The Fortune Cookie (1966) – A Review
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in their first big-screen pairing. Directed by the great Billy Wilder!
And it turns out just ok.
Harry Hinkle (Lemmon) is a football cameraman injured in an accident by football player Luthor “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich). Hinkle’s shyster lawyer brother-in-law “Whiplash” Willie (Matthau) sees dollar signs and convinces Harry to play up his injury for a big payday from the insurance company. Harry goes along with it thinking the cash will lure his ex-wife Sandy (Judi West) back to him.
This is setting the stage for a bunch of comedic misunderstandings, greed, suspicion and guilt! There’s the insurance company who is skeptical of Hinkle’s injury. “Boom Boom” believing he inflicted the worst on poor Harry. Sandy reconsidering going back to her ex now that he’s due for a rainfall of loot. Willie wanting to squeeze out as much as he can out of Harry’s ‘injury’. And poor Harry who we’re waiting to see how long he can fake this!
No surprise, Lemmon and Matthau have great chemistry. I don’t know what it was about those two, but watching them they seem made for each other. No matter how bad a movie they were in, just the pairing of them guarantees some sparks of magic. They could have probably been a successful comedy team who only exclusively worked with each other.
It’s their scenes together that is the reason to check out The Fortune Cookie. You can see that chemistry already in full swing as if they’d worked together dozens of times already. And there’s some great back and forth between them. Plus, you get to see Matthau in his Oscar winning role of the ambulance-chasing lawyer. Just that casting by itself sounds like a given for some laughs and yep he gives them.
The rest of the film becomes mainly a one-joke premise that doesn’t excel to full-blown belly laughs. Things really start to lag as “Boom Boom” cares for Lemmon who genuinely believes he’s injured. Guilt naturally begins to weigh on Lemmon who is a good guy, but Matthau is insistent he keep up the charade. On top of which insurance investigators are staked out across the street of Lemmon’s apartment trying to catch Lemmon faking his condition. So it becomes a 24/7 job for him to fake his injury.
It’s a good set-up but there’s really no great payoffs to it and I never thought it got as funny as I hoped it would. When Lemmon’s ex arrives it doesn’t help the story. It’s all fairly predictable and you can see where things are going to go.
Just by the casting alone you know what type of characters Lemmon and Matthau will be playing and where each others heads are at with this scam and the story doesn’t take it any unique direction. I’t’s just a matter of watching it unfold and unfortunately there’s no great curve balls that get thrown at us.
There’s the allure of seeing the first time Lemmon and Matthau were paired onscreen together, but that’s all you’re going to get. It really starts to drag and ends up being disappointing, other than a few bright moments, mainly from Matthau. For a great Lemmon/Matthau comedy The Odd Couple or Grumpy Old Men are better packages.