Fortune Cookie, The (1966): Billy Wilder’s Serio-Comedy, Starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Oscar Winning Performance

In Billy Wilder’s serio-comedy, The Fortune Cookie, the movie that won him the Oscar and catapulted him to stardom, Walter Matthau plays Whiplash Willie, a corrupt lawyer who persuades TV cameraman (Jack Lemmon) to embellish the injured he had incurred, when he was accidentally hit by a player while filming a football game.

 

The Fortune Cookie
The Fortune Cookie (1966) poster.jpg

theatrical film poster

 

As a cynical satire, “The Fortune Cookie” is not sufficiently biting and the plot is rather slender (by Wilder’s standards, at least), resulting in a mid-level, mid-range picture, which doesn’t belong to the pantheon of Wilder’s achievements.

The movie is arguably the last decent feature that Billy Wilder directed, followed by mediocre work that signaled his decline as a major and viable Hollywood director.

Our Grade: B- (*** out of *****)

Spoiler Alert: Last Scene

The last sequence elevates the saga above its predominant verbose and semi-involving saga.  It depicts Hinkle driving to the stadium, where he finds Boom-Boom ready to leave the team and become a wrestler. Hinkle manages to snap Boom-Boom out of his state, and the two run down the fields passing a football back and forth between them.

The movie became known as the first teaming of the gifted actors-comedians Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.  They would become a popular on-screen duo for at least a decade. Their fruitful teaming would lead to 9 further films, most of which average, with the exception of the first one, The Odd Couple (1968).

 

The others were: Kotch (1971), The Front Page (1974), Buddy Buddy (1981), Grumpy Old Men (1993), The Grass Harp (1995), Grumpier Old Men (1995), Out to Sea (1997), The Odd Couple II (1998

 

This was Matthau’s first film for Wilder, who had previously cast Jack Lemmon before in three good movies: “Some Like It Hot,“ “The Apartment,” and “Irma La Douce” (the weakest of the three).

 

Oscar Nominations: 4

 

Story and Screenplay (Original): Billy Wilder and I.A. Diamond

Supporting Actor:  Walter Matthau

Cinematography (b/w): Joseph LaShelle

Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): Robert Luthardt; Edward G. Boyle

 

Oscar Awards:  1

 

Supporting Actor

 

Oscar Context:

 

In 1966, “Man for All Season” competed for the top award with the British comedy “Alfie,” the American comedy, “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” the War drama “The Sand Pebbles,” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” the screen adaptation of Edward Albee’s stage play (directed by first-timer Mike Nichols).

 

The winners of the Screenplay Oscar were French Claude Lelouch and Pierre Uytterhoeven for the stylish “A Man and a Woman,” which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar.  The black-and-white “Who’s Afraid of Vriginia Woolf?” received the Art Direction and Cinematography (by Haskell Wexler) Awards.

Credits:

Produced, directed by Billy Wilder
Screenplay by Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Music by André Previn
Cinematography Joseph LaShelle
Edited by Daniel Mandell

Production company: The Mirisch Corporation, Phalanx Productions, Jalem Productions

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: October 19, 1966 (NYC)
Running time: 125 minutes
Budget $3,705,000
Box office $6,800,000

Spoiler Alert: Last Scene

The last sequence elevates the saga above its predominant verbose and semi-involving saga.  It depicts Hinkle driving to the stadium, where he finds Boom-Boom ready to leave the team and become a wrestler. Hinkle manages to snap Boom-Boom out of his state, and the two run down the fields passing a football back and forth between them.

Cast
Jack Lemmon as Harry Hinkle
Walter Matthau as William H. “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich
Ron Rich as Luther “Boom Boom” Jackson
Judi West as Sandy Hinkle
Cliff Osmond as Chester Purkey
Lurene Tuttle as Hinkle’s mother
Harry Holcombe as O’Brien
Les Tremayne as Thompson
Lauren Gilbert as Kincaid
Marge Redmond as Charlotte Gingrich
Noam Pitlik as Max
Keith Jackson TV Sportscaster
Harry Davis as Dr. Krugman
Ann Shoemaker as Sister Veronica
Maryesther Denver as Nurse
Ned Glass as Doc Schindler
Sig Ruman as Professor Winterhalter
Archie Moore as Mr. Jackson
Howard McNear as Mr. Cimoli