Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer of '88: An American in Python: A Fish Called Wanda

Monty Python was arguably the most versatile of comic troupes. Each of its members displayed an abundant range of creative poses and vocal deliveries in addition to wry intelligence. While their act is undeniably outlandish, there's something very subtle about the performances and how the actors interacted that made everything work. Perhaps that's why a majority of the individual efforts after the British ensemble had disbanded lacked the same flair. A noted exception to this is A Fish Called Wanda, a film that channels much of the effortless wit and energy of Monty Python's work but with its own personality.
A Fish Called Wanda's Monty Python influence comes primarily from John Cleese, who stars in and wrote the screenplay about four London jewel thieves chasing some elusive loot after their master plan goes awry. Also on hand from Python-land is Michael Palin, here playing Ken Pile, a stutterer and an animal lover—two attributes that make him the butt of a hefty number of the film's jokes. As Palin hams it up with yet another of his famously nervous characters, Cleese plays the straight man, a barrister brilliantly named Archie Leach. Initially this proves an odd fit for the actor, who so often commands the screen with exaggerated annunciation and body language. But once Archie becomes entangled in the thieves' scheme, Cleese slowly teases out a confection of classic looks and one-liners that rivals the actor's finest work.