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The Fortune Cookie

The Fortune Cookie(1966)

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The Fortune Cookie (1966)


While shooting a Vikings-Browns game in Cleveland, CBS cameraman Harry Hinkle collides with an out-of-bounds player. When Harry's brother-in-law gets wind of the case, he convinces Harry to sue the network, the stadium and the team for $1 million. As the lies mount, Harry finds himself caught between his mercenary ex-wife, who wants in on the action, and the repentant football star, who wants to give up his career to nurse his "innocent victim" back to health.

Producer-Director: Billy Wilder
Producer: Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, Doane Harrison
Screenplay: Wilder & Diamond
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Robert Luthardt
Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Jack Lemmon (Harry Hinkle), Walter Matthau ("Whiplash" Willie Gingrich), Ron Rich (Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson), Cliff Osmond (Mr. Purkey), Judi West (Sandy Hinkle), Lurene Tuttle (Mother Hinkle), Les Tremayne (Thompson), Marge Redmond (Charlotte Gingrich), Noam Pitlik (Max), Ann Shoemaker (Sister Veronica), Ned Glass (Doc Schindler), Sig Ruman (Prof. Winterhalter), Archie Moore (Mr. Jackson), Howard McNear (Mr. Cimoli), William Christopher (Intern), Judy Pace (Elvira), Keith Jackson (Football Announcer), Robert DoQui (Man in Bar), John Anderson (Abraham Lincoln), Jim Brown (Running Back -- Number 32).
BW-126m. Letterboxed.


The Fortune Cookie was the first film to team Jack Lemmon with his ideal male counterpart, Walter Matthau. Most often cast as neurotic everyman and stolid grouch, the two would re-team for nine more films, including The Odd Couple (1968), The Front Page (1974) and Grumpy Old Men (1993). In addition, Lemmon would direct Matthau to an Oscar® nomination in Kotch (1971) and Matthau's son Charles would direct them both in The Grass Harp (1995).

After years of bad timing, turning in highly praised supporting performances in films that didn't take off at the box office (Lonely Are the Brave, 1962), or were dominated by star performers (Elvis Presley's King Creole, 1958), Matthau shot to stardom overnight, after almost 20 years in the business, with the role of "Whiplash" Willie Gingrich.

The Fortune Cookie marked the fourth teaming of Lemmon with Billy Wilder, one of the most successful actor-director team-ups in Hollywood history. Their previous films together had been Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960) and Irma La Douce (1963). They would later join forces for Avanti! (1972), The Front Page and Buddy Buddy (1981), the latter two co-starring Matthau. In most of their films, Wilder uses Lemmon as an average Joe, but with a distinctly modern, edgy sensibility.

This was the seventh of 12 films co-written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, including Love in the Afternoon (1957), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Some Like It Hot, The Apartment and Irma La Douce. They also functioned as co-producers, as they had since making Some Like It Hot. Their partnership lasted for over 20 years. Critics have suggested that Diamond's talent for writing acid dialogue freed Wilder to explore his more romantic side.

The Fortune Cookie marked the second time Wilder had dealt with insurance fraud. Unlike his film noir classic Double Indemnity (1944), The Fortune Cookie attempts to balance cynicism with a more romantic view of human relationships as exemplified in the growing closeness between Harry Hinkle (Lemmon) and Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson (Ron Rich). Critics have seen this thread of romanticism running through later works such as The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and Fedora (1978), which, though less successful financially and critically on their initial releases, are now being reappraised as surprisingly complex works of a maturing film artist.

Lemmon's scheming wife, played by Judi West, is one of a string of duplicitous blondes in Wilder's films that stretches back to include Jan Sterling in Ace in the Hole (1951) and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.

The Fortune Cookie was Wilder's fourth and last film with cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, whose black and white Cinemascope work added depth to this film, The Apartment and Kiss Me, Stupid (1964). It was his third and last with composer Andre Previn, who had won an Oscar® for scoring Irma La Douce.

by Frank Miller

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The Fortune Cookie (1966)

The year The Fortune Cookie appeared, 1966, Stokely Carmichael issued his public appeal for African-Americans to embrace "black power." In regards to the turbulent Post-Civil Rights climate, some reviewers considered the benign, almost saintly Boom Boom Jackson a throwback to earlier African-American stereotypes.

The Cleveland Browns, Jackson's team, were number one in the NFL in 1964 and 1965, when the film was written and filmed. The year The Fortune Cookie was released, the team fell to second place.

