The End of a Great Run: Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie

May 23, 2017 | By

Never mind Jack Lemmon – look at the boxy camera designed by engineers for functionality instead of a cameraman’s back, eyes, neck, and shoulders. Not fun, especially since all that weight is directed to the right hand and wrist.

Yesterday was Victoria Day in Canada, that unique Commonwealth tradition in which we send fireworks into the sky in tribute of unsmiling Queen Victoria.

How much the pouting monarch resonates among revelers as the years progress is up for debate, but it gives most people a day off – something that ought to happen at least once a month in my book.

Posted today is a review of Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie (1966), known more for the first screen pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

The chemistry between the pair is undeniable, but Matthau steals the film as a scheming personal injury lawyer who uses his wounded brother-in-law to fleece corporate and civic entities. Our lack of sympathy for greedy figures remains eternal, but there are many more aspects to this bubbly tale that makes the film ripe for a remake.

I know, it’s the lowest form of flattery when Hollywood remakes and re-imagines a film / franchise, but Fortune Cookie feels so modern because 1) lawyer jokes still resonate (“What do you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start!”); the news is frequently peppered with outrageous figures abusing the law with nuisance lawsuits, and remaining free to roam and ruin lives instead of being tossed in jail; and much of Wilder’s plotting remains highly contemporary.

A remake would probably change the genders of one character and have the two fall in love, but it’s doable. Mind you, nothing could top the black humour and cynicism of Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s script, nor take the place of Matthau, who deservedly won a Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a lovely transfer and isolated stereo track of Andre Previn’s score, and while not a perfect film for reasons detailed in the review, it has more than a few belly-laughs, especially an elaborate sequence capped with one of the funniest closing lines in Wilder’s filmography.

Coming shortly: a review of Get Out (2017), Jordan Peele’s outstanding little shocker that pulled in deserved critical praise and substantial box office revenues for a film with an impossibly low budget.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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