Monday, July 8, 2013

The Forutne Cookie

I have apparently never done a full-length post on The Fortune Cookie before. That was certainly surprising to me, but I suppose that not having done so before means that at least I've got something to blog about today. The Fortune Cookie is airing tonight at 11:15 PM on TCM.

Jack Lemmon stars as Harry Hinkle, who works as a TV cameraman for CBS covering the NFL. While working behind a camera as part of the crew at a Cleveland Browns game, the play comes in Harry's direction, and like any good professional camera operator, Harry keeps filming away, even though the play comes so much in Harry's direction that he gets bowled over by the player with the football, Luther Jackson (Ron Rich). (I'm not certain how true-to-life this is; I'd have thought even in the 1960s TV cameramen were further away from the field and on stationary platforms. But that's a minor quibble.) Harry is taken to the hospital for observation even though he doesn't think he's too badly injured, suffering nothing more than a minor concussion. Those of course were the days when head injuries weren't considered as severe as they are now.

That trip to the hospital is fortuitous, as it's about to change Harry's wife. Among the people who find out about Harry's incident are his ex-wife Sandy (Judi West), and his brother-in-law Willie Gingrich (Walter Mathau). Harry knows he's going to be OK, but Willie has other ideas. Willie is a lawyer, and sees that with this accident, he can sue everybody in sight for big bucks. But those big bucks are really only going to come if Harry is actually seriously injured, which of course he isn't. If only he could appear to be seriously injured, however.... That, of course, involves a lie, and Harry and Willie both know it's a lie, but Wilie doesn't care, and Harry is weak-willed enough that he eventually acquiesces and goes along with Willie's plan. Sandy sees the dollar signs as well, and she comes back into Harry's life, even though she was the one who had left him in the first place. Harry still has feelings for her, and if this bogus injury can bring her back, well, perhaps that's a benefit.

There are, unsurprisingly, people affected negatively by Harry's "injury". First off are all the people who are going to have to pay out those big bucks: Willie plans to sue the NFL, CBS, and the people who own the stadium. They don't want to, and suspect that there might be something untoward going on, so they hire a pair of private investigators to stalk Harry and catch him on film when he shows, as he's inevitably going to, that he's not really injured. But there's also Luther, who feels a terrible sense of remorse over how he "injured" Harry. Luther develops a friendship with Harry, although his play on the field is also deteriorating....

The Fortune Cookie is a comedy, but it's a fairly dark one, as director Billy Wilder is using the movie as a bitter satire on the state of American lawyers. Matthau, unsurprisingly, is excellent as the sleazy lawyer, and indeed won an Oscar for it. Lemmon is good too, as the man dragged kicking and screaming into this crazy scheme, much the way he was by Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot (which is airing just before, at 9:00 PM). Ron Rich is believable in his decidedly supporting role. If anything, all of the cast is aided by a wonderful script, but you'd probably expect that from a script by Wilder and frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond.

The Fortune Cookie is available on DVD. There are some standalone releases available on Amazon, althoguh I'm not certain if they're still in print. TCM, for its part, is offering the movie as part of a box set.

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