Good Laughs Keeps "The Fortune Cookie" Relevant

The Fortune Cookie

Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau
Studio: MGM

Genre(s): Comedy
Rated: Not Rated

Billy Wilder's "The Fortune Cookie" may not be one of the director's more timeless films, but it is one that is funny even though it could not be made today. No, the film is not exactly insensitive (though it does take place during a time when a football star is treated poorly in the real world due to him being black), but it does take place in a time when medical screenings were so primitive that it would be easier to pull off a scheme like this one.

What scheme am I referring to? Why, a wrongful injury lawsuit, that's what! When cameraman Henry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) is injured filming a football game for CBS, his brother-in-law Willie (Walter Matthau) cooks up a scheme to sue CBS for $1 million. Since the accident was filmed for millions of people on TV, Willie figures there are enough eyewitnesses that CBS would rather settle the lawsuit before it ever gets to court. He is correct in regards to the suits wanting to settle. The problem is they want to settle for a very small amount, and Willie has a higher number in his mind.

They are so confident that Henry's injury isn't as bad as he's claiming it is, that they even hire a private detective to film and record him in his apartment all day while the case is making its way through the courts. Willie is not stupid though; he knows that the company is playing dirty, and he has plans to thwart their plans. His biggest problem may be that his brother Henry is too honest for his own good. Despite the promise of receiving a load of money and an easier life, Henry wants nothing to do with the plan.

Well, that is until his ex-wife reveals that she may come back to him if he winds up being a rich man. THAT may be something that would convince him to go along with the charade! Can he actually do it though when the young football player who has star potential starts shrugging his responsibilities because he feels so guilty of what he's done that he wants to spend time with him? Is that fair? Since this is a Billy Wilder film, you know that while all of this is a mess, it is all but certain to be wrapped up in a nice little bow by the end.

After all, though characters rarely faced serious consequences in his films, most tend to have heart, wit, and a lot of laughs. This is why "The Fortune Cookie" is still an enjoyable watch despite it coming from an era that is practically alien to the viewer. Cell phones being absent aside, there is no way a scam like this would fly today. The doctor's medical equipment would have caught on that Henry's wounds were not as serious as Willie was claiming they were. The bugging of the room and the spying would have been much more apparent than it would be today.

For that matter, a major corporation like CBS likely wouldn't go through the trouble of not paying out a measly sum of money from their pockets. I don't know what kind of money football brought in back in those days, but a $1 million settlement would be a mere speeding ticket for those involved today. That said, despite how unrealistic the ending is, it is the one thing about the movie that has aged well (and I won't spoil it because it's one of Wilder's famous "zinger" endings). "The Fortune Cookie" doesn't have much to say or relate to in today's world, but it is still an entertaining film that delivers plenty of laughs and a memorable ending.