Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Fortune Cookie (1966)


After a freak accident during a football game, cameraman Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) is sent to the hospital. What is only a mild concusion is soon escalated to a massive issue when Lemmon's sneaky lawyer brother-in-law, "Whiplash" Willie Gingrich (Walter Matthau) shows up and sees opportunity for big-time money. Hoping to get his money grubbing ex-wife back, Hinkle agrees to fake a more serious ailment, but struggles as he sees the emotional toll it takes on Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson (Ron Rich), the player who ran into him.

Perhaps best known as the film that put Lemmon and Matthau together, The Fortune Cookie is a fun, over the top, quirky dramady, with a one in a lifetime performance by Matthau. Now a cliche ridden character, Matthau's sly, coniving, and goofy way of handling things really brings most of the films laughs. It's probably why, in a year of such heavy competition, he managed to sneak away with the oscar for best supporting actor. Meanwhile Wilder and Diamond craft another over the top story, filled with fun site gags, quirky characters, and a usual waving morality. Through this they manage to create likable characters in spite of their dispicable crime.

Through goofy situations and subtle hints, it's not surprise Lemmon plays his usual over the top good guy stuck in a series of bad situations. Though for all his strenghts as an actor, this may be the one time Lemmon is truly overhsadowed. I can't count the number of times Matthau had me on the floor laughing, with his over the top high brow speeches, crazy gags, and superior way of handling those richer than him. He's your typical sleezy lawyer, but with Matthau in front of the camera he becomes so much more. Ron Rich, in what would turn out to be one his few acting roles, is great as the troubled Jackson.

As far as quality goes, there's nothing exceptionally good, nor exceptionall bad about The Fortune Cookie. It drags a bit towards the middle (something I'm finding rather common in Wilder films), and the ending is a bit cheesy, but I was never really bothered/annoyed by any of it. It plays to its strength, and it just so happens that strength is Whiplash Willie, and Wilder seems overly aware of that. It doesn't mean he's leaving behind Hinkle, who is the film's moral center, but Wilder takes every advantage to hop onto the Willie bandwagon and ride it for as long as possible. And to be honest, the film is so much better off for it.

Entertaining, hilarious, but flawed, The Fortune Cookie is not one of Wilder's masterpieces, but it contains one of the most entertaining characters in film history, in Whiplash Willie.

3 better thoughts:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I feel a bit silly. I've never seen this, though I'm a fan of most involved.

Tom said...

Yeah, in fact, the original title for this movie was to be called "Whiplash Willie", which I think it should have been called. Never liked the title "The Fortune Cookie".

Univarn said...

@Andrew you're not alone there, people tend to miss out a lot on Wilder films.

@Tom I heard that was the UK title, is it really the original one? Though I don't mind the Fortune Cookie title so much, it does play in with the film.

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