Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I didn't even know the fish were in!

There are a lot of movies out there that have some substantial flaws, but are still quite interesting. One of them that showed up recently on the Fox Movie Channel is The Day the Fish Came Out. As with a lot of FMC's programming, it's been getting multiple airings while it's in the rotation. Another airing comes up tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM, with a further two airings in September.

The movie starts off with a bit of exposition about how last year, an unexploded atomic bomb washed up on the short of a Spanish town, and how this led to people from all over the world came to visit, making the town famous. Then we get the opening titles, which look reminiscent of what you'd see in a James Bond movie. (In fact, the titles were designed by Maurice Binder, who did the titles for several of the Bond films.) This is no coincidence: our film is part thriller, and part spoof of the whole James Bond thing -- there were a lot of spy spoofs in addition to the serious movies back in the 1960s. But our story isn't really about that Spanish town. Instead, it's a film set in the near-future: the movie was released in 1967 but set in 1972, and will be about the Greek islands, if you couldn't figure that our from all the Greek names in the opening credits. A married tourist couple is looking for a place that doesn't have much tourism, and the primitive computer suggests the island of Kamos.

Meanwhile, a British fighter plane is doing exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, when it experiences technical problems. This forces the pilot (Colin Blakely) and navigator (Tom Courtenay) to ditch the plane. That's bade enough, but the plane also had three nuclear weapons on it: two traditional bombs, and a new device code-named Q. They know the circus that's going to happen if news of the plane going down and their bombs being discovered becomes public. But, they have a slight problem: while they're able to swim to the island, it's only in their underwear. How are they going to explain to the authorities without causing an international incident how they wound up on this island? And how are they going to get control of the nuclear devices if they're having to remain more or less in hiding?

Unbeknownst to them, the British military command back in London is already on the case. They want to get to Kamos to retrieve the weapns, but without arousing any suspicion. The scheme they come up with is wanting to buy land on a Greek island to build a tourist resort. Only it's going to be a very gay-friendly tourist resort, because the all-male special ops forces who show up on the island with the real motive of looking for those nukes are wearing bizarre outfits that look as though they've just finished marching in a 1970s vintage Gay Pride parade. (Some of the IMDb commenters suggest these outfits are supposed to be futuristic, but the other non-Greeks in the movie don't wear such bizarre outfits.) You'd think that if they wanted to keep from attracting attention to themselves, they'd be a little less flamboyant or something. Sam Wanamaker plays Elias, the head of the special ops.

But, there are a lot of complications. First is that a goatherd and his wife have found Q. It's in a heavy lead box, the lead obviously as shielding from the radiation. They think there must be something valuable in the box, but damded if they know what that something is, and they can't get it open. Second is the locals' willingness to help the "developers" (since of course the locals never have any idea of the real reason for Elias and his men's visit) obtain land for the hotel and make it profitable. They start to build a road to where the British are working, and along the way uncover an ancient statue. This brings the island a notoriety that the British don't want, including archaeologist's assistant Electra (a young Candice Bergen) and a whole lot of tourists. Meanwhile, the two pilots are still trying to stay out of the way, not realizing that the "developers" are actually on the island looking for them.

It's all an interesting premise. And, for the most part, it works reasonably well. But there are some serious problems. Right from the start there's a plot hole in that I can't think of any realistic circumstance that would have had the two pilots making it to the island in just their undies. If they ejected from their plane, you'd think they'd still have their flight suits on. There's also a plot hole of how the island can cater to all the tourists that suddenly come once the ancient statue is discovered. There was no tourist infrastructure on the island before all of this; where do all the tourists stay? The bigger problem is that the movie often can't decide what sort of film it wants to be. There are elements of a thriller here, mixed in with elements of fairly broad comedy: it's not just comic relief as in the James Bond movies. And there's a romance between Electra and one of Elias' men (Ian Ogilvy) thrown in for good measure. The movie also has an ending that's rather abrupt and leaves some continuity questions unanswered.

Overall, though, I'd say that The Day the Fish Came Out overcomes all those flaws. On top of that, it's a movie that deserves to be seen once, if only because it's one of those films that needs to be seen to be believed. As far as I'm aware, it's not available at all on DVD, so you'll have to catch the FMC showings. Unfortunately, those showings are (or at least the previous one was) panned-and-scanned.

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