The Fortune Cookie Blu-ray Review

Sour satire looks better than ever in high definition. 4 Stars

Writer-director Billy Wilder’s view of human nature takes on an even sourer tone in his 1966 comedy The Fortune Cookie.

The Fortune Cookie (1966)
Released: 19 Oct 1966
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 125 min
Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ron Rich, Judi West
Writer(s): Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Plot: A crooked lawyer persuades his brother-in-law to feign a serious injury.
IMDB rating: 7.4
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 6 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 04/18/2017
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 4/5

Writer-director Billy Wilder’s view of human nature takes on an even sourer tone in his 1966 comedy The Fortune Cookie. With masterful comic actors Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau being teamed for the first time and Wilder and his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond focusing on human nature at its most avaricious, The Fortune Cookie offers bittersweet entertainment amid a clutch of wonderfully ingratiating performances.

While covering an NFL game for his hometown Cleveland Browns as the number four CBS cameraman, Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) is hit by star Cleveland player “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich) which sends his camera flying and his body flipping head over heels. Sustaining a mild concussion, Harry is eager to get back to work, but his ambulance chasing brother-in-law lawyer Willie Gingrich (Walter Matthau), known to insurance companies far and wide as “Whiplash Willie,” sees a lucrative payday ahead if he can convince Harry to play along with his scam in suing the Cleveland Browns and CBS for a million dollars for injuries sustained on the job. At first Harry doesn’t want to go along with the scheme, but renewed interest in his rehabilitation from his ex-wife Sandy (Judi West) persuades him the scam might be worth the trouble. But what Harry didn’t bargain for is the effect his “injury” has had on “Boom Boom” Jackson whose guilt becomes almost all-consuming making him lose focus during games, miss practices, and incur fines just to be with Harry and serve as his guardian angel. Meanwhile, the insurance company suspecting a sham injury sends private investigator Perkey (Cliff Osmond) to dig up the dirt on Willie’s scheme.

The Oscar-nominated Billy Wilder-I.A.L. Diamond screenplay, despite its expected dry, wry lines and a surfeit of comic set pieces in its sixteen chapter layout, really doesn’t paint a very positive picture of human nature. Even Harry, who otherwise might seem to be a nice guy and upstanding citizen, falls victim to his temptation, not so much for money but rather to get back his ex-wife who indeed is only after $20,000 she needs to fulfill her show business ambitions. The insurance company executives (played nimbly by Harry Holcombe, Les Tremayne, and Lauren Gilbert) are pictured as negatively as practically everyone else in the picture. In fact, between the inept doctors and sarcastic nurses and bitter private detectives, really only one person emerges as a Good Samaritan – Ron Rich’s Luther Jackson, and even he turns to the bottle when it appears Harry doesn’t need him any more once Sandy moves back home. Wilder uses the wide Panavision frame to offer us plenty of views of the human nature he’s so acidly castigating, and he’s always adept at placing actors across his frame even in tightly enclosed settings like Harry’s hospital room or his tiny kitchen once he returns home. He even allows Walter Matthau to occasionally break the fourth wall to almost seem complicit with the audience in his money-grubbing shenanigans, all the more reason that the actor walked away with the movie in his hip pocket even though he’s only a supporting player.

Yes, this is the role that won Walter Matthau his Academy Award, and it’s easy to see why with his quicksilver mind adept with any piece of information regarding potential larceny and its litigation. He jump starts the movie, which in truth is about fifteen minutes too long, every time he appears on the scene, and his ability to adroitly handle all of the other charlatans he comes into contact with only endears him all the more to the viewer despite his own essentially shameless nature. Jack Lemmon, confined to a bed and a wheelchair for much of the movie, is much more limited with physical shtick even though there’s a wonderful moment when he does elaborate, funny choreography with his battery operated wheelchair and late in the movie he’s allowed some amusing acrobatics once he breaks free of Willie’s spell. But he (with the assistance of director Wilder) hands the movie to Matthau on a silver platter. Ron Rich is outstanding as the deeply feeling pro footballer whose guilt and shame lead him to practically destroy his own life in the process. Judi West as the chain-smoking Sandy Hinkle is adequate in the primary female role in the movie, but a more adept comic actress might have gotten more out of the part. Lurene Tuttle is a hoot as Harry’s constantly wailing mother shipped off to Florida to get her unending sobbing out of the way, and Cliff Osmond has some funny business as the slimy private eye. Marge Redmond as Matthau’s wife, Sig Ruman as a scoffing doctor, and Archie Moore as Jackson’s concerned father also make the most of their smaller roles.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The Panavision theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Despite a few dust specks and some light white scratches along the right side of the frame, the transfer is for the most part quite excellent. Sharpness is superb allowing us to notice blemishes and pitting in facial features, and the grayscale rendering offers very dark black levels and quite effective shadow detail. Contrast has been consistently applied for a first-rate image. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix presents the well-recorded dialogue clearly and cleanly (important since most Wilder films live or die on their verbal dexterity). It’s been mixed nicely with the background score supervised by André Previn and the atmospheric effects to make a very listenable mono track. No problematic age-related audio artifacts weigh down the aural presentation.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Isolated Music Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:36, HD)

Six-Page Booklet: contains some effective black and white stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s astute essay on the movie.

