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  • One of these days I am going to watch a bad Billy Wilder movie...so far I have not even come close. Each year we observe the passing of great talents (this year, 2003 has seen an extrordinary number of death), I begin to realize we will never again see the likes of Lemmon and Matthau who passed away in 2000 and 1999 respectively. These two are great actors in comedic or serious roles. Matthau's sleazy lawyer is played just right, not too over the top and Lemmon plays the victim in this movie who is basically going along for the ride. As the movie progresses Lemmon gets further disenchanted with the pending cash settlement for his fake injuries and in his own inimitable way blows the whistle on his brother-in-law, Whiplash Willie (Matthau.) I found Wilder's use of Cliff Ormond and Noam Pitlik as the bumbling private eye surveillance team to be reminiscent of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney on the Honeymooners, or even a latter day type of slapstick in the style of Abbot and Costello. Also, the supporting role of Boom Boom the Cleveland Browns running back who accidentally injures Lemmon on the sideline at a game was played with depth. All in all another wonderful treat this movie is to watch.
  • When THE FORTUNE COOKIE came out in 1965 it proved a remarkably successful comedy. Of course it was directed by Billy Wilder, still at or near the height of his film career with a string of great successes from THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR, THE LOST WEEKEND, and SUNSET BOULDVARD through SOME LIKE IT HOT and THE APARTMENT. Of course there had been less successful films for Wilder, most notably THE EMPEROR WALTZ and THE BIG CARNIVAL, but most of his films were widely respected by critics and the public. And when he made it in 1965 it was to star Jack Lemmon, who had demonstrated his comic qualities in three other Wilder films: SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE APARTMENT, and IRMA LA DOUCE. So the public was quite interested in this film, which was to tear into the American habit of suing for injuries, and into shyster lawyers. In fact, the screenplay was originally supposed to be MEET WHIPLASH WILLY, the final name of the film when shown in England.

    What surprised many people was the casting of Walter Matthau as "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich, the shyster brother-in-law to Lemmon's Harry Hinkle. Matthau was a widely respected actor, with great stage experience, but his performances in movies had been mostly as villains. From the whip happy tavern keeper in THE KENTUCKIAN, to the Machiavellian government adviser in FAIL SAFE Matthau usually played unlikeable sorts. There were some exceptions. In A FACE IN THE CROWD he is one of the television people who assist Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) on his way up, but who are appalled at the monster they create. When, at the end of the film, Griffith is starting to think of how to overcome the huge gaffe he created over the airwaves that have sent his career into the dumpster, it is Matthau (a terrific figure of decency here) who tells Griffith that he won't be coming back, but will be lucky to be remembered in a few years as a has-been. But A FACE IN THE CROWD was a rarity for Matthau. If he played comedy it was as a villain, most chillingly in CHARADES as Mr. Bartholemew. In his scenes as an embassy official he had some good comic bits, like when he offers a cigarette to Audrey Hepburn, and she takes two puffs and puts it out - Matthau is put out by this waste of one of his pricey cigarettes!

    It is Matthau's appearance in THE FORTUNE COOKIE that changed his public persona and his career. He went to town as Whiplash Willy, threatening to sue the United Fruit Company for failing to put a printed warning on their bananas after Howard McNear fell and broke his pelvis tripping on one. His careful manipulation of brother-in-law Lemmon/Hinkle, his calculating in how to force a major law firm to surrender unconditionally in his demands, his snide comments about great lawyers of the past (Lincoln, Darrow), all build up a to a great introductory performance. It really showed the Matthau that the public would grow to know - a cynical type who could make others (especially the more decent Lemmon) do what he wanted them to. He would also be quick to get into deeply pseudo-intellectual speeches, voicing his opinions and points of views. It was the Matthau who would entertain movie audiences for the next three decades. As a sign of his success in finding his persona, Matthau won the Best Supporting Oscar for THE FORTUNE COOKIE.

    Lemmon recommended Matthau to Wilder, who was pushing either Frank Sinatra or Jackie Gleason. It is quite hard to imagine either the Chairman of the Board or the Great One as effective as Matthau. But I have long wondered if Wilder and Lemmon had had someone else in mind, someone who was no longer available. The Hinkle - Gingrich relationship was a close one due to their family relationship, and Wilder certainly had discussed the issue of the casting with Lemmon. Up to 1961, Lemmon had appeared, most often, with one actor in the movies - in comedies. He appeared in BELL, BOOK, and CANDLE, IT STARTED WITH JANE, and OPERATION MAD BALL with his close friend Ernie Kovacs. Lemmon had been so close to Kovacs that he appeared (in the disguise of a monkey suit) as one of the Nairobi Trio. There are some lines in THE FORTUNE COOKIE that sound ready made for Kovacs - for example, when he writes a figure down as a settlement figure, and when the other lawyers make their counter-offers Matthau repeats it each time, looks at the paper, and says, very quietly, "That isn't it!" One can easily see Kovacs saying the same thing the same way.

