The Fortune Cookie (1966)

Fifty-six years ago today, the film The Fortune Cookie premiered. This is the first onscreen pairing of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. This movie is hilarious and you have to watch it.

Title: The Fortune Cookie
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Produced by: Billy Wilder
Screenplay by: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau
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
Language: English
Budget: $3,705,000
Box office: $6,800,000
Academy Award Best Supporting Actor – Walter Matthau

CBS cameraman Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) is injured when football player Luther “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich) of the Cleveland Browns runs into him during a home game at Municipal Stadium. Harry’s injuries are minor, but his conniving lawyer brother-in-law William H. “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich (Walter Matthau) convinces him to pretend that his leg and hand have been partially paralyzed, so they can receive a huge indemnity from the insurance company. Harry reluctantly goes along with the scheme because he is still in love with his ex-wife, Sandy (Judi West), and being injured might bring her back.

The insurance company’s lawyers at O’Brien, Thompson and Kincaid (Harry Holcombe, Les Tremayne, and Lauren Gilbert) suspect that the paralysis is a fake. All but one of their medical experts say that it is real, convinced by the remnants of a compressed vertebra Hinkle suffered as a child, and Hinkle’s responses, helped by the numbing shots of novocaine Gingrich has had a paroled dentist (Ned Glass) give him. The one holdout, Swiss Professor Winterhalter (Sig Ruman), is convinced that Hinkle is a fake.

With no medical evidence to base their case on, O’Brien, Thompson and Kincaid hire Cleveland’s best private detective, Chester Purkey (Cliff Osmond), to keep Hinkle under constant surveillance. However, Gingrich sees Purkey entering the apartment building across the street and lets Hinkle know they are being watched and recorded – and after Sandy returns, warns him not to indulge in any hanky panky with her. He proceeds to feed misinformation to Purkey; he incorporates the “Harry Hinkle Foundation”, a non-profit charity to which all the proceeds of any settlement are to go, above and beyond the medical expenses. When Sandy questions Gingrich about this in private, he tells her that it is just a scam to put pressure on the insurance company to settle, and that there will be enough money in the settlement for everyone.

Hinkle begins to enjoy having Sandy back again, but he feels bad when he sees that Boom-Boom is so guilt-ridden, his performance on the field suffers; he is booed by the fans and then grounded by the team for getting drunk and involved in a bar fight. Hinkle wants Gingrich to represent Boom-Boom, but to Hinkle’s displeasure, Gingrich says he is too busy negotiating with O’Brien, Thompson & Kincaid. Hinkle also finds out that Sandy has returned to him strictly out of greed.

Hinkle obtains a $200,000 settlement check. However, Purkey has a plan to expose the scam. He shows up at the apartment to collect his hidden microphones. He begins to make racist remarks about Boom-Boom and “our black brothers” getting out of hand. Hinkle, incensed, jumps up out his wheelchair and decks Purkey, but Purkey’s assistant Max (Noam Pitlik) is not sure he recorded it on film because “It’s a little dark”. Hinkle asks Purkey if he would like a second take, turns on a light and advises the cameraman how to set his exposure. He then punches Purkey again, and follows up by swinging from curtain rods and bouncing on the bed. Sandy is crawling on the floor looking for her lost contact lens, and just before he leaves the apartment, Hinkle roughly pushes her down to the ground with his foot. Gingrich claims he had no idea that his client was deceiving him, and announces his intention to sue the insurance company lawyers for invasion of privacy and report Purkey’s racist remarks to various organizations.

Hinkle drives to the stadium, where he finds Boom-Boom ready to leave the team and perhaps become a wrestler named “The Dark Angel”. Hinkle manages to snap Boom-Boom out of his funk, and the two run down the fields passing and lateraling a football back and forth between them.

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