LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES – The Sea Wolves & A Fish Called Wanda.

LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES – The Sea Wolves & A Fish Called Wanda.


 The Sea Wolves (1980)              

This rather quaint real life adventure/war film presented a host of veteran British actors with a final (in some cases) opportunity to make one last cinematic feature. The story is loosely based on a true incident that took place during the Second World War in 1943. The Germans were using a secret radio, aboard one of three ships anchored in the neutral harbour of the Portuguese colony of Goa, (south of Calcutta, India), to transmit information about allied shipping to a U-Boat that was regularly sinking the designated targets in international waters. Because of Portugal’s neutrality the British could not launch an official mission to take out the radio transmitter, so it was decided to use the services of private British citizens residing in India at the time.

The Sea Wolves (1980)

Barbara Kellerman & Roger Moore in The Sea Wolves

The plan was for veteran volunteers from the Calcutta Light Horse to pose as drunken businessmen on holiday; then sneak aboard the German ships under cover of a fireworks display above the harbour, set mines on the hulls of the vessels and then escape amid the ensuing uproar. It was made very clear to these middle-aged and elderly gentlemen that their exploit would go unheralded and unacknowledged by Britain, even after war’s end. The participants in the raid were not even eligible to wear their country’s humblest of medals of the war, the 1939-45 Star. Dubbed ‘The Boarding Party Operation’, the raid on Goa would not be acknowledged by Great Britain until 1978, two years prior to the release of this picture. The occupations of the participants in the raid included bankers, merchants, insurance agents, lawyers, accountants, solicitors and part-time soldiers. The real Calcutta Light Horse disbanded around 1947 when India gained independence. It should be noted that the Goa operation was carried out by fourteen men, ten from the Calcutta Light Horse and four from the Calcutta Scottish (a volunteer infantry regiment of the British Indian Army).

Gregory Peck Roger Moore David Niven Trevor Howard The Sea Wolves 24x36 Poster at Amazon's Entertainment Collectibles Store

Publicity shot – Trevor Howard, Gregory Peck, David Niven & Roger Moore

The leading players in The Sea Wolves were elderly – Gregory Peck being 63, Trevor Howard 66 and David Niven 69. Even Roger Moore, the youngest of those involved in the enterprise was 53 years of age. Only a year earlier, however, he had starred as James Bond in Moonraker. Indeed, he only gave up playing 007 after A View to a Kill (1985), when he was 58! It would appear that the director of The Sea Wolves, Andrew V. McLaglen, had difficulty in distancing Moore from his Bond image. In this picture Sir Roger beds the German lady spy, gambles at the casino, wears a white tuxedo to a government house party and, in effect, is the debonair, suave secret agent expected of him by cinematic audiences around the globe.

The movie was dedicated to, ‘The last honorary Colonel of the Calcutta Light Horse, the Admiral of the Fleet, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, K.G. 1900-1979.’ Lord Louis Mountbatten had been murdered by the IRA in 1979, just after he had helped with the preparation for this filmed version of events in Goa back in ’43. He also penned the foreword to James Leasor’s book Boarding Party, on which the movie is based.

Prime Video: A Fish Called Wanda

A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)               

This was an immensely popular comedy/caper film of the eighties featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, six years before she sent male pulses racing as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife in True Lies (1994). She is particularly sexy here, too, playing the only female in a gang of jewel thieves who heist gems valued at thirteen million pounds sterling in a London robbery. It was British star John Cleese who suggested Jamie Lee for the role of Wanda after he saw her in the comedy Trading Places (1983). He was quick to appreciate that she could be sexy, duplicitous and funny, and therefore ideally suited for the role. Then he held out for her to be cast. Although Cleese received sole credit for the screenplay, he has since publicly acknowledged that thirteen people (including Curtis, Kline and Palin) had contributed lines that ultimately made it onto the screen.

Posterazzi 1988 Kevin Kline Holds Up His Best Supporting Actor Oscar For A Fish Called Wanda History - Item # VAREVCSSDOSPIEC019

Kevin Kline collecting his Oscar

Monty Python stars Cleese and Michael Palin are featured players, as is American actor Kevin Kline who would collect a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance as Otto, one of the most stupid criminals in cinematic history. Cleese plays a barrister, married with a daughter named Portia. She is portrayed here by Cynthia Cleese, his real life daughter from his marriage to American actress Connie Booth. Fans of the TV comedy series Fawlty Towers (1975-79) will recall Connie in the role of Polly Sherman. She and Cleese divorced in 1978, and she would later wed John Lahr, the son of Bert Lahr who portrayed the Cowardly Lion in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

Whenever Kline’s character, Otto, speaks Italian to Wanda it turns her on. The actor begged to be allowed to speak French instead (he is fluent in the language), but he was refused. Consequently, he was left to rattle off names of numerous Italian dishes, cheeses and other phrases, until he ran out of ad-libs and had resorted to singing ‘Volare’ in desperation. Writer/director Charles Crichton had to later purchase the rights to the song. Incidentally, the goldfish eaten by Otto towards the end of the picture were made out of Jell-O. Kline has since claimed that he offered to eat live fish but the film-makers would not let him.

Michael Palin’s character (Ken Pile) here is a chronic stutterer. Palin’s own father also stuttered, so Michael used a lot of real-life experience when playing the role. For instance, Ken stutters less in the company of people he trusts and more around those he is uncomfortable with, e.g. Otto. After later being confronted by a group of genuine real-life stutterers who were uncomfortable with his portrayal in the picture, Palin responded by founding an institution, the London Centre for Stammering Children.

A Fish Called Wanda reached number one at the box-office in the United States after six weeks of wide release. It cost just $8 million to make, yet grossed over $62.5 million in the USA and Canada alone. Around the rest of the world it raked in a further $115.4 million, for a total of $177.9 million. It also became the number one rental video in the US for 1989.

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