the-fortune-cookie-oct-8thBilly Wilder first brought Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau together in this film. Sometimes overlooked, it is a gem of direction, script, and performance. Harry Hinkle, a cameraman injured while filming a football match, is persuaded by brother in law Willie (Whiplash) Gingrich, an unscrupulous lawyer, to sue for damages greatly exaggerating his injuries. Deliciously funny, cynical and worldweary. (Cert U)
Dir: Billy Wilder 123 mins USA 1966

Programme Notes

Thursday, 8 October 2009

USA 1966 123 minutes Cert. U

This film, with its ‘ambulance chasing’ ambience provides an excellent setting for the first on-screen pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in what was to become an enduring comedy relationship. Cameraman Harry Hinckle (Jack Lemmon) is injured accidentally by Luther (Boom Boom) Jackson (Ron Rich) during a football game. The cynical schemes of Harry’s brother-in-law, “Whiplash” Willie Gingrich (Walter Matthau) to exploit this situation for financial gain provides the driving force for the film. Harry is torn by conflicting emotions as he is drawn into Willie’s plans, and wrestles to deal with his relationship with his ex-wife Sandy (Judi West) and his feelings of guilt and remorse.

Harry Hinkle – Jack Lemmon
Willie Gingrich – Walter Matthau
Luther Jackson – Ron Rich
Punksey – Cliff Osmond
Sandy – Judi West

Director – Billy Wilder
Screenplay – Billy Wilder
Cinematography – Joseph La Shelle
Original Music – Andre Previn

“A bit long, but Wilder’s use of title cards to present the numbered “chapters” keeps things moving along pretty well”. Filmcritic.

The Fortune Cookie completes a triptych in which the American insurance industry becomes a metaphor for the culture’s infatuation with the lucky break. If Double Indemnity saw darkness in America’s relationship with the insurance man, The Apartment saw half the country trying to con the other half, while The Fortune Cookie showed the lengths the other half would go to get their own back.” Richard Armstrong, Senses of Cinema 2002.

Some Wilder quotes

“If there’s anything I hate more than being taken seriously, it’s being taken too seriously.”

” If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.”

“Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s.”

” No good deed goes unpunished.”

“Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.”

“An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark – that is critical genius.”

“As long as they use real nails” (on granting permission for the Oberammergau Passion Play to recommence after WW2, when he was an US Army officer – Interview in Der Spiegel ,1990)


“Terrific – wonderful jokes!”

“Didn’t I enjoy this !! Favourite quote ‘Trust your own instinct – your mistakes might …'” [See programme note for this reference.]

“Very taut – never let up. Glorious Black and White. Best line – Porkie: ‘Think he’s telling the truth?’ – ‘I wouldn’t put anything past him!'”

“In the fine tradition of Damon Runyon and James Thurber – and refreshingly free of Special FX.”

“Good old fashioned fun. Did they realise, when this was made, how prophetic it would be?”

“A lesson to us all in this troubled world.”

“Good fun – I liked the gag about foreign films!” [See ibid.]

“Very funny – a real million dollar opera. The music was good too. ‘If you’re going to tell the truth, make it funny or they’ll kill you’, attrib. Luis Buñuel.” [See ibid.]

“Very, very funny from start to finish. A real treat seeing Lemmon and Matthau together. Ever so long, though – could have been cut by at least ½ an hour!”

“Great fun, great lines – just a leetle long …”

“A nice oldie – worth reminding ourselves of how it used to be. I loved those ‘phones. I loved the quotes – top one for me in the second.” [See ibid.]

“Loved the characters – especially the PI and ‘wife’!”

“First class but a bit slow at the end.”

“A lengthy yet entertaining comedy, boosted by a great performance from Walter Matthau.”

“Very entertaining but not perfect. Mother Hinkle badly overdone – but a good evening’s fun with a high moral tone. Best quote “Shoot a few scenes …” [See ibid.]

“Amusing but sagged a bit when Matthau wasn’t on screen. Too much underlying serious stuff for such a film.”

“Not as good as expected – too long and only woke up when Matthau was on screen.”

“Curate’s eggish. Funny in parts but mostly boring.”

“1. The beginning; 2. A lot of laughs; 3. The end.”

“Quote 4: No good deed …” [See ibid.]

“Great fun but [it was] easy to anticipate each stage.”

“Not my kind of film.”

“They knew how to telegraph a gag in those days alright. ”

“Note – there don’t seem to be any/many shorts this season.”


A:15, B:21, C:11, D:0, E:0 to give 77%