Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cowabunga, Dudes! It's, Like, Nuclear Catastrophe!

Normally, I write different material for my blog and web page ( However, I'm going to make an exception in this case. Why? Because I have just experienced one of the wackiest, nuttiest, goofiest, freakiest freak-out EVER committed to film stock and I WANT AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE TO READ MY POST AND WATCH THE FILM.

The movie is 1967's "The Day the Fish Came Out", a black comedy/beach movie that combines misplaced nuclear weapons, dumb tourists, military incompetence, archeology and Greek disco music with yokel locals, way out fashions, bad dentistry and dead fish to create a multi tiered feta cheese banquet that ranks up there with "Duel in the Sun" and "Zardoz" as one of the most hypnotically bad  films ever made.

A movie like "The Day the Fish Came Out" could never see the light of day if it hadn't been the (fever) dream child of an insanely inspired alchemist. In this case, the guilty party is Michael Cacoyannis, who had scored an international hit with 1964's "Zorba the Greek". It was Cacoyannis who not only wrote, produced and directed this film, he designed the way out costumes, too (more about that later). From start to finish, "Fish" is his baby, Michael's chance to comment on EVERY SINGLE SUBJECT UNDER THE SUN--and wherever he is today, I have a feeling Mike is beaming with pride over his finished product.

Now, strap yourself in for the movie; but watch out, it's a lou-lou.

The fun (?) begins by introducing us to two British pilots (Colin Blakely and Tom Courtenay) who run into engine trouble and must dump their cargo: two nuclear bombs and something called "Container Q". They choose a rocky, desolate Greek island that nobody has heard of as their drop-off site. Then their plane crashes into the sea, forcing the pilots to bail out and swim ashore--with only their wet undies surviving the crash. Blakely and Courtenay must now find a way to contact HQ without arousing undue suspicion--with no clothes, money or Greek language skills between them.

Little do the pilots know, a local teenager has seen their jet crash and runs to tell the locals. They don't believe him, of course, or realize that an escalating series of "wacky" events are about to engulf their tiny island.

Back at HQ, NATO officials decide the pilots are dead and begin to plot a reconnaissance mission to find the missing bombs before they fall into the wrong hands. For security reasons, NATO doesn't want to scare the public, so it's decided that the soldiers out tracking the bombs must go under cover--as AC/DC "hotel speculators" in fishnets and finery who have chosen the desolate island as the perfect site for their new mega hotel. The drab, impoverished locals are delighted by the news and begin at once to spruce things up.

Remember Container Q? Well, a dumb, lonely goat herder has found it and is convinced it's treasure or something. Unable to move the heavy box himself, the goat herder enlists his long suffering wife to help. As the two bicker and bumble trying to get the metal box to their humble hovel, the couple appear to be attempting a Greek version of "I Love Lucy"--except they aren't very funny.

And speaking of bickering couples, Blakely and Courtenay, still clad in only their under pants, are slowly making their way into town, back-biting and bitching non-stop. It's clear these two are also meant to resemble a married couple, long resigned to their mutual incompatibility, except they aren't very funny, either.

While all this is going on, the disguised military men (headed by Sam Wanamaker) are prancing all over the island trying to find the bombs. To get the pesky locals off their backs, the soldiers hire the peasants to build roads. Whilst digging away, the workmen uncover priceless statues long buried under the island's rocky terrain. The excited mayor contacts Athens and, before you know it, hordes of archaeologists have descended on the island. One such antiquities expert is a chap named Mr. French who's "assistant" is a 21-year old former fashion model named Candice Bergen.

Sporting a faux British accent, Candice also sports some of the most outrageous finery in the movie. A typical ensemble? An orange halter top, lime green short-shorts and white over the thigh go-go boots topped off with a Ringo cap. Later, Charlie McCarthy's kid sister will wear a bright blue bikini top, a flowing skirt cinched below her navel and electric blue eye shadow for a night on the town.

You can just imagine RuPaul shaking his head and muttering, "Lord have mercy..." after witnessing Bergen's taste in clothes.

Back to the movie. The dumb goat herder has finally gotten Container Q home, but neither he or his wife can pry it open. The archaeologists are busy digging up ancient ruins. And the once desolate island has become the world's hottest vacation spot, with tourists swarming in from all over like ants on a sugar cube. And what a colorful bunch of tourists they are! Dressed up in an array of pastel and paisley get-ups, with some of the ladies donning picture hats the size of beach umbrellas, these revelers dance on the beach during the day and boogie in the town square at night. "Fish"s musical sequences are every bit as colorful as the cast's wardrobe, with the vacationers doing a dance that is equal parts the Twist, the Frug and the Funky Chicken--complete with clucking noises! (You can just imagine Jerome Robbins shaking his head and muttering , "Lord have mercy..." after witnessing this shindig.) The most enthusiastic of the partyers is Ms. Bergen, who's "assistant" duties allow her plenty of time to sleep around.

