The Fortune Cookie
One doesn't come across many people who want to dispute the classic status of The Fortune Cookie. Why would they? It's hard to go wrong with director Billy Wilder, and when you add Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau into the mix, it's darn near impossible. Now that the rapid-fire con flick has made its way to DVD, film fans can learn to appreciate all over again what happens when Hollywood mixes a razor-sharp script, a top-notch director, and two Academy Award-winning actors. In fact, Matthau won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this movie, in which he plays ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyer Willie Gingrich, a delightfully devious, pompous, clever fellow who never stops scheming. "If you shake hands with him, I suggest you count your fingers," says another character of "Whiplash Willie." Willie feels like a gold mine has dropped into his lap when his brother-in-law Harry Hinkle, a TV cameraman, gets clobbered by a star football player and trips over a misplaced tarp while filming a Cleveland Browns game. Sure, Harry only suffered a mild concussion, but he also has a childhood spinal injury, which Willie plans to milk to the tune of $1 million. All he has to do is convince Harry played by Lemmon at his smug-nice-guy best to go along with the plan, faking a collection of more serious nerve-related injuries. Unfortunately, Harry has a conscience, which really kicks in after he gets a fortune cookie with the inauspicious warning "You can't fool all of the people all of the time." But Willie quickly discovers how to get around that little obstacle he convinces Harry that Harry's selfish ex-wife Sandy (blonde bombshell Judi West) will feel so sorry for him that she's bound to want to get back together. Lemmon shines as the conflicted, hopeful Harry, and Ron Rich turns in an earnest performance as guilt-ridden Browns player "Boom Boom" Jackson," but The Fortune Cookie is Matthau's movie. His Willie never stops thinking; indeed, the more he has to plot and connive, the more gleeful he gets. He anticipates every challenge with a smile and never backs down. Yes, he's a money-grubbing shyster, but it's impossible not to like him. He looks particularly great in MGM's crisp black-and-white 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The disc's sound options are somewhat limited English and French mono and French and Spanish subtitles but they're more than adequate for a movie that's more about zingers and one-liners than speaker-blasting sound effects. The only special feature is the film's original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.