The Fortune Cookie (Billy Wilder, 1966)
CBS cameraman Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) gets injured when football player Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson (Ron Rich) runs into him while he is covering a Browns game at Cleveland Stadium. Harry's injuries are minor, but his conniving lawyer brother-in-law William H. "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich (Walter Matthau) convinces him to pretend that his leg and hand have been partially paralyzed. This way, they can receive a huge indemnity from the insurance company. Harry reluctantly goes along with the scheme because he is still in love with his ex-wife, Sandy (Judi West), and it might win her back.
A Billy Wilder comedy is always a kind of movie that I’m much eager to watch. Even if it’s not my favorite director or the most talented, Wilder’s films have strong scripts and a traditional but effective mise en scène. With The Fortune Cookie, we discover the first instalement of many collaborations between Walther Matthau and Jack Lemmon. This pair will be so linked together that their graves are now not far from each other. It is their acting together that makes The Fortune Cookie work.
Because this quite successful box-office film is not what one could call the best comedy or the best Wilder film either. However, it works well as a comedy even if the story of the scheme is never as great as Wilder’s Double Indemnity. The script has too much familiarities and popularisms and might have needed some tightening up and maybe a lot of more bitting humor. Like, let’s say Wilder’s One, Two, Three. The best scenes are the ones uniting the aforementioned two stars and the story with Boom Boom are too easy and serve as the moral of the whole fraud. While Harry is set to use the situation to get Sandy back, the rest of the people try hard to make this happen and make a buck from the whole situation.
Finally, this is an okay film that has some very good moments that are maybe too slowed down by a script that gets into too much trouble to get to the point. The major reason one should watch it anyway is the tandem of Lemmon-Matthau that will form two years later The Odd Couple in 1968. Consider visiting Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, and Some Like It Hot if you want to get around Billy Wilder’s filmography first. Then if you are hooked on his style and humor The Fortune Cookie is a lesser Wilder but still a Wilder film which puts it over many of his peers.