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The Fortune Cookie

The Fortune Cookie
The genius of Billy Wilder and the first onscreen teaming of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau make 1966's The Fortune Cookie a classic that still provides solid laughs a half century later.

Lemmon plays Harry Hinkle, a television cameraman who gets injured by a football player during a Cleveland Browns game whose minor injuries don't stop his brother-in-law, Willie Gingrich (Walter Matthau), a fast-talking ambulance chaser who sees big money in the accident and decides to sue the Browns and CBS for a million dollars.

Harry initially balks at the idea of the phony lawsuit, but the idea of all that money and a possible reconciliation with his cheating ex-wife (Judi West) turns Harry around. Also thrown into mix is the football player who injured Harry and is wracked with guilt about it and an insurance company who has detectives shadowing Harry in an attempt to prove that Harry's injuries are bogus.

The creative team that won Oscars for 1960's Best Picture, The Apartment, Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond come up with another winning comic tale, a layered story with colorful characters painted in various shades of gray, except for one. Boom Boom Jackson, the football player who hurt Harry, is really the only straight up character in this farce. Jackson's guilt about what he did to Harry comes shining through in every appearance he makes onscreen and it is through his guilt that we saw how greasy the rest of the characters are, especially Willie and Harry's ex-wife, whose agendas are pretty muddy. Harry initially appears sincere but it's not crystal clear the exact moment where he comes on board with Willie's scheme.

Wilder's direction is a little deliberate, causing some slow spots here and there, but Wilder's eye and ear for what is funny is on target here, as well as his and Diamond's ability to create funny and three dimensional characters that we can't help but find entertainment value. Once again, Jack Lemmon is the perfect everyman caught in the middle of madcap circumstances and Walter Matthau's brilliant turn as the fast talking shyster is so on-target, it actually won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Ron Rich is absolutely charming as Boon Boom and I loved Cliff Osmond and Noam Pitlik as the detectives watching Harry. Lurene Tuttle has some funny moment as Harry's mother, and if you don't blink, you'll catch a brief appearancy by William Christopher, who would gain greater fame a decade later as Father Mulcahy on MASH. A bouquet as well to Andre Previn's jazzy score. An underrated classic that deserves more attention than it has received.