Overall: 4/5

Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie offers a bittersweet satire on national greed and avarice that paints a pretty seedy picture of mankind. The Twilight Time Blu-ray release, however, offers an excellent rendition of the film for home video enthusiasts. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

Published by

Matt Hough

author,editor

8 Comments

  1. Thanks, Matt! Like Robin, I haven't seen this in quite some time (and maybe not all the way through) and I will be including this on a future TT order. Glad to hear this disc is consistent with their usual high quality. Lemmon is a great actor and Matthau is a terrific screen presence in any mobile he's in.

  2. Funny this review just appeared.

    I watched this movie for the very first time ever this morning on my big screen.

    Thought the film was good, not great. I love Matthau and Lemmon so the film could have been about mowing grass and I would have liked it. There were some very funny pieces of dialogue that I enjoyed. I don't know — I guess it might be the fact that it has a real downer of a message about society in general.

    I will say this…

    The transfer is outstanding. Oustanding! I love when black and white films really show their colors. The transfer is nice and sharp with just enough grain. It really "POPS!" If you don't believe me, look at the photo I took while watching…

    View attachment 37819
    (Click on above photo for larger image)

  3. Rick Thompson

    Saw this in original release. No interest in seeing again. This type of bitter outlook on the world I find repellant.

    Yup, I saw this at the pictures an age ago under the UK title of Meet Whiplash Willie (they probably rightly thought that most people in the UK didn't know what a fortune cookie was, I didn't), Matthau and Lemmon's wife are lowlifes, but Lemmon & the guy who injured him are good guys.

  4. I've always considered Wilder's acerbic, cynical viewpoint to be pretty spot on with reality. As for this film, watched my copy last weekend, it's wonderful and the transfer is impeccable.

  5. Just watched this gem for the first time.

    Matthau and Lemmon team up for the first time here. It is Walter Matthau's first time working with Director Billy Wilder, but Jack Lemmon is a seasoned pro. Together, they make cinema magic; it would not be the last time they would partner, appearing in seven other films together.

    Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond deliver a witty, sharp take on the insurance scam, a screenplay filled with funny quips and witty one liners.

    Matthau is the star of the picture, winning a much-deserved supporting Oscar for his leading performance. But Jack Lemmon holds his own, and is very good too. Lemmon appears as if he is having a ball zooming around the sets in his motorized wheelchair as the "crippled" cameraman, while Matthau is in his element as the shady "Whiplash Willy", out to score a big payout for his "injured" brother-in-law.

    Not to be forgotten is the football player who injured Harry Hinkle, Luther 'Boom Boom' Jackson (played by Ron Rich). Rich is very believable as the brooding, morose footballer, depressed at hurting Hinkle.

    As a dark comedy, the picture is much along the lines of The Apartment in terms of atmosphere. But the films wins with perfect direction, a brilliant screenplay, and a standout performance from Walter Matthau.

    Twilight Time's Blu Ray is nearly perfect; grey scale is spot on and the overall picture is very sharp. There are hardly any spots, artifacts, or dust, dirt and other anomalies. There is one big one I noticed, a white spot that appears for one frame. Other than that, I didn't see really anything else except maybe one spec. The picture looks amazing. Audio is likewise perfect, with no hiss, hum, crackle, or other extraneous noise present. the Mono 2.0 soundtrack is just fine; a surround-sound track wouldn't have a chance to be utilized fully.

    There are no bonus features, really, beside's the film's trailer (which should be mandatory on ALL releases, ever), Twilight Time's perennial isolated score track, and booklet with essay by Julie Kirgo (as good as ever).

    In the end, I liked this film. It wasn't what I expected, but I enjoyed it. I've loved Matthau and Lemmon since the first time I saw Grumpy Old Men, and I think they work very well together every time. Billy Wilder has worked with Ray Milland, Gregory Peck, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Charles Laughton, Fred MacMurray, Marlene Dietrich, William Holden, Jean Arthur, Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Erich Von Stroheim, and many others, a vertitable who's who of golden age cinema, and in each instance, has crafted a masterpiece. Billy Wilder, one of the greatest directors of all time, can take the most innocuous subject and make a hit out of it. The Fortune Cookie proves this true.

    Video: 4.75/5
    Audio: 5/5
    Bonus: 2/5

    Overall: 4/5

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