    If, as I suspect, THE FORTUNE COOKIE was an idea of Wilder's and Diamond's for a few years, it is just possible that Lemmon suggested Kovacs for the role of Gingrich. But after Kovacs died in a car accident in 1962, Lemmon had to find another actor of similar type. And then he noticed Matthau, who in 1965 was well received for his performance in THE ODD COUPLE on Broadway. Kovacs' bad luck may very well have been Matthau's good luck.

    Today we think of the Lemmon-Matthau partnership as really based on their films with Wilder. They did four films with Wilder, but after THE FORTUNE COOKIE it was their joint appearance in the film version of THE ODD COUPLE directed by Gene Saks that made the partnership viable. Otherwise it might have seemed a flash in the pan. THE ODD COUPLE was to prove that the chemistry between the actors did not solely defend on the artistry of Wilder.
  • Finally caught it on TCM yesterday, and was able to watch it "fresh," compared to "The Odd Couple" or "The Front Page," which one might already know all about.

    A fine study in contrasts at work here; Matthau, as the shyster lawyer has something resembling a family life, while Lemmon, ostensibly the nice guy, is shown to be very lonely, still stuck in the apartment his wife left him in (and aren't those exteriors filmed in Cleveland? I don't think those buildings on his street were seen in any other Hollywood backlot, and they looked a touch more shabby than ordinary). So we have "Boom Boom" as the real moral center of the movie. He's racked with guilt over having injured Hinkle (Lemmon), so much so that he sees to Hinkle's recovery, even carrying him around like a wounded puppy, letting his game suffer, and he's the one who's most hurt by the scam.

    The movie also shows a hopeful light on race relations in the mid-60's: Ron Rich gets to play a character with some feelings and some ambition beyond the NFL, and it's he and Lemmon's characters who become buddies at the end.
  • Amazingly original and intelligent comedy by Billy Wilder that has CBS cameraman Jack Lemmon injured one day by a football player while covering a Cleveland Browns game. Lemmon is rushed off the field and to the hospital but other than a few bruises he is just fine. Enter brother-in-law lawyer Walter Matthau (in a very well-deserved Oscar-winning role) who convinces Lemmon to fake various injuries so the duo can sue CBS, the NFL and the Cleveland Browns all for negligence. Lemmon is not too sure but when he realizes that he can get back with his ex-wife, he finally agrees to the charade. The biggest problem is that all-around-great-guy Ron Rich (the Cleveland Brown who collided with Lemmon on the sideline) feels lousy about the situation and starts to develop a bad drinking problem when he sees how poorly Lemmon is supposedly doing. The title refers to a strange message that Lemmon receives after eating some Chinese food. A great film that has lots of upside. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
  • Little-known, but has fine performances by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Lemmon is a not-too-bright sports cameraman who gets knocked over by a football player (Ron Rich) and is persuaded by his crooked, ambulance-chasing brother-in-law lawyer (Matthau) to fake an injury for the insurance money. Lemmon tries to go along with the scam, but is consumed by guilt because the guilt Rich feels for the "injury" is quickly wrecking his life. Added to this is the return of Lemmon's ex-wife (Judi West), with whom he is still obviously in love. He is completely oblivious to the fact she is a gold-digger--in his case, love truly is blind. Everything resolves itself as it should, but not as you might think. It's a funny, dramatic, and touching film.
  • In The Fortune Cookie, Billy Wilder took on the great American legal system and twisted a lot of laughs out of it. It's the underside of the great American dream, sue someone with deep pockets and you can be a millionaire. It's why we have too many lawyers in our society, it's what creates Willie Gingrich.

    In three previous Wilder pictures folks like Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, and Kirk Douglas in Ace in the Hole all had some similar notions about a get rich and/or famous quick scheme and they all ended in tragedy. Interesting that protagonist Jack Lemmon as TV cameraman Harry Hinkle has more strength of character than those three before him.

    Not at first though. Jack Lemmon is a TV cameraman who is covering a Cleveland Browns football game in Municipal Stadium when running back Ron Rich takes him out when Rich goes out of bounds. That's where attorney and brother-in-law of Lemmon, Walter Matthau hears about a previous spinal injury Lemmon sustained and he hatches a scheme involving Lemmon who is supposed to now act paralyzed so he can sue CBS, Municipal Stadium, and the Cleveland Browns for as much as he can wring out of them.

    Matthau won his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor playing bottom feeding lawyer, Whiplash Willie Gingrich. With that kind of nickname in the profession it's no wonder that the white shoe firm representing the defending parties goes all out to trip him up. They get private detective Cliff Osmond to shadow Lemmon night and day. The results he gets from his surveillance are not unexpected, but a lot of laughs come along with them.

