Movie Reviews 375 – The Day the Fish Came Out (1967)

I’ve always had a taste for the offbeat and camp movies (if you haven’t noticed) and The Day the Fish Came Out, probably one you’ve never heard of before, has always been one of my favorites. For some strange reason this was one of those films that my local TV station, CFCF-12 Montreal used to play over and over when I was a kid. But honestly, I was hooked the first time.

Part of the eccentricity lays not in just the plot itself, but the genre and setting. Believe it or not this is a Greek production of a science fiction comedy that skirts a doomsday scenario of all things . Written, directed and produced by Michael Cacoyannis (of Zorba the Greek fame) it was loosely based – and I do mean loosely – on the real life accidental dropping of hydrogen bombs on a Spanish island, the so called Palomares incident, just a year earlier. Cacoyannis took that concept, changed the island to Karos Greece, threw in lots of bikinis and made it colorful beyond belief.

The military trackers of a mission note the radar disappearance of a plane whose precarious cargo consists of two bombs and a particularly radioactive large metal container simply codenamed “Q”. When it becomes evident that the plane is lost a team a recovery team is sent to the island posing as real estate developers who want to build a hotel, despite the obvious barren landscape. Meanwhile the plane pilot and navigator (Colin Blakely and Tom Courtenay) are left scrambling and hiding with nothing but their skivvies, without any way to communicate with command. To make matters worse, “Q” is found by a peasant goat herder intent on cracking open the box dreaming of what must surely be riches within.

But the fun really starts when the locals start promoting the island and foreign touring groups, believing it to be the next hot-spot vacation destination, start sending tourists in droves to Karos. The leader of the covert military team (Sam Wanamaker) now has the added headache of keeping the tanned and toned tourists from interfering the mission to find Q.  Especially troublesome is the vivacious Electra (Candice Bergen, who was a model long before she was an actress) who has her eyes on one particular able seaman (Ian Ogilvy) who is soon ordered to keep her occupied.

Despite many flaws this movie still works on so many levels. There is the clash of cultures, the nutty characters such as a torturous dentist, the bumbling plane crew at each others nerves and scurrying like hobos throughout the film, the determination of the goat herder to try ever more powerful tools and techniques to open the container, and the frantic locals doing everything to try to cash in on the tourist trade. The backdrop transforms from a mundane archaic town to a rainbow painted settlement. The tourists that take over are a futuristic looking collection of Warhol-esque models that would look at home on a 60’s Parisian catwalk. You really have to see the outlandish garments to believe them. And when they party to a catchy heavy beat tune they flail their arms while shouting “Cooah-Cooah!” like giant multi colored birds in heat.

Perhaps the greatest appeal is how deftly the story navigates the boundary between comedy and  sombre drama. As the silliness in town gets weirder by the minute, the movie switches over to the desperation of a father sweating with every attempt to relieve the misery of his family. Title kind of gives away the ending which begs the question of whether this is really a comedy or a thinly veiled socio-politico commentary. Either way, you will be entertained.

“Cooah-Cooah!”

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