The party-till-you-puke atmosphere of the flick, however, is briefly interrupted when the army men find the two bombs and hide them in a coffin. Once the fake funeral procession has passed, though, everybody resumes partying like it's 1999. That also includes the hapless Blakely and Courtenay. The bickering duo somehow got separated and have made it into town on their own. Courtenay has wrapped himself up in a sheet, so everybody thinks he's an Arab tourist. Blakely, on the other hand, has swiped the clothes off a scarecrow and has been going around panhandling for spare change so he can call HQ. The dumb goat herder, having tried and failed to open Container Q, has come into town--where he sees the special acid Candice uses in her archeology duties. Because she leaves the stuff casually lying around, the yokel local easily snatches it up and rushes back home.

Finally, the dumb goat herder is able to open the mystery box. But instead of money or treasure, he finds plutonium (or some such nuclear material) which, because he's a dumb hick, he doesn't realize is lethal. Just then the military arrives at the goat herder's hovel, but it's too late: the goat herder's put-upon wife has tossed the stuff into the village's water supply. Gulp!

In town, the tourists and the locals are merrily dancing away without a care in the world. Colin has finally collected enough money to call HQ. Then the GI Joe's rush pell-mell into town, pushing Blakely out of the way and scattering his coins. Wanamaker calls NATO headquarters (in perfect Greek) and tells them disaster is imminent. The officers then run over to their hotel to don their radiation suits. Meanwhile, wave after wave of dead fish begin to wash up on shore. Folks are puzzled, but, hey, who is going to let a bunch of dead fish spoil a good time? So the revelers return to their revelry, blissfully ignoring the loud speaker blaring warnings of danger. Hey, it's the end of the world as they know it, but the cast of "The Day the Fish Came Out" feels fine!

Too bad the audience doesn't.

Of course, the mere recitation of "Fish"s plot doesn't quite do the movie justice. One must watch for themselves the sheer, escalating nuttiest of this flick; it's like a record on a gramophone being spun faster and faster until it flies off the machine, hits the wall and shatters into a million little pieces.

"The Day the Fish Came Out" is also a prime example of the surreal tone movies took on during the late 1960's and early 1970's. The studio system in Hollywood was dead and the Motion Picture Production Code was a thing of the past. There was also a definite "Anti-Establishment" feeling in pop culture. Suddenly movies got groovy and began embracing sex, drugs, rock'n roll, anti-heroes and social taboos in a way that wasn't possible 10 or 20 years earlier. Granted, this new freedom birthed some great films: "MASH", "The Graduate", "China Town", "Bonnie and Clyde", "Easy Rider", "2001: A Space Odyssey". But that same high-flying ethos created big messes, too: "Candy", "Myra Breckinridge", "Catch-22", "Boom!" and, yes, "The Day the Fish Came Out". Like so many things in that go-go era, a black comedy about nuclear catastrophe on a drab Greek island suddenly invaded by the military, archaeologists, tourists and dead fish seemed like a good idea at the time...until everybody sobered up and surveyed the wreckage they had wrought.

There is a Greek proverb that states lucky is someone who "plants pebbles and then harvests potatoes." If there was someone who lucked out with "The Day the Fish Came Out" it was Candice Bergen. Throughout the remainder of the '60's, the 1970's and much of the 1980's, Bergen churned out high grade celluloid cheese at an astonishing rate. Besides "Fish", Candice also graced such stinkers as "The Magus", "The Adventurers", "The Hunting Party", "Solider Blue", "Getting Straight", "The Wind and the Lion", "The Domino Principal", "Oliver's Story", "Rich and Famous" and "The Mayflower Madame". In 1980, the esteemed Golden Turkey Awards nominated Bergen for their "Worst Actress of All Time" Life Time Achievement Award. She ultimately lost out to Raquel Welch, but with a rap-sheet like that, it was quite a revelation to see her comic talents in the sitcom "Murphy Brown". As for her performance as the randy Electra Brown in "Fish", Bergen herself mused,"Should have been good...Instead, the Cacoyannis film was a consummate disaster...And I was terrible, terrible!"

Yes you were, Candice, but thank you for sharing.

Now, dear reader(s) of this blog, your mission is to find "The Day the Fish Came Out"--I found it on Youtube--plant yourself in a comfy chair and watch the flick! Then tell all your friends to watch the movie, too. Tell people at work, school, your place of worship, anybody you happen to fancy. An alleged comedy about lost nukes, dumb hicks, randy archaeologists and insane dance numbers doesn't come along every day!

Until later, keep a bad movie in your VCR and save the movies!

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