THE FORTUNE COOKIE

(1966)
With Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ron Rich, Judi West, Cliff Osmond
Produced, Co-Written and Directed by Billy Wilder
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

     An ambulance-chasing lawyer (Walter Matthau) convinces his cameraman brother-in-law (Jack Lemmon) to pretend he has suffered severe injuries at a football game in order to win a major damage suit. Sounds like a promising premise for a Billy Wilder comedy, but in truth, the first film featuring the teaming of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau isn't one of Wilder's better films.  Wilder attempts to recreate the magic of THE APARTMENT, with Lemmon cast as a nice but weak-willed guy who gets caught up in a scheme he disapproves of, but in THE FORTUNE COOKIE, as opposed to THE APARTMENT. there is little sweetness to balance the bitterness.  Lemmon agrees to his brother-in-law's plan only when he thinks it will win him back his ex-wife, but, in a fatal error that hangs over the whole film, we are shown ahead of time that his ex is interested in nothing but the money.  So instead of the bittersweet love story of C.C. Baxter and Miss Kubelik, the key to what made THE APARTMENT such a wonderful film, we have the story of a poor schnook who is duping everybody because he wants his wife back, unaware that his wife is duping him.  We are even told, rather obliquely, that Lemmon's brother-in-law and his ex-wife probably had a fling Lemmon is unaware of.  There is so much cynicism flying everywhere, it's nearly impossible to find any of the supposedly comic situations funny. What's left is some individual lines - and since this is a Billy Wilder film, some are quite good - and a host of excellent performances. Not only do Lemmon and Matthau show the instant chemistry that would make them one of the most popular screen teams of the next few decades, but Ron Richards as the football player who accidentally laid Lemmon out flat and Judi West as the opportunistic ex-wife both shine in their roles.  Cliff Osmond as a detective trying to uncover the ruse is also a great asset to the film.  

      But THE FORTUNE COOKIE has no heart.  Miss Kubelik, where are you when we need you? 2½ - JB

Billy Wilder     The Stuff You Gotta Watch Home Page

AND DON'T POINT THAT BEARD AT ME, IT MIGHT GO OFF!

In one of his final roles, the great German character actor Sig Ruman, a favorite of both director Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, appears as - what else? - a German doctor.   He died one year later in 1967.

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