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THE FORTUNE COOKIE, 1966
Movie Review

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THE FORTUNE COOKIE, 1966
Movie Review

Directed by Billy Wilder
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau
Review by Stefan Adamsson



SYNOPSIS:

When a cameraman gets run down by a football player, his Brother-in-law persuades him to fake a a back injury, so they can get insurance money.

REVIEW:

How would a world without morals look like? Would you let money come before morals? Or love before morals?

These are the questions writer/director Billy Wilder asks us in this brilliantly dark comedy from 1967.

When CBS cameraman Henry Hinkle gets run down by Luther “Boom-Boom” Jackson while cover a football game, all he’s suffer is a small concussion. That is until his lawyer and Brother-in-law “Whiplash” Willie enters the scene will say. Because if Henry follows Willies plan, he will end up with half a million dollars, and get his runaway wife back. All he has to do is to fake a back injury.

But is it worth it when the insurance company bugs your apartment and the man who caused the injury becomes your friend and starts to take care of you because of his guilt? These questions poor Henry has to deal with when his unscrupulous Brother-in-law takes control over his life.

Fortune cookie is one of Wilder’s darkest and most serious comedies.

It’s a film about right and wrong. Henry Hinkle has to choose between money, and his wife back or a clean conscience.

Together with co-writer I.A.L Diamond, Wilder has created a dialogue that is razor-sharp, and he is at his sarcastic best with this insurance fraud-flick. There are few movies that have these snappy monologues, and you get impressed of where he gets all his ideas from.

The performance from Walter Matthau, which gave him an Oscar for Best Male Supporting role, is sensational. Matthau is the master of one-liners and face expressions, and Jack Lemmon proves once again that he is a comical genius. The spark between Matthau and Lemmon is the same one we could see between Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some like it hot. Already from Lemmon’s opening line at courtside of the football game you know that this film is going to be hilarious.

As said it’s not only a comedy. It is a story about people who would do anything for money. Willie is, as he acts anyway, a very knowledgeable and successful lawyer who can quote any law book. So you wonder why he wants to scam a million when he could earn that money fair and square. He is a victim of the old expression “easy money”. It is easier to understand Hinkle’s dilemma. He maybe needs the money, but not in a way like this. He wants to earn the money in an honest way. He is just a weak push-over who gets fooled into the plan, in the belief that he will get his wife back. The wife who ran away and left him. When she suddenly starts to care about him again it is not hard to say no to a little fraud, but things are not that simple. His wife is not the innocent and caring little girl she gives herself out as. The relationship between the three people is not a pleasant one.

As a Brother-in-law, Willie is very demanding and insulting of his wife’s brother. That makes you wonder how Hinkle could let his sister marry such a scoundrel. So in a way, Lemmon and Matthau are playing the “odd couple” two years before the actual movie.

“Whiplash” Willie is sure that his plan is waterproof so he never doubts it a second. Hinkle has his doubts of course, and when the insurance company starts to suspect the set-up the whole thing turns into a catch-me-if-you-can story. In the middle of the mess is poor, unknowing “Boom-Boom” Jackson who feels such a guilt over what he’s done that he can’t continue playing football. So you understand why Hinkle doesn’t feel totally comfortable with the situation.

Wilder is such an amazing film maker that he can take the darkest and most evil sides of a human being and turn it into a warm and friendly comedy. We have seen it in The Apartment, we have seen it in Irma la Douce, and we see it once again in this comedy classic.

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