After making his film debut as Boom Boom Jackson, Ron Rich made only two other films and appeared off-Broadway in Big Time Buck White, which he also co-produced. He eventually left acting and served as producer for the 1987 Sherman Hemsley comedy Ghost Fever.

Judi West (Sandy Hinkle) married actor John Rubinstein and is the mother of actor Michael Weston.

With inflation and the proliferation of personal injury lawsuits, the money discussed by Walter Matthau's character now seems small. When he refers to the $200,000 settlement he accepts as "the biggest cash award ever made in a personal injury case in the state of Ohio" today, it gets a big laugh.

Under current Ohio law, awards in personal injury cases are capped at $350,000.

The Fortune Cookie was composer Andre Previn's last Hollywood film. At the time his career as a symphonic conductor was taking off and film work became too time consuming and a scheduling problem.

Previn and his wife at the time, Dory, wrote a title song that was not used in The Fortune Cookie. It was finally recorded, by David Pascucci, for his 2005 CD Inside Andre Previn.

by Frank Miller

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The Fortune Cookie (1966)

The Fortune Cookie was made for $3.7 million and grossed $6.8 million internationally.

United Artists sold the film with the taglines: "SOME PEOPLE WILL DO ANYTHING FOR MONEY!" and "Dough is the most important ingredient in..."

For the British release of The Fortune Cookie, it was retitled Meet Whiplash Willie. In Germany, it was Der Glcksplitz ("The Luck Mushroom"); in Italy Non Per Soldi...Ma Por Dinaro ("Not for Money...But for Money"); and in Brazil Uma Loura Por um Milho ("A Blonde for a Million").

Billy Wilder was a serious sports fan and kept two televisions in his apartment so he could watch games airing simultaneously.

The description of Willie Gingrich in The Fortune Cookie screenplay as a man having "a brain full of razor blades and a heart full of chutzpah" is actually William Holden's description of Wilder.

The theme Andre Previn uses for Harry is the Cole Porter standard "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To."

After his heart attack while filming The Fortune Cookie, Walter Matthau quit smoking and started a regular exercise regime.

Matthau's heart attack created continuity problems for the film. Before the attack, he filmed the scene in which he runs up the stairs to present Lemmon with his settlement check. After the attack, he played the scene in Lemmon's apartment immediately following. Between the two, he had lost 30 pounds. For the rest of the shoot, he wore a heavy black coat to add bulk to his torso.

When Boom Boom (Ron Rich) returns a punt during the opening game, the Minnesota Vikings are momentarily replaced by the Philadelphia Eagles.

The announcer for the opening game is Keith Jackson, although he never worked for CBS.

Memorable Quotes From THE FORTUNE COOKIE

"He's so full of twists. He starts to describe a donut and it comes out a pretzel." -- Jack Lemmon, as Harry Hinkle, describing Walter Matthau, as Willie Gingrich.

"...too bad it didn't happen further down the street in front of the May Company. From them you can collect. Couldn't you have dragged yourself another 20 feet?" -- Matthau, as Willie Gingrich, to Howard McNear, as Mr. Cimoli, who broke his pelvis in front of a small delicatessen.

"Children! Jeffrey, Ginger, cut that out. This is a hospital."
"Let 'em. If they're gonna break a leg, this is the place to do it." -- Marge Redmond, as Charlotte Gingrich, trying to discipline her children with no help from Matthau, as Willie.

"Can I ask you something? What do you think our chances are against the Philadelphia Eagles? Because Sister Veronica wants thirteen points." -- Dodie Heath, as a Nun, to Ron Rich, as Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson.

"They've got so much money they don't know what to do with it. They've run out of storage space. They have to microfilm it." -- Matthau, justifying taking CBS to the cleaners.

"Why don't you kids go play on the freeway?" -- Matthau, to his noisy children.

"Those insurance guys think they're such geniuses. What they forget is every time they build a better mousetrap the mice get smarter." -- Matthau.

"You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time -- but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." -- The fortune cookie saying that seems to mock Lemmon, as Henry Hinkle.

"All these newfangled machines. Fake! It proves nothing. In the old days, we used to do these things better. The man says he's paralyzed, we simply throw him in the snake pit. If he climbs out, then we know he's lying."
"And if he doesn't climb out?"
"Then we have lost the patient, but we have found an honest man." -- Sig Ruman, as Professor Winterhalter, proving a point to Bartlett Robinson, as Specialist #1.