    Matthau is so good as Gingrich that you can literally see his mind at work as he hears about Lemmon's childhood fractured vertebrae from his wife who is Lemmon's sister. Watching his kids skateboarding in the hospital waiting room you kind of wonder what kind of ethics he's been teaching them at home. Note that when you last see Willie Gingrich in the film, he's down, but not yet out.

    There's a couple of other good performances here. Ron Rich as the Brown halfback who really is concerned that he permanently paralyzed Jack Lemmon. Also Judi West as Lemmon's ex-wife who when she hears about Lemmon's possible windfall, she's ready to reconcile with him. Matthau is ready to use her of course, but even he gets kind of put off with her ethics. This is also the farewell performance of Sig Ruman, who Billy Wilder liked to use when he could, both of them being refugees from Hitler. Ruman is one of the specialists brought in and the only one who's not fooled by Lemmon's performance.

    The Fortune Cookie even after 40 years still has plenty of laughs for this generation. That is sadly because this is part of the American legal system that if anything has increased exponentially since 1966.
  • There are some lagging gaps in the film, but overall this is a delightfully written comedy, with clever ideas, good jokes and colourful supporting characters. Walter Matthau won an Oscar for his flamboyant role in the film, and he has a number of good moments, although Jack Lemmon also shines, bringing in his usual charm to every scene. The film is divided into a number of different chapters, and set to some wonderful music, giving it a vibrant feel. And, above all its other virtues, the film manages to say some things about greed and the consequences of lying. It is not a large flashy production, and it may not be a perfect film, but I found it quite charming and it comes recommended, especially to fans of Wilder's comedies.
  • If I had to buy a single movie showing Walter Matthau's genius as an actor, this may be the one, for as good as Jack Lemmon always is in a movie, Walter shines here as the shyster brother-in-law lawyer, and the Best Supporting Oscar was awarded to him rightly for this role. Matthau, always the man who acted through sicknesses went through a heart attack during this one. The scene that he runs up the stairs after receiving the settlement check, a keen eye could notice that he is thinner at the top of the stairs. That was because he shot that scene after his attack. This movie begins the long association with Lemmon/Matthau. The next movie was to be "The Odd Couple". What a great bunch of entertaining movies they were. And this was the first one.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie was the first pairing of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, and they work together well, with an especially good performance by Matthau as an unscrupulous lawyer who convinces his brother-in-law Hinkel to exaggerate the nature of his injuries he sustained as a CBS cameraman at a Cleveland Browns football game when a black football player accidentally runs into him. Not a bad premise, but the movie could have told the story in less than two hours.

    The movie also isn't helped by the joke of Hinkel's mother always uncontrollably crying, a joke that stops being funny after two minutes, and the football player's personally helping the supposedly maimed Hinkel didn't work either. A celebrity athlete wouldn't be acting that way; even if he felt guilty, he wouldn't make himself a manservant. Perhaps the movie makers wanted to make some sort of statement about race relations, but it lacked credibility. The scenes where Hinkel's ex-wife has come back are overlong and unnecessary too; we already know she is insincere about wanting to get back to him.

    Not a bad movie, but it could and should have been better.
  • "The Fortune Cookie" is a light, lovable con/slapstick film about Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon), a sports cameraman who is accidentally knocked down by NFL star Boom Boom Jackson (Ron Rich) at a football game. Hinkle suffers a minor concussion but his lawyer brother-in-law, Willie Gingrich (Walter Matthau) is immediately on the seen. Willie thinks that they can sue for millions of dollars if Harry plays that he's got a "compressed vertebrae", and Harry reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile Boom Boom is feeling desperately guilty and is taking care of Harry to make himself feel better.

    This movie is labeled as a comedy but most of the humor is dry and subtle. I'd go as far as to call it out-dated, it was probably considered a lot funnier when it first came out.

    Though I guess the only character that is supposed to be actually funny is Matthau's, and he is. Hilarious, in fact. He never misses a beat, every movement and line is delivered in perfect accordance to his character. And considering the guy had a heart attack while working on the film, his drive and proffesionalism is admirable.

    Aside from Matthau the movie is a little bland, but not bad. The other performances, from Lemmon, Rich and Judi West as Hinkle's gold-digging ex-wife, are all well-played, Rich gives the most notable performance as the guilt-ridden Boom Boom.

