LGBT Movies: The Day the Fish Came Out (1967)

The Day the Fish Came Out is a farce with too many targets.  American soldiers, disguised as gay tourists, search for missing nukes on a Greek Island. The cast runs around in skimpy outfits and shouts at each other. The comedy takes a surprisingly dark turn. But the dull script leaves everyone adrift.

Candice Bergen’s in cinemas now with Book Club: The Next Chapter. That’s as good an excuse as any to recap one of her earliest films. Spoilers ahead.

Act One: A Crash

Scene One: The Pilots
(Two NATO pilots fly above the Greek island of Karos. The engine dies.)
TWINK PILOT: We’re going to crash!
BEAR PILOT: Release the three nukes and brace for impact.
(The Pilots wash to the shore in their briefs.)
TWINK PILOT: Why did we take our clothes off?
BEAR PILOT: To hide that we’re military, or something? The film never explains it.

Scene Two: The Military
AMERICAN MILITARY GENERAL: We can’t let anyone know we’re looking for nukes. Tell them you’re tourists.
SOLDIERS (In skimpy beachwear):  Won’t a group of men look suspicious?
GREEK LOCALS: Look at those gay tourists! Our island has become trendy!
GENERAL: Hey gurl hey! I’m here to survey your island for… a new hotel.

Scene Three: The Hills
PEASANT: I found a heavy metal box. It must be full of gold. I can’t get it open.
BABY: Wah!

Act Two: A Search

Scene Four: The Pilots Again
TWINK PILOT: (They’re still in their underwear). We’ll wait till night fall, then find a pay phone.
BEAR PILOT: I sprained my ankle. I need a bandage. Give me your briefs.
TWINK PILOT: Are you sure this isn’t porn?

Scene Five: The Village
TOURISTS: Gays have made this place trendy! Let’s bring all our friends!
SOLDIER: Curse our fabulousness! We found two nukes. How do we get them to our ship?
GENERAL: I’ll say one of our men died in a construction accident.
(The Soldiers carry the bombs to the ship in a coffin.)
CANDICE BERGEN (A scantily clad archaeologist): Who are those butch hotel construction workers? I want to have sexual intercourse with them.
SOLDIERS: Va-va-va-voom!
GREEK LOCALS: Weren’t they gay?

Act Three: Calamity

Scene Six: What’s in the Box?
CANDICE BERGEN: Careful of my tools. That bottle of acid will melt through anything.
(Peasant steals the acid to melt open the metal box.)
PEASANT: There’s nothing in this box but junk. What a waste of time!
(Throws the nuclear waste into the reservoir. Dead fish float to the surface of the water.)
BABY: … I’m totally dead. This film’s taken a turn.

Scene Seven: The Dance of Death
SOLDIERS: Look sir! The fish!
GENERAL:  We have to evacuate the island!
(Tourists drink water and dance to loud music. The pilots arrive, draped in sheets.)
PILOTS: Attention everyone! You’re in great danger!   
(The music drowns them out. The tourists keep dancing.)


Something Fishy

[S]o unconvincing that one is heartily glad when the unprepossessing characters at last seem likely to be overwhelmed by radiation.

Time Out

[The soldiers] wear the most bizarre and hallucinatory clothing imaginable. Nearly all of them are drop-dead gorgeous and their clothes are built to show off their assets as much as possible.

Horror News

It may also be the homosexiest movie since Modesty Blaise.

Time Magazine

The Day the Fish Came Out is loosely inspired by a true story of missing American weapons. It has been compared to 1964’s Doctor Strangelove. But that film satirized military incompetence. Director/Writer Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek) makes the American soldiers clever. It’s the NATO pilots who waste time and the greedy peasant who dooms the island.

The lack of homophobia is impressive for 1967. The New York Times called the soldiers “conspicuously swishy.” Yet there’s no indication that any of them are gay. They just have no problem being perceived as such. The peasants never confront or insult them. They buy into the stereotype that gays are affluent and trendy. The men end up gentrifying the island without intending to.

I can’t recommend the film as anything but a curiosity for queer film scholars and Candice Bergen completists. Bergen makes an impression with her limited screen time. She looks gorgeous, establishes the men’s heterosexuality, and provides the acid that opens Pandora’s box.

You can find more of my reviews on The AvocadoLetterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.