"Guess what?"
"Tinkerbell is coming back?" -- Lemmon, as Harry, trying to tell Matthau that Harry's estranged wife is returning to him.

"Put on a little weight, haven't you? I'd say about seven pounds." -- Matthau, to Judi West, as Sandy Hinkle, after patting her rear end.

"Wait? Who waits nowadays? Take the government. When they shoot a billion dollars worth of hardware into space, do you think they pay cash? It's all on the Diner's Club!" -- Matthau, trying to get Lemmon to spend the insurance money before he gets the check.

Compiled by Frank Miller

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The Fortune Cookie (1966)

Billy Wilder got the idea for The Fortune Cookie when he saw a fullback fall on a spectator during a football game. According to Jack Lemmon, he said to himself, "That's a movie, and the guy underneath is Lemmon!"

After the box office failure of Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), which critics had branded crude and tasteless, Wilder needed a project with more commercial appeal. Describing his new film to Lemmon, he said, "It's about greed, love, compassion, human understanding but not about sex."

Wilder had hoped to follow Kiss Me, Stupid with his personal take on Sherlock Holmes, but he had trouble finding bankable stars (he wanted Peter O'Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson). When Lemmon became available in late 1965, Wilder put The Fortune Cookie into production instead. He wouldn't make The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes until 1970, when he cast Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely as Holmes and Watson, respectively.

Wilder wrote the role of Willie Gingrich for Walter Matthau. He had wanted to give him the lead in The Seven Year Itch (1955) after an impressive screen test, but 20th Century-Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck had insisted on casting the better known Tom Ewell, who had starred in the stage version.

By the mid-'60s, Matthau was still best known for stage work, including Tony Award-winning roles in A Shot in the Dark and The Odd Couple, creating the role of Oscar Madison in the latter. Wilder and his co-writer/co-producer, I.A.L. Diamond met him in New York to confirm his interest in the project before they started writing.

Wilder set up The Fortune Cookie as a co-production among United Artists, The Mirisch Corporation, Jack Lemmon's Jalem and his own Phalanx.

Studio executives wanted a major star like Frank Sinatra or Jackie Gleason cast as Whiplash Willie, but Lemmon insisted on sticking with Matthau.

Matthau was so eager to work with Wilder and Lemmon that he signed on for the role before reading the screenplay. When he read it, he was astonished at the size of the role. When he called Lemmon to ask why they were taking a chance on him with what was clearly the film's best role, Lemmon simply said, "Don't you think that it's about time?"

by Frank Miller

Walter Matthau by Allan Hunter
On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder by Ed Sikov

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The Fortune Cookie (1966)

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau bonded early in the production process, finding a connection in their mutual love of football. They would remain friends the rest of their lives.

Wilder shot the opening sequence of The Fortune Cookie during an actual Vikings-Browns game on October 31, 1965. The Vikings won 27-17.

When the Browns' LeRoy Kelly scored a spectacular punt return in the game's third quarter, Wilder decided to give Ron Rich's Boom Boom Jackson the same uniform number, 44.

The Browns' poor performance in the game prompted Cleveland fans to boo quarterback Frank Ryan. At a press conference afterwards, Wilder stated, "...after my last picture, I know how [team owner Art] Modell feels. But he shouldn't worry. There'll be further disasters."

When Wilder re-created Kelly's run for The Fortune Cookie, Browns halfback Ernie Green performed the feat in long shots.

For later shots of the game, the Browns were playing elsewhere, so Wilder substituted the Kent State football team. Spectators were lured to the stadium to serve as unpaid extras with the promise of free prizes, ranging from transistor radios to a new car. The latter was awarded to Wilder's wife, Audrey.

Besides the Municipal Stadium, other Cleveland locations included St. Vincent Charity Hospital and Terminal Tower. The rest of The Fortune Cookie was shot in the Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood.

Matthau had never worked with a director as precise as Wilder, particularly when it came to the script. Although the director allowed the actors to rehearse as much as they wanted and to make suggestions, he insisted they stick closely to the script.

The third day of filming, Wilder gave Matthau a direction with which he disagreed. Instead of arguing, Matthau said, "You speak kind of funny, Billy -- are you from out of town."

The three and a half minute shot of Lemmon dancing in his wheelchair to "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" was completed in a single take.