    The style, direction and other componets of the film are well too...but in the end Matthau's performance is the only real benefit of this film, but it's a big benefit, and gets a 7.5/10 from me.
  • I absolutely love Walter Matthau. He is one of the greatest comic actors ever to grace the screen. His ability to turn a Jewish complaint into a laugh has a life of its own (like Woody Allen) and Lemmon of course is the perfect foil. This is why they were "The Odd Couple." In fact, this movie includes three of the greatest film makers to ever work/play in Hollywood: Bill Wilder, Jack Lemmon and Matthau. See this movie to have fun with the perfect comedic chemistry of Lemmon and Matthau and also to enjoy the intelligent humor of Wilder's writing. As those of us who have ever created a film or written a story or music know, such endeavors are always an experiment; there's always the (big) chance that what you're busting your butt on will just lay there in the end. Well, when they came up with this story formula, with Matthau as scheister and Lemmon as border line skeptic/fool for love, it just hit, you know? As in, it's a classic winner! Hollywood comedy literally doesn't get any better. The proof? Study up on your dark comedy history: It started with Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest), was carried on with Wilder (this film) and every single piece of satire that has been written since these masterpieces of comedy owes itself to them.
  • Sentimental cynicism: TV cameraman is injured while covering a football game and his brother-in-law, a shyster lawyer, persuades him to exaggerate his injuries for the extra insurance money. Well-made, handsomely shot Billy Wilder-directed comedy, which he also co-wrote with I.A.L. Diamond, that doesn't quite pay off after a surefire opening. The script falls into a stale, one-joke pattern, and the first-time teaming of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau curiously fails to ignite. Matthau won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his cheerful mugging, but it's Ron Rich as a sympathetic football player who gives the film's best performance. ** from ****
  • Sometimes enjoyable comedy would have been greatly helped with a shorter running time, for it really drags after a while. The story is funny enough, and the performances are terrific, but considering how basic the plot is, this film should have been far less than two hours long. It wasn't a bad movie by any stretch, but whenever Lemmon and Matthau team up, I expect results that are better than this.
  • In the course of Hollywood legends, there emerges a great chemistry when certain scripts, actors, and directors are combined to make a movie. In this immortal Black and White film, we have such a combination. Herein we have, the late, great Jack Lemmon playing Harry Hinkle, a standard cameraman working with a TV crew covering a Cleveland Browns football game. As the game proceeds, a celebrity running-back Luther " Boom Boom " Jackson (Ron Rich) accidentally runs off the field and directly into the filming cameraman, knocking him out cold. Fortunately for Hinkle, his wily Brother-in-law, William Gingrich, attorney-at-law, (Walter Matthau) leaps into his life and proposes an insurance lawsuit which, if Hinkle goes along with, will net them $1.000.000. Hinkle explains to 'Whiplash Willy,' there is nothing wrong with him and will not participate in the scheme. The plan is doomed, until Gingrich uses a trump card, Hinkles' ex-wife Sandy, (Judi West) whom Harry believes still loves him. The plan is flawless despite the fact, the Insurance company hires the Purkey (Cliff Osmond) Dectective Agency to spy on him 24 hours a day. While Gingrich is busy with the Insurance lawyers and Hinkle is attempting to win his wife back, by pretending to be an invalid, no one notices Luthor Jackson is miserable, drinking and becoming despondent. The movie is wonderful as Lemmon and Matthau are a superb team under the direction of their favorite director Billy Wilder. This is a great movie and certain to become a Classic. ****
  • Whereas these days a successful movie series means endless spin-offs and sequels, there was a time when there were brilliant creative teams who got together time and again, producing a kind of motion picture brand that you could trust. The series of comedies written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, directed by Wilder and (many of them) starring Jack Lemmon are such neat works of professionalism and congruent talent that during their heyday in the 1960s they provided a guarantee of smoothly intelligent yet undemanding entertainment.

    Billy Wilder had one of the most apparently laid back directorial styles of his era. He barely moves the camera, and his shots tend last as long as is practical. But within this fixed frame he juggles everything with expertise. He uses the cinemascope ratio to keep various elements on the screen – for example the camera and microphones which keep stealing into shot as a reminder of the private eyes that are bugging the flat. This idea of keeping things in view without making them centre of attention also applies to Wilder's presentation of comedy. There's a great example where Walter Matthau is on the phone at one edge of the frame, while the rest of the screen reveals the interior of his home. His children skate around while his wife prepares dinner, which culminates in an incidental gag, punctuating the scene, while Matthau's phone conversation remains what the scene is about. This is very much Wilder's way – not to make the jokes leap out at you but to weave them into the background, noticeable but never forced.

    Lead man Jack Lemmon was by now a familiar piece of Wilder furniture, and you can see why. He has a slightly exaggerated look, with a duck-like face and a manic way of moving, and yet he can also "do normal" and convince us that he is an everyman. Still, this time around he is upstaged by an exuberant Walter Matthau. There are many great facets to Matthau's performance – his sudden overt gestures, his ability to move his hat as if it were part of his body, the way he paces around, managing to get closest to the camera as his voice reaches a bizarre crescendo or his facial expression is at its most absurdly comical. However I think what really makes him fit in here is the way, although he gets all the funniest lines, he doesn't show them off, simply delivering them as if they were the natural thing for his character to say, which of course makes them all the funnier. It's also a lot like Wilder's style of weaving the comedy into the narrative material rather than hammering the jokes home.

