Title: The Fortune Cookie
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder
THE FORTUNE COOKIE is Billy Wilder’s last Black & White feature and marked the first collaboration of the comedy two-hander Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (ten more times would follow). The story rotates around an accident prompted insurance scam, plotted by Walter Matthau, the brother-in-law of our protagonist, a sport channel cameraman (Lemmon) who has to feign his spinal injure to ascertain a grand indemnity from the insurance company. It may reminisce of Wilder’s noir chief-d’oeuvre DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), but it is a self-aware comedy, plays out effectively with a scintillating performance from Mr. Mattau (which deservedly earned him an Oscar).
The picture may be eclipsed by Wilder’s other more orthodox great works as aforementioned DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE APARTMENT (1960), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), WITNESS FOR PROSECUTION (1957), which are on my viewing lists only. Nevertheless itself is a well-intentioned conscience and guilt parable, the script derives from Wilder’s whimsical idea and feels cosseting its audience with an overdone happy ending, which is too saccharine and slackens the frisson which has been accumulated since the dawn of the swindle (we all know it will receive an anticlimax, the only question remains is how).
Jack Lemmon is as studious as usual, painstakingly exerts great sympathetic effort from his (mostly) wheelchair-and-corset confined character, which doesn’t have any cinematic idiosyncrasy to churn out, an ordinary guy who falls victim of the manipulation of his chiseled lawyer-cum-brother-in-law and the sex-driven chimera of his money-grabbing ex-wife’s comeback. Walter Mattau excels the rest of the cast with his eloquent showboating of his professional acumen and satirizing punchlines. Judi West is also very competent in playing the double-faced ex-wife, lends her role a whiff of intricacy against the stale women-derogation assumption. Ron Rich by comparison, although serves as a game-changer player in the plot, is a green banana and wanting the charisma needed to persuade viewers to (at least) believe in his side of story. The character actor Cliff Osmond, as the private detective, launches many gags which leave some indelible impressions too.
Texturally speaking, the Black & White images emit a gloss of richness and sentimentalities, the melodic, sporadic score by Andre Previn goes smoothly with the context, not Wilder’s best, but still an appealing comedy from the Hollywood golden epoch.