Jump to: Spoilers (8)
Sir Michael Palin's father stuttered, so Michael used a lot of his real-life experience when playing Ken Pile, including the fact that Ken's stutter is less pronounced around people he trusts (Georges Thomason and Wanda Gershwitz) and worse around people with whom he is uncomfortable (Otto West).
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Actor, executive producer, and writer John Cleese chose the name "Archie Leach", Cary Grant's real name, because he was born twenty miles away from where Grant was born (Hughenden Road, Horfield, Bristol, England), and because it was the closest Cleese could get to being Grant.
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Jamie Lee Curtis buried her face in pillows during Kevin Kline's ejaculation scene, to keep her from bursting out laughing at the faces he was making.
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Kevin Kline begged actor, executive producer, and writer John Cleese to let Otto West speak French instead of Italian when he wants to seduce Jamie Lee Curtis, since Kline speaks French. Cleese insisted that it had to be Italian. Kline started singing "Volare" because he ran out of Italian cheeses and other Italian phrases that he could ad-lib, and was concerned that writer and director Charles Crichton did not yell cut, since the producers did not own the rights to "Volare" when the scene was being filmed.
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The fish that Kevin Kline ate were made out of Jell-O. Kline claims that he offered to eat real, live fish, but the filmmakers wouldn't let him.
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In 1989, when this movie was shown in theaters in Denmark, a Danish man named Ole Bentzen, an audiologist, literally laughed himself to death during the scene where Ken Pile (Sir Michael Palin) gets the chips up his nose. Bentzen's heart rate went between two hundred fifty and five hundred beats per minute and he eventually succumbed to cardiac arrest. The story behind this is that the man had made a joke a few years earlier with his family during dinner, where he put a piece of cauliflower up his and every family members nose as a joke and made a bet with them on who could eat up their carrots without the cauliflower falling out. When the scene with Ken Pile and the chips came up, he started thinking about this dinner incident and laughed so hard that his heart stopped. This story is well-known in Scandinavia and spread around as almost an "urban legend" shortly after it happened. It was confirmed by his son, who also told the dinner story as an explanation to why his father laughed so hard during the chips scene that he died.
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Jamie Lee Curtis was listed as "Jamie Lee Schwartz" on all of the call sheets, because John Cleese found it amusing that her father Tony Curtis' real name was Bernard Schwartz.
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When Otto West (Kevin Kline) leaves Archie Leach's (John Cleese's) home, he says to Wendy (Maria Aitken) that they would all speak German outside the U.S. He leaves the house while singing the first verse of "Deutschland über alles." In the German-dubbed version, he says that they'd all eat sauerkraut and listen to military marches, then he imitates some military marches. The first verse of "Deutschland über alles" is considered too nationalist, and generally not sung in public.
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This is the most successful movie former Pythons John Cleese and Sir Michael Palin have made. Cleese considers this to be his favorite movie of the many with which he has been involved. Although he considered his previous movie, Clockwise (1986), the best script written for him as a lead, it flopped in America.
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In the robbery scene, it really was Kevin Kline who shot the crossbow at the sensor. Kevin got the shot off correctly on the second take.
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Archie Leach speaks in Italian: "Ma ho sposato una donna che preferisce lavorare in giardino a fare l'amore appassionato. Uno sbaglio grande!", what translates as: "But I married a woman who prefers working in the garden to making passionate love. A big mistake!" It could refer to Archie's marriage.
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Sir Michael Palin founded the London Centre for Stammering Children after a group of stutterers confronted him regarding the sensitivity with which he dealt with Ken Pile's handicap in this movie.
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Kevin Kline won a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar without winning any previous awards during the awards season (he only received a BAFTA nomination), which is a rare feat in terms of Oscar winners.
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Sir Michael Palin thought the script was awful when he first read it and recorded his low opinion of it in his diary.
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John Cleese claims that this is Charles Crichton's movie. He took a co-director credit to reassure studio executives who were worried about Crichton's advanced age and the fact that he hadn't directed a theatrical movie for twenty-three years. The only major work Cleese did as director was near the end of the shoot, when he handled various scenes mostly involving Sir Michael Palin, to allow Crichton to start overseeing the editing.
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When Otto suggests possible snitchers to Georges, he suggests Kevin Delaney, which are Kline's first and middle names.
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John Cleese, who played British barrister Archie Leach, entered Cambridge University as a law student, although he never became a member of the British bar.
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In the original English version, Otto speaks Italian in some scenes with Wanda. In the Italian-dubbed version, he speaks Spanish.
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This movie holds the record of Longest Time to Reach #1 (from 1982 to the present). This movie was released on July 15, 1988 in the U.S. and reached number one on September 16, 1988.
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The role of Wanda Gershwitz was written for Jamie Lee Curtis.
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John Cleese said that he based the character of Otto on a Zen Buddhist teacher that he had once seen in an advertisement, a man who pretended to be knowledgeable but looked "singularly unimpressive". He decided to write Otto as a man "not smart enough to realize how stupid he was". Kevin Kline ad-libbed a lot of material as he gradually found the character.
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Jamie Lee Curtis has pointed out that in several shots you can see her cracking up. For example, when Wanda Gershwitz and Otto West have their argument at the dockside ("To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people!").
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For the French-dubbed version when Wanda states that Otto mistook the Gettysburg Address for Lincoln's residence, it was replaced with Wanda stating that Otto mistook General Motors for a hero of the war of '14.
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When this movie was aired on television in the U.S., many stations deleted the "chips up the nostrils" scene, deeming it insensitive to individuals with mental impairments.
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John Cleese has said in interviews that Patricia Hayes was the only cast member not to have any material deleted during editing.