    But what about this narrative material, sharply scripted by Wilder and Diamond? The Fortune Cookie is ostensibly about an insurance scam, but gradually the friendship between Jack Lemmon and the football player who accidentally injured him emerges as the main story arc. It's almost like a love story between two men. I'm not implying anything homoerotic here, simply that the story is structured like a romance with a friendship taking the place of the love angle. The fact that Boom Boom (played by the little-known Ron Rich) is black is not drawn attention to or made an issue of, and this is rather interesting. This picture was made at the height of the civil rights movement, but it is not making an overt point about race, nor is it even a political picture. But it works as a nicely harmonious accompaniment to what was going on in the streets at the time. Wilder comedies could calmly cover areas other pictures couldn't even touch without making a mess.
  • There are undeniably some bright moments in "The Fortune Cookie", and the much-praised performances were indeed excellent. But this movie is fatally overlong! Its one-joke premise cannot really sustain 120 minutes, so the second half too often seems to meander. Combine that with the static nature of the plot and with the fact that this is the kind of comedy that produces only mild amusement (and moral messages), not belly-laughs, and you'll end up with a rather middling flick. (**)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Jack Lemon is a TV cameraman photographing a football game in Cleveland. A runner, Ron Rich, is knocked out of bounds and propels Lemon into an obstacle. Lemon isn't hurt bad but is being checked out in the hospital when his brother-in-law, Walter Matthau, a shoddy personal negligence lawyer known as "Whiplash Willie," decides that Lemon should fake a partial paralysis so that the insurance company can be bilked. The ruse is elaborate. Every move the insurance investigators make is anticipated by the sedulous Matthau. "We know what they know, but they don't know we know." Ron Rich, the football player, is stricken with guilt at having injured someone. He spends all his time caring for the phony paralytic, neglects practice, and begins drinking. Lemon's wife, Judi West, has run away with a band leader but now, in anticipation of a juicy settlement, returns to him to share his good fortune. Lemon thinks it's love.

    Most of the movie has Lemon trying desperately to fake his injury, while at the same time being ashamed of doing it. Matthau is grimly determine. Rich is pathos itself. West is slinkily feminine and wily.

    The movie really belongs to Matthau. He's marvelous as the slimy lawyer. He works out of a cubicle in a huge building and treats his office the way he treated his apartment in "The Odd Couple." A shameless slob, before important visitors arrive he flings some dusty papers out of the way and empties a waste basket on the floor to offer them a seat, meanwhile cheerfully humming a tune from "The Barber of Seville". But Lemon is more than just a straight man. He burns with outrage and humiliation as Matthau coaches him through the performance.

    The premise is great, and so are Matthau and Lemon, but the movie isn't as antic as some of Wilder's other comedies of the period -- "One, Two, Three" or "Some Like It Hot". It's closer in its intent to "The Apartment," an attempt at blending comedy and poignancy. Maybe in some ways it takes more skill to fuse the two than it does to stick to pure comedy. "Annie Hall", possibly Woody Allen's best movie, succeeded. And Howard Hawks' "Monkey Business" was a serious treatment of a disturbed marriage cloaked in farce.

    "The Fortune Cookie," for all its jokes, doesn't quite cut it. It isn't that some of the jokes are dated, though they are. Well -- having brought up ludic obsolescence, I'll give an example. When Matthau discovers that Lemon's apartment is bugged and being photographed by investigators across the street, their eyes and ears open for any signs of fakery, he begins to play for his audience -- how terrible Lemon's plight is. It's like the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. An innocent young person walks through the woods and is attacked by a wolf pretending to be Grandma and so on -- the last line delivered with a portrait of Whistler's mother behind him. Lemon protests that he'd rather die than be paralyzed. "Better Red Riding Hood than Dead Riding Hood," replies Matthau. Kids, in 1966 we had this thing called "the Cold War." We were the good guys and the evildoers were the communists, or "Reds." There was a genuine threat of a nuclear holocaust, which some of us were willing to risk, and a few were eager for, because, as the expression went, "Better dead than Red." That's the slogan Matthau builds his joke on. Ha ha. Fortunately for everyone, the Cold War ended in 1989 and there has been world peace ever since. Alright. You may now return to your Gameboys.

    I love the comic theme of Lemon's posturing and Matthau's reckless pursuit of a million dollars, but the melancholy story of Ron Rich's decline and Judi West's low-level cynicism don't really carry enough passion to grip us. Shirley McClaine's hopeless affair with the married phony Fred MacMurray in "The Apartment", though trite, was presented as genuine enough to make us care, but not enough to depress us. But here, Ron Rich's character is depressing and Judi West's is tiresome.

