “T.”

“Michael Palin incorporated his own father having a stutter to add to the role of ‘Ken'” added Cleese.  Palin plays the stuttering aide de camp to arch criminal George and fulfills Crichton’s wish of being able to direct a scene where an actor gets to steamroll over someone.  Palin has the unenviable task of “cleaning” the witness, and in turn accidentally “offs” her beloved Yorkies, one by one.  “We had to reshoot those scenes,” said Cleese, “we had a realistic looking dead dog for once scene where the camera shows the aftermath of one dog being run over by Ken, and it was too much for the test audience. We had to make it more comic relief, with a stuffed dog to make it more palatable,” shared Cleese.

Jamie Lee Curtis rounds out the cast as the calculating “Wanda”.  This movie shows off her finest work in comedy. “Jamie has a marvelous way of doing little intimate physical things on camera, and capturing the moment just right.” Said Cleese of his costar, Archie’s Yankee love interest and eventual partner in crime.  “I love American women,” shared Cleese.  “They’re vital, their energy intrigues me, and I loved working with Jamie Lee on this film.”

Cleese utilized his own daughter Cynthia Cleese’s skills as an actress to play his on screen daughter, and also involved many underappreciated fine English actors who he had worked with previously to add to the cast, notably Geoffrey Palmer who played the “Judge,” Tom Georgeson who played “George,” Roger Hume who played the Locksmith, Roland Macleod as the Vicar, Jeremy Child as “Mr. Johnson,” and Michael Percival as “Percival” to name a few. 

When I asked what favorite moment he had in the movie?  “Chips up the nose.” Said Cleese, referring to the clever visual play on English fish and chips, the spud tool Otto used in breaking Ken’s silence on the loot whereabouts while his actual fish called Wanda was in dire peril.

The crew that made “Wanda” was also primarily an English one, with DP Alan Hume lensing for Crichton,  Roger Murray-Leach as Production designer, and Hazzel Pethig as Costume designer.

A Fish Called Wanda (Collector’s Edition) is available for pre-order at Amazon.  As of yet, this version of the DVD is not available in the UK. Visit the DVD database for more information.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.