Friday, August 05, 2011
#173: The Fortune Cookie
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were one of the most enduring on-screen pairings in the history of cinema and their movies ranged from the fantastic to the forgettable and it all started with The Fortune Cookie. And who better than Billy Wilder to bring them together about whom I once heard a mention on a DVD extra that the man made the most definitive movie in every genre of cinema. Whether it's Stalag17, Some Like it Hot or Double Indemnity, Billy would always leave a memorable imprint in the minds of the audience.
In The Fortune Cookie, Wilder and his long-time screenwriting partner IAL Diamond take a look at the world of personal injury lawyers and their selfish attempts to extract money from corporations. Walter Matthau in an Oscar-winning performance plays Willie Gingrich, a crooked lawyer who in the garb of giving justice to his injured brother-in-law is out to file a suit of $100,000 in damages. Jack Lemmon plays Henri Hickle, the sweet simpleton who wouldn't ride along with Gingrich in this plan but is coaxed into it because of the faint glimmer of hope of reuniting with his wife Sandy ( Judi West).
The Fortune Cookie is a light unpretentious comic tale and it has all the lines and situations in place to give you the laughs. A sub-plot of bonding between the football player Jackson (Ron Rich) who injured Hickle during a play is the only part where you might have trouble getting through with the movie. That relationship isn't crystallized well enough for it to deserve an extended climax of ten minutes that the screenwriters generously bestow it with. Walter Matthau's peformance is the star turn in the movie and dare I say even manages to steal the thunder from Jack Lemmon. As the crafty Gingrich, he delivers a flawless turn. It was no mean feat considering that during the filming of The Fortune Cookie Matthau had suffered a heart attack and yet he was able to complete the movie. Billy Wilder movies always have an interesting support cast and filling in the gap here is Perky, the aptly named insurance investigator played by yet-another Wilder favorite Cliff Osmond.
Billy Wilder could not only write, produce and direct timeless movies but also had an incredible eye for talent. That in Matthau and Lemmon he saw a duo who he could rely on for many of his future movies speaks volumes of his vision. Not to forget the fact Matthau-Lemmon pair would also go on to appear in movies of other directors. The Fortune Cookie, in that sense is a neat piece of cinema history sliced and served by Wilder like a delectable afternoon snack. In it's simplest form, it is a buoyant fun-filled comic caper that's great company for most of it's duration.