    A good movie. I wish it had been better.
  • kenjha17 November 2009
    A greedy lawyer convinces his cameraman brother-in-law to sue after the latter is inadvertently hit by a football player while filming an NFL game. In the first of several films to pair Lemmon and Mathau, the actors play roles typical of their collaborations, with the former a decent, neurotic fellow and the latter a shyster. After "The Apartment," Wilder never quite achieved the success he experienced earlier in his great career as he was churning out one classic after another. This is a product of his declining years - not bad but not very funny either and far too long for a comedy. Whatever happened to West, the attractive actress who plays Lemmon's ex-wife?
  • No need to recap the plot. Mildly amusing comedy with serious overtones. Considering the talent involved, the film's something of a disappointment. The one-note plot simply can't carry 2-hours of run-time, especially when the middle sags with too much exposition. Then too, the visuals are a dour brand of b&w that clash with the comedic part. Still, I don't know that Technicolor would have been appropriate, but at least brighter shades would have helped. Of course, there's the incomparable Lemmon and Matthau in their first pairing. As a result, I suspect the writers didn't realize the comedic potential they had on hand, and thus couldn't decide whether to play up the sociological element (race relations, bogus litigation) or the funnier parts. Consequently, the movie becomes a stretched out patchwork of the two, despite the intermittent chuckles. I realize my take is a minority, but I'm trying to judge the results strictly apart from the reputations involved.
  • fletch531 October 2001
    6/10
    So-so
    This Billy Wilder comedy indisputably pales in comparison to such great films as "The Apartment" and "One, Two, Three". Although the dialogue is frequently sharp, Lemmon and Matthau's delicious teamwork is the only thing that makes this drawn out, only occasionally amusing film worthwhile. Judi West is quite impressive as Lemmon's scheming ex-wife.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This Billy Wilder film is slightly above average but well below his best work. The reasons for that are both because of plot problems as well as common flaws in Wilder's later work.

    (Warning: spoilers follow)

    Plotwise, the main problem with this film is that its entire basis – that Jack Lemmon's Harry Hinkle character goes along with his brother-in-law's scheme – is never believable. Hinkle comes across as far too decent a human being (as was the case of the majority of Lemmon's performances) to even consider being part of such a major deception. Therefore there's no real dramatic tension on whether Harry will eventually expose the fraud.

    Also, the finale where Hinkle and the gridiron player Luther 'boom boom' Jackson reconcile is sweet, but its just not believable that Jackson would be so forgiving to Hinkle considering the dishonest scheme he was a part of has done him such personal damage.

    And it has a lot of problems that were common in later Wilder films – overlong, cynicism for its own sake, and humour that, while often amusing, is also brittle and wearisome.

    But as usual with Wilder, there are always compensations. The supporting characters aren't just by-the-numbers compositions, they provide their own source of humour and interest, like Cliff Osmond's beleaguered private detective.

    Matthau's Oscar-winning performance is what this film tends to get remembered for and while it's amusing and enjoyable, I think it's somewhat over-praised. In terms of performances, what was most interesting is that Ron Rich and Judi West give two impressive performances but their careers went nowhere after this. A pity.

    Despite its flaws, this is an agreeable, occasionally very funny film that is worth watching at least once.

