Fortune Cookie, The (1966)

Fortune Cookie, The (1966)

“This guy is so full of angles and gimmicks and twists, he starts to describe a doughnut and it comes out a pretzel.”

After his brother-in-law (Jack Lemmon) is accidentally hurt by a football player (Ron Rich), a shyster lawyer (Walter Matthau) convinces Lemmon to fake a back injury for insurance purposes — which Lemmon only agrees to in hopes that his ex-wife (Judi West) will return to him once he has money.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Comedy
  • Con-Artists
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Jack Lemmon Films
  • Lawyers
  • Walter Matthau Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Walter Matthau won a Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as a crooked lawyer in this collaborative comedy “with a mean edge to it” by director Billy Wilder and writer I.A.L. Diamond, who made twelve films together, with a couple of gems among them — specifically Some Like it Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). Unfortunately, this seventh collaboration falls in the “true clunker” category. The topic of insurance fraud wasn’t new for Wilder, who covered it with noir-ish flare in Double Indemnity (1944), but playing it for laughs was a bad idea all the way around. We’re not meant to like either the insurance agents or Matthau’s Willie Gingrich (and we most definitely don’t):

… but it’s also hard to feel much sympathy for Lemmon’s Harry Hinkle, given that: 1) his only reason for going through with the scam is to earn money for an ex-wife clearly undeserving of his ongoing devotion:

… and 2) his lies cause tremendous distress to poor Rich, whose character is otherwise (mostly) purely sympathetic (admitting to having a fiancee in every town doesn’t help his case, but he’s otherwise selfless to a fault).

Indeed, according to TCM’s Pop Culture 101:

The year The Fortune Cookie appeared, 1966, Stokely Carmichael issued his public appeal for African-Americans to embrace “black power.” In regards to the turbulent Post-Civil Rights climate, some reviewers considered the benign, almost saintly Boom Boom Jackson a throwback to earlier African-American stereotypes.

Exactly; Carmichael was right. While Peary argues that “Matthau’s conniving, coldhearted performance is the reason to watch this otherwise unfunny” comedy, I disagree that he makes it worthwhile; and not that we need more to dislike in this film, but Lemmon’s mother (Lurene Tuttle) won’t stop crying hysterically, either.

Sigh. This one was simply a chore to sit through.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
Not much.

Must See?
No; skip this one.


6 thoughts on “Fortune Cookie, The (1966)

  1. This is a very specific instance where I was envying you your “role” as commentor after I posted; I had a strong feeling you would say something like that, and that’s honestly what I wanted to say, too. 😉

  2. Your role is always, by design, more thorough. I can be thorough if I want to be – but I have the luxury of not being thorough if I choose. This flick made that easy. Most of Wilder’s work in the latter part of his career is like an act of desperation. It’s sad, actually.

  3. For what it’s worth, I AM glad I finally watched it.

    I saw it showing up on AMC and TCM for many years as a teen viewer but never got around to it, maybe (?) because it only got ** out of **** and I used to try to prioritize watching *** and **** movies.

    Not sure, though, because TCM has a lot of articles up about it; they love Oscar winners.

  4. Will you be covering The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and Avanti (1972), both excellent in my opinion?

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