With ten days left to shoot, Matthau suffered a major heart attack. Knowing the cost of production delays, and that Wilder had been forced to replace Peter Sellers when he suffered a heart attack while filming Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Matthau got his wife to lie for him, trying to pass his illness off as indigestion or hepatitis and then calling it only a mild attack. He was off the film for seven weeks, during which time production shut down.

After weeks of accepting Carol Matthau's lies about her husband's health, Lemmon told her at the end of a phone conversation, "Carol, there's something I want you to know. You never have to level with me" (Lemmon, quoted in Hunter). He knew she was lying to protect her husband and wanted her to know it was all right.

When Cliff Osmond asked Wilder how to play the private detective, Wilder, always a man of few words where actors were concerned, said, "Incessant pursuit. Relentless. Play Javert [from Les Miserables]".

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Fortune Cookie (1966)

When the subject of great screen teams comes up, the names Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau usually leap to mind immediately. Over the course of three decades, the two established themselves as a peerless comic duo, playing Lemmon's nervous Everyman off Matthau's slow-burning blusterer in seven films - nine, if you count uncharacteristic films like The Grass Harp (1995) and JFK (1991). The most famous of these, of course, is The Odd Couple (1968), but The Fortune Cookie (1966) was their first and considered one of the best for its biting satire on television, sports and greed.

The Fortune Cookie also boasts one of the most successful behind-the-camera screen teams, director Billy Wilder and his longtime screenwriting-producing partner I.A.L. Diamond. The two made 13 films together, ranging from the Audrey Hepburn romance Love in the Afternoon (1957) to the controversial sex comedy Kiss Me Stupid (1964). Several of their most acclaimed and popular movies were with Jack Lemmon, including Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960) and Irma La Douce (1963). And the collaboration with Lemmon and Matthau in The Fortune Cookie proved so successful, the four went on to make two more films together - The Front Page (1974) and Buddy, Buddy (1981).

Despite his long success teaming with Diamond, Wilder once characterized the two of them as "the parents of an idiot child" who had to stop and think before they worked together again, wondering if they should be allowed to "reproduce" once more. The remark says less about their partnership than about Wilder's well-known caustic wit and often darkly humorous outlook on the world. In filmmaker Cameron Crowe's book Conversations with Wilder (Knopf, 1999), the Austrian-born director brushes The Fortune Cookie off as a movie made under contract, not one he particularly cared about. He even calls it "the beginning of my downfall." At the same time, however, he notes with pleasure the comic chemistry of Lemmon and Matthau and lists Matthau's character, "Whiplash" Willie Gingrich, as one of the characters he was most reluctant to let go of upon completion of filming.

So it's probably better not to take Wilder's statements too seriously and enjoy the movie as a wickedly black comedy. Harry Hinkle (a perfect Lemmon name) is a TV cameraman run down by a football player during broadcast of a game. He isn't injured, but his ambulance-chasing lawyer brother-in-law (Matthau) convinces him to pretend he's badly hurt in order to pursue a big lawsuit. Matthau won a supporting actor Oscar® for his dead-on portrayal of a character described in the script as "a tall, loose-jointed man - with a brain full of razor blades and a heart full of chutzpah." On the subject of the actor, Wilder is again not to be entirely trusted. In Crowe's book, he claims to have brought the relatively unknown Matthau from the New York theater. It's true Matthau was a respected stage actor and not exactly a household name in 1966, but The Fortune Cookie was actually his 20th film since 1955, including roles in Elvis Presley's King Creole (1958), Fail Safe (1964) and Ensign Pulver (1964), the sequel to Mr. Roberts (1955), in which Lemmon created the Pulver character.

Keep a sharp eye out for a change in Matthau's appearance in some scenes. The actor suffered a heart attack during filming, and production had to be shut down for several weeks. The scenes he shot on his return reveal a much-thinner Whiplash Willie.

A couple of additional points in the argument that The Fortune Cookie is not the disappointment Wilder claimed it to be: The film is remarkable in its use - innovative at the time - of inter-cutting between television and film footage. And as Boom Boom Jackson, the sweet-natured player who crashes into Lemmon, Ron Rich is cast in one of the first major black roles in American movies that doesn't depend on race as a story issue or plot point.