    It should also be said that the title is well chosen as the reading of the message in the actual fortune cookie is the funniest moment in the film – a great piece of comic timing.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Marked as the first pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who subsequently worked together on 11 future additional films, the Fortune Cookie directed by Billy Wilder, was a tasty delight. The movie tells the story of a crooked lawyer, Willie Gingrich (Walter Matthau) whom persuades his brother-in-law, a CBS sport-cameraman Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon), to feign a serious injury, so that, both can receive a huge indemnity from the insurance company. Without spoiling the movie, too much, I have to say, while it's not the funniest movie, in Billy Wilder's filmography, but it's by far, my favorite John Lemmon & Billy Wilder film, they shot together. Jack Lemmon was near-perfect in this film. He wasn't so over the top, here, like his previous roles. The way, he acted like he was injury, honestly made me believe, he was indeed stuck being wheelchair bound, at times. Walter Matthau as Willie Gingrich, was just as hysterical and wonderful as Jack Lemmon. Matthau won his Academy Award Oscar for Best Supporting Actor playing bottom feeding lawyer, Whiplash Willie from this film. I think he deserve that win, big time. Walter Matthau really put, everything in this role. Mad props, go to the fact that Walter return to the role, after suffering a heart attack. He had slimmed from 190 to 160 pounds by the time filming was completed, and had to wear a heavy black coat to conceal the weight loss. That's shows, how driven, he was, to this film. Despite, his character being a shyster, Walter had enough charm with his attitude, to make Whiplash Willie, a bit likable. The chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau is so far, the best thing in the film. They bonded so well. So, it was no surprise that they would remain friends the rest of their lives. The snobbish Lemmon and the bad-tempered Matthau provided the perfect counter-point. The supporting characters were pretty good, as well. While, his character was a bit underdeveloped, I kinda Ron Rich as Luther "Boom-Boom" Jackson. A lot of people, criticize his character as a man-servant, but I don't think it, that way. He felt guilty, for 'injuring', Harry, so he just wanted to help. He had that All-American Boy-Scout charm. It hasn't nothing to do with his race. One of my favorite characters in this film has to be Cliff Osmond as Chester Purkey, Private Eye Insurance investigator. I love the whole cat-and-mouse game starts between him and Gingrich. The only character that I didn't like, was Judi West as Sadie Hinkle. It wasn't, because her character was one-dimensional selfish or the actress portraying her didn't do a good job. It was, because how late, in the film, she appeared. For somebody, that supposed help, the good nature, Harry to go along with the scheme. She really doesn't get, much screen-time for odd reason. While, this movie has some of Billy Wilder's most famous trademarks, such as feature characters who try to change their identity, women often represented as dangerous, lust, greed and manipulative, and last often cynical but humorous, sweet and sour dialogue. There was one thing that this movie was missing from the great Hollywood provocateur. It didn't have that great narration. With no narration, the movie moves like a book, instead of a film; from chapter title screen to chapter title screen. While, this seem like nitpicking. The way, the film does its story-telling, makes it seem like the source was taken from a famous book, than an original work. It was a bit weird. This movie might be one of the very earlier films, that I can remember, that had product placement. Like Wilder's previous film, 1961's One, Two, Three, which feature the Coca-Cola company; this film has the National Football League (NFL), and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) intertwining with the script; giving the movie, a sense of realism. While the film does somewhat make those companies look bad, due to how stubborn, their insurance companies were; it does give some insight, of what these companies were going, through at, the time. The first Super Bowl was only a year, away after all. I like how Billy Wilder shot the opening sequence during an actual Vikings-Browns game on October 31, 1965. Surprising, this might be the only footage of that game, as networks at the time, commonly wiped broadcast sports tapes at the time, and recorded over with different content to save cost. So, if you ever, like to see an old school football game, before the 1970 merger. Between the NFL and AFL (American Football League). Here is your chance! Even if you're not a football fan, this is a great film. The movie had a great story that influence other works, such as 1990's TV Shows like Simpsons and Wing's episodes, where they tackle a similar premise. Overall: The fortune cookie is worth a bite, into. It is poignant as it is funny, and I highly recommend it to any generation.
  • "The Fortune Cookie" marks the first pairing of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon at a time where they were no acting newcomers but began the second chapter of their careers as middle-aged men whose chemistry never looked like they were cheating on screen. If only for that, the film is a mini-landmark that can be enjoyable to a not negligible degree. But the 1966 comedy also confirms a start of decline of director Billy Wilder.

    "The Apartment" is regarded as his last masterpiece for reasons: while his later films were still valuable, "The Fortune Cookie" seems to emulate the previous movies while downplaying the dramatic undertones of "The Apartment" and missing the sheer goofiness of "Seven Year Itch". The two movies centered on a man caught in an ethical dilemma set in the cozy confinement of an apartment but the way the resolution is played in "The Fortune Cookie" is problematic in spite of its good intentions.

    Indeed, it seems that Wilder's movies portrayed two kinds of men: womanizers and cheaters and straight well-intentioned but too easily gullible schmucks, cunning crooks vs. decent simpletons. In "The Fortune Cookie", we have the same duality in Harry Hinkle (Lemmon) and his brother-in law, ambulance-chasing lawyer Willie Gingrich (Matthau). Harry's a cameraman left injured after football player Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson ran over him during a game and while he ended up with mild injuries, Gingrich convinces him to feign a more serious one and pull a "Double Indemnity" trick to the insurance company. Surely they can afford it and we agree to agree as long as it pays off in the gag department

    And seeing Lemmon being forced to play the injured guy while Matthau delivers one wisecrack after another will make you crack many smiles yourself and a few chuckles. But the plot begins with such a great premise and such a good deal of one-liners that we expect a continuous laugh riot. Still, there's a reason why it's not as popular as "The Odd Couple": the timing, it is too long for its plot, something I also noticed in "Avanti!". Comedies and length never really go hand in hand and maybe the film could have sustained two hours had it had a denser plot but even its attempt to sugarcoat its cynicism with at least one sympathetic character, Ron Rich as the black football player turned his performance into the kind of patronizing characterizations indicative of the old-school mentality.

    At first, I loved the Boom Boom character and his guilt ridden behavior; taking care of his buddy and never suspecting anything but then it just went too far. It was so awkward to see him acting as if it was the end of the world and compensating it with some servant work while Jack's ex-wife came back to pretend she still loved him when she heard about the suing. And here's another ugly character who doesn't hold up today. We owe Billy Wilder two unforgettable villainesses from "Sunset Blvd." and "Double Indemnity", a sexy and innocent Marilyn Monroe, a fragile and funny Shirley MacLaine but granted this is a male bonding film, I didn't hate Judi West as much as the way she was treated, that she was a gold digger left no doubt but the "reason you suck" speech Lemmon gave her could have done without the little ass-pushing.