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Kevin Kline's Oscar-winning performance in this movie is his only Academy Award nomination.
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John Cleese suggested Jamie Lee Curtis for the role of Wanda after seeing her in the comedy film Trading Places (1983). Realizing she could be sexy, duplicitous and funny, he thought she'd be perfect for the role and held out for her to be cast.
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This movie was number six on Roger Ebert's list of the Best Films of 1988.
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The poem Archie Leach recites in Russian for Wanda Gershwitz is Molitva (1839) by Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841).
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When John Cleese is being dangled out of a window and forced to apologize, members of the public can be seen in the background looking at what's going on. While the camera crew were likely visible, they were unaware of what was being filmed nor the actors involved.
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Premiere Magazine voted this movie as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006.
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Although John Cleese is solely credited for the screenplay, in interviews he has acknowledged the contributions of Jamie Lee Curtis,Kevin Kline, Michael Palin and Maria Aitken in coming up with lines for their respective characters. He has stated that 13 people, including first assistant director Jonathan Benson, gave suggestions that ended up in the script.
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Michael Palin had very little to do with helping promote the film after it's debut in the U.S. in July 1988. That's because the film started to be released in the rest of the world from September 1988. By this time Palin had embarked on his globetrotting escapades for his hit television documentary series Around the World in 80 Days (1989), which began filming a few weeks after the U.S. premiere but before the film had hit most international territories.
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As has been mentioned, John Cleese named his character Archie Leach after the real name of his acting hero, Cary Grant. Jamie Lee Curtis's father, Tony Curtis, acted opposite Grant in Operation Petticoat (1959), as well as basing his playboy character and voice in Some Like It Hot (1959) on him.
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The producers were worried about how this film would perform at the box office, particularly in the U.S. It was a British made, British set comedy made with a veteran British director, written by a British writer, with a British cast known primarily for television work plus two familiar but not A list American actors (who were not particularly known for comedy roles either). Using the budget carefully It took John Cleese and director Charles Crichton four years to get the film made with and persuade MGM to take a chance and distribute it. Fortunately it proved to be a huge sleeper hit and made a tidy profit for those involved.
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Included amongst the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
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Archie and Wendy sleep in separate beds, just like Basil and Sybil in Fawlty Towers (1975), also co-created by John Cleese.
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One of Otto's lines throughout this movie is "Don't call me stupid." In The Ladykillers (1955), "One-Round" Lawson (Danny Green) didn't like to be called stupid either. Writer and director Charles Crichton was a veteran of the Ealing movies, most famously directing The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).
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Jamie Lee Curtis was initially skeptical when John Cleese contacted her to offer the role of Wanda. She was convinced he really wanted to meet her husband Christopher Guest, whose film This Is Spinal Tap (1984) had just been released.
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The principal interior setting was the flat of Nicholas Lacey and playwright wife Juliet Aykroyd in a loft development in a former warehouse at Reeds Wharf, Docklands, London, England.
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Included amongst the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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The scene where Otto sits up in the background behind Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) is reminiscent of a scene in Halloween (1978), in which the character of Michael Myers sat up behind Curtis' character.
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This movie contains an early acting role for Stephen Fry, later to be well-known as comedy partners with Hugh Laurie, and anchor host of series A to M of the BBC/FremantleMedia U.K. version of QI (2003).
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In the opening sequence that introduces the principal cast, a model of the Eiffel Tower can be seen over Sir Michael Palin's shoulder. This may have been a reference to writer and director Charles Crichton's The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), in which Sir Alec Guinness tried to smuggle the stolen gold out of England by melting the gold down and disguising the stolen gold as a model of the Eiffel Tower.
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The British Airways airplane that can be seen at the airport is a Boeing 747-236, called "City of Manchester", registration G-BDXC. It was sold to European Skybus Ltd. and scrapped in 2002 after about twenty-five years of service.
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James Cossins' scenes (he played a bank teller) were cut from this movie.
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This was one of the first original MGM movies made via the leaner ("new") MGM following the earlier notorious Kirk Kerkorian/Ted Turner (Turner Entertainment Co.) asset stripping of the bulk of the original MGM library, Intellectual Property, and Studio lots in 1986.
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The diamond heist took place on March 4th.
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First film in which Jamie Lee Curtis' character compares her romantic partner to Rambo. The second one is True Lies.
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The dog death scenes were originally filmed with entrails from a butcher scattered around the dead dog. Preview audiences reacted strongly to this, so the scenes were re-shot with an obviously fake straw dog. John Cleese later said that they purposely chose a very small breed of dog, since they believed that people do not generally consider those 'real dogs', and would have less of a problem laughing at it than when it would involve a Labrador.
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The hymn that the choirboys sing at the dogs' funerals is: Miserere Dominus, miserere Dominus, Canis mortuus est, which translated into English is: Have mercy, Lord; have mercy, Lord; the dog is dead.
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Wanda kisses all of the major male characters at some point.
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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 to: "There are the two domes of the Milan cathedral!" Milan's cathedral actually has no domes at all.
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John Cleese and Charles Crichton began discussing this movie in 1983. Cleese's only idea was having a character with a stutter have to impart some important information. Crichton wanted to see someone be run over by a steamroller.
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The original ending had Otto dead for good, crushed under the steamroller. But apparently during US previews the audience so much liked Otto that an extra scene was shot with him covered in cement and blood but alive and staring at Cleese/Curtis through the plane window.
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This is one of two movies released in 1988 in which the main villain is run over with a steamroller and survives. The other being Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
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Wanda Gershwitz, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, says that she would want to have sex with the murderous psychopath Otto West even if he was her brother. In the Halloween film franchise, she was pursued with an incestuous subtext by her murderous psychopath half-brother.
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