Director: Billy Wilder
Producers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, Doane Harrison
Screenplay: I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Art Direction: Robert Luthardt
Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Jack Lemmon (Harry Hinkle), Walter Matthau (Willie Gingrich), Ron Rich (Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson), Judi West (Sandy Hinkle), Cliff Osmond (Purkey), Lurene Tuttle (Mother Hinkle).
BW-126m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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The Fortune Cookie (1966)


As awards season started, Walter Matthau was the big winner of The Fortune Cookie, with a Golden Globe nomination, a Golden Laurel from Motion Picture Exhibitor Magazine and the Kansas City Film Critics Award.

The screenplay was nominated for an award from the Writers Guild.

The Fortune Cookie received Oscar® nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay. The movie won for Matthau's supporting performance.

Matthau was the only actor present to accept his Oscar® that year. He had his arm in a cast at the time, the result of a fall from his bicycle while riding on the Pacific Coast Highway.

In the early '70s, Los Angeles Times gossip columnist Joyce Haber polled readers and industry members to name the best films and performances of the '60s in a variety of categories. For Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, industry members voted Walter Matthau's performance the second-best of the decade (behind Hugh Griffith in Tom Jones, 1963), while readers voted it the best.

The Critics' Corner: THE FORTUNE COOKIE

"Billy Wilder is a cranky, perhaps even dangerous, man. That is, he is an unregenerate moralist whose latest vision of the American Dream, titled The Fortune Cookie, is a fine, dark, gag-filled hallucination, peopled by dropouts from the Great Society."
- Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"The old Billy Wilder is back with The Fortune Cookie and a case of grand and glorious larceny committed by Walter Matthau, who walks away with everything in sight and sound."
- Judith Crist, The New York World Journal Telegram

"Actor Matthau is leering, sneering, sniggering, swaggering, popping his optics, slopping his chops and generally behaving like the Nero of the Nuisance Claims Division."
- Time Magazine

"Lemmon shows how funny and touching a skilled comedian can be within the physical confines of a neck brace and an electric wheelchair. He also shows how generous an actor can be, for he must have known that the script gave the best of everything to Matthau, whose performance is a wonder."
- Joseph Morgenstern, Newsweek

"Technically, Lemmon does a superb job in the main role, but he just naturally exudes too much intelligence to be totally believable as the easily led TV cameraman. The picture really belongs to Matthau, who is rapidly becoming the W.C. Fields of the Sixties."
- Richard Schickel, Life

"Whiplash Willie, as incarnated by Matthau's dyspeptic frog's countenance, has a crocodile's eye for the main chance, the patience of a leech and a bite like a bear trap when an insurance company crosses his tracks. He is droopy but Snoopy, limp but alert -- he makes the usual ambulance-chasing lawyers look as if their brains are in their feet. Whiplash lets nothing come between him and the insurance men's money, except the settlement cheque."
- Alexander Walker, Evening Standard

"Generally amusing (often wildly so) but overlong, the pic is pegged on an insurance fraud...

"A sour, visually ugly comedy...which gets worse as it goes along - more cynical and more sanctimonious...Walter Matthau (the only possible reason for seeing the picture) is...Lemmon's venomous, shyster-lawyer brother-in-law.."
- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

"On the surface it's a complete delight, with Matthau's relentlessly funny lines taking most of the honours, but underneath lies a disenchantment as bleak as The Apartment [1960]: amoral, misogynist characters (in Lemmon's case, literally spineless) racing through ever more futile efforts to outmanoeuvre each other. The friction between the laughs and the cynicism generates more heat than most Hollywood comedies even aim at, including Wilder's later The Front Page [1974] with the same stars."
- Tony Rayns, TimeOut Film Guide

"Billy Wilder exercises his cynical tendencies in this scandalously neglected comedy...this is definitely Walter Matthau's show. His malleable facial features work overtime as he grows increasingly determined to get his treasured cut of the money cake. It's a real tour-de-force and an example to any aspiring comic actor. One must say, alas, that the Wilder-I.A.L Diamond script does occasionally lapse into redundant schmaltz. However, for the overwhelming part it is disciplined and acutely funny."
- Stephen Townsend, Edinburgh University Film Society

"Flat, stretched-out, only occasionally effective comedy which relies too much on mordant attitudes and a single star performance."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide

"Matthau's conniving, coldhearted performance is the reason to watch this otherwise unfunny Billy Wilder comedy...This is the first of the Wilder films that had Matthau's character aggravating Lemmon's, but Lemmon is so restricted in movement that he can't properly express his aggravation."
- Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic

Compiled by Frank Miller

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