    Are we supposed to endorse that behavior because she sort of gets it coming when in reality, the brother-in-law was far worse?

    In fact, yes... there is something in Matthau's performance (he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) so blatantly unethical it inspires a sort of guilty admiration rather than sheer resentment. He doesn't give a damn about "Boom Boom"'s career, he assumes his corruptness but he has fun playing that role (in every sense), humming the 'Barber of Seville' case, hamming it up in front the insurance men, slapping the woman's butt, mocking the ugly nurse, provoking the private eye who's supposed to be the bad guy (Cliff Osmond steals the show as the film's "Javert")... the film doesn't make us root for him but tells us to accept the scam for laughs.

    Fair enough, but what when it gets serious? Should we also accept how patronizing it is toward the black man and insulting toward the bimbo. That's another story. Maybe I'm reading too much into a film that's only supposed to be a vehicle for great visual and verbal gags with Jack Lemmon being his usual butt-monkey until he finally redeems himself. But there's something (maybe unintentionally) manipulative in the treatment that reflects the unpleasant facets of its time. In a way the film applies the same ugly reasoning than Willie's, they're big companies, they can pay, they're women, they can deal with a few slaps in the ass and the good black guy will forgive everything because one can't say "no" to Jack Lemmon. I doubt this was intentional from Billy Wilder so I guess he started to lose his touch.

    I'm not judging the film by today's standards, one can see the contrast with Matthau and Lemmon's next pairing in "The Odd Couple" where the treatment of women is handled with class. This one is handled with crass, it doesn't make it a bad comedy, but its dramatic moments do a great disservice to whatever message it's trying to deliver. It's good but there's something definitely rotten in it. I've come to a point of my life where even cynicism played for the sake of laughs leave me with a sour taste. I don't mind amoral characters especially when the film doesn't invite us to side with them... but I found some mean-spiritedness in "The Fortune Cookie" that doesn't hold up today and its even worse when it tries to atone it with mawkish sentimentality.
  • The problem with this film is that it is very predictable. What's the mystery? Anything surprising (at least at this point in his career) with Walter Matthau playing a shyster lawyer? Don't we know that in the end Jack Lemmon will rebel and ultimately refuse to go along with the scam? So the question is, why watch? Well, how can you resist watching the acting abilities of both Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, even more so when they are appearing together.

    And, there are some fine performances by supporting cast members, including Judi West (with whom I was not at all familiar) as the sort-of ex-wife who is out for $$$. And, Cliff Osmond, as the sleazy detective. I was particularly interested in Ron Rich, whom I was also not familiar with...does a nice job as the football player here.

    In fact, although mostly overlooked, it is the relationship between the Rich character and the Lemmon character that is most interesting here. Interracial in a time that you didn't see that quite so much, and the scene where race suddenly rears its ugly head is, arguably, the best in the film.

    This is not Billy Wilder's best. And, there are a number of other films where one can better enjoy the interplay between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (this was their first match-up, I believe). But, this is a very good film...just not a great film.
  • When a cameraman is knocked over during a Cleveland Browns game, the sharks move in - or should I say shark - in the form of "Whiplash Willie," his brother-in-law, in "The Fortune Cookie," a 1966 film written and directed by Billy Wilder.

    Lemmon plays Harry Hinkle, a television cameraman, who is involved in a freak accident during a football game, when he is knocked over by "Boom Boom" Jackson. As soon as his brother-in-law, attorney Willie Gingrich (Matthau) hears that Harry suffered a compressed vertebrae in his youth (from jumping off of a garage roof without opening his umbrella), he warns his hospitalized victim not to get well. He has a paroled dentist come in and shoot him up with drugs so that he can pass the insurance medical tests, puts him in a wheelchair, a collar, and a corset, and takes him home to recover. Meanwhile, the insurance company has a camera on him and his apartment bugged. Harry's tramp ex-wife (Judi West), an aspiring singer, comes back to him as soon as she smells money to jump-start her career. The guilt-stricken Boom Boom becomes his servant. Boom Boom's football game suffers, and he turns to drink. Whiplash Willie, in the meantime, is negotiating a $200,000 settlement.

    Insurance fraud and ambulance chasers are still very topical. One has only to look at the number of commercials for attorneys telling you an accident is worth big bucks. Leave it to Billy Wilder and partner I.A.L. Diamond to write such a witty, cynical script about a man with a conscience up against a man who will stop at nothing to cheat the insurance company.

    Walter Matthau is an absolute riot as Willie, and won the Academy Award for his performance. Willie is an obvious cheat who knows all the angles and is able to get around them. Lemmon is great as a lonely man who goes along with the subterfuge with the carrot of his ex-wife returning dangling in front of him. Ron Rich gives a natural, sympathetic performance as Boom Boom, the devastated football player.

    The script is very witty and the performances are great. Billy Wilder was one of film's greatest writers and directors, and in "The Fortune Cookie," he shows he's still got what it takes.
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