Though Kevin Kline is a Julliard trained actor who has done film and theater, performed in many Shakespearean stage productions, won two Tonys and been nominated for numerous other awards (Golden Globe, BAFTA, Emmy), the film for which he won an Academy Award is no highbrow drama and the role was not Hamlet. Rather, Kline won for playing a psychopathic dolt in the brilliant comedy, A Fish Called Wanda. He seems more the family man these days (who can blame him, with the ageless Phoebe Cates as his wife?) but, Kline’s crazy performance as Otto still holds up—as does Fish—which was written, secretly co-directed and starred in by Basil himself (John Cleese). Here are some tasty fishbits over which to savor and perhaps entice you into watching again. Just don’t laugh too enthusiastically…
Denmark resident, Ole Bentzen laughed himself to death (literally) when he watched this scene where Otto stuffs chips up Ken’s nostrils. Reminded of a similar incident at a family dinner, Bentzen laughed so hard (heartily?)that his heart stopped.
Though Kevin Kline offered to eat live fish for the Otto torture scene, the ones he actually ate were Jello.
When he undresses and speaks Russian to Wanda, Archie is reciting a poem called, “The Prayer,” by Mikhail Lermontov. Cleese has stated that he had no idea what he was saying; he memorized the poem phonetically. In a related note, during the love scene, when Wanda opens up her blouse, Otto says in broken Italian “Ecco le due cupole del catedrale di Milano!” which translates “There are the two domes of the Milan cathedral.” Milan’s cathedral, actually, has no domes at all.
The film holds the record of longest time to reach number 1; it was released July 15, 1988 and finally topped the box office, September 16th.
Kevin Kline wanted Otto to seduce Wanda in French (because he was fluent) rather than Italian, but John Cleese refused him.
A Fish Called Wanda is the last film Charles Crichton directed; he also did some television, including episodes of “The Avengers” and directed one of film critic, Gene Siskel’s favorite movies, The Lavender Hill Mob.
Leach’s daughter Portia is played by John Cleese’s real-life daughter Cynthia Cleese, credited as Cynthia Caylor.
John Cleese chose his character name, Archie Leach, because it is the real name of his favorite actor, Cary Grant.
More fun with names: Actor Tom Georgeson plays crook “George Thomason” and Kevin Kline suggests a snitch with his own first and middle names, “Kevin Delaney.”
Producer Michael Shamberg served on Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and he’ll Executive Produce Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Southern Spaghetti Western, Django, Unchained.
Costume designer, Hazel Pethig also did costuming for “Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Doctor Who, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and Fierce Creatures.
Score composer, John Du Prez was a member (trumpet player) of eighties Pop/Salsa band, Modern Romance. The band had several top-40 hits, including this one, where you can see Du Prez doing a little solo work:
A Fish Called Wanda is John Cleese’s favorite of his own films.
Though the film’s sequel, Fierce Creatures also starred Cleese, Kline, Curtis and Palin, it was as big a bomb (both commercially and with audiences and critics) as Wanda was successful. John Cleese has said that making Fierce Creatures is one of his greatest regrets.
Arguably, one of AFCW’s funniest scenes features Michael Palin’s character, Ken trying to pass on where Otto is headed with Wanda and the diamonds. Palin modeled his speech impediment on his own father, who stuttered. After the film, Palin lent his name and fame to a the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children.
Here’s an extended scene where you can see some of the deleted bits of other ways Archie tried to get the information out of Ken:
A Fish Called Wanda scores a Fresh rating of 96% at rottentomatoes.com and is number 21 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Funniest Movies
Because it upset audiences too much, the entrails obtained from butchers to serve as dead dog guts were replaced with a straw dog, easily seen as fake. Moreover, the film also featured a deleted subplot that involved Kevin Kline’s Nietzsche-loving psychopath using stray cats for target practice
Michael Palin went on to found the London Centre for Stammering Children after a group of stutterers confronted him regarding the sensitivity with which he dealt with Ken’s handicap in this film.
Jamie Lee Curtis was listed as “Jamie Lee Schwartz” on all the call sheets, because John Cleese found it amusing that her father Tony Curtis’s real name was Bernard Schwartz.
Cindy Davis would pay Kevin Kline to sniff her boots and speak Italian.