The Fortune Cookie

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The Fortune Cookie
The Fortune Cookie (1966) poster.jpg
theatrical film poster
Directed byBilly Wilder
Produced byBilly Wilder
Screenplay byBilly Wilder
I.A.L. Diamond
StarringJack Lemmon
Walter Matthau
Music byAndré Previn
CinematographyJoseph LaShelle
Edited byDaniel Mandell
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • October 19, 1966 (1966-10-19) (NYC)
Running time
125 minutes
Box office$6,800,000[2]

The Fortune Cookie (alternative UK title: Meet Whiplash Willie) is a 1966 American black comedy film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in their first on-screen collaboration. It was produced and directed by Billy Wilder from a script by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond.


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.[3] 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 (in fact, Hinkle suffered the injury 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 arrives, 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 (supposedly) 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 state, and the two run down the fields passing and lateraling a football back and forth between them.



Terminal Tower, a major Cleveland landmark, served as the exterior for the law firms in the film

This was the first film to feature the movie partnership of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who were to appear together in nine further films:

Matthau stars in this film directed by Lemmon; Lemmon appears only in a very brief silent cameo.
Lemmon and Matthau play supporting roles in this film.

Matthau and Lemmon also both had roles in JFK but shared no scenes together.

Jack Lemmon originally had two other actors proposed to star with him – Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason – but Lemmon insisted that he do the picture with Walter Matthau. Production on the film was halted for weeks after Walter Matthau had a heart attack. By the time Matthau was healthy enough to work, and filming started up again, he had slimmed down from 190 to 160 pounds, and had to wear a heavy black coat and padded clothing to conceal the weight loss.[4]

Scenes were filmed during the Cleveland Browns' 27–17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Stadium on the afternoon of October 31, 1965. "Saint Mark's Hospital" in the film is the newly completed St. Vincent Charity Hospital, a curved building considered ultramodern at that time. An exterior scene was filmed on East 24th Street outside an older section of the hospital. Terminal Tower served as the exterior of the law firm. In one scene, one can see Erieview Tower and the steel skeleton of the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building under construction.


Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film, "a fine, dark gag-filled hallucination" [5][6]

Variety found the film "generally amusing (often wildly so), but overlong."[7]

The Hollywood Reporter asserted that The Fortune Cookie was "Billy Wilder's best picture since The Apartment, his funniest since Some Like it Hot.[8]

Box office[edit]

The Fortune Cookie grossed $6,000,000 at the North American box office,[9] making it the 23rd highest-grossing film of 1966. The film earned $6.8 million worldwide.[2]

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Walter Matthau Won
Best Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Robert Luthardt and Edward G. Boyle Nominated
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Joseph LaShelle Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Walter Matthau Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Laurel Awards Top Male Supporting Performance Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Comedy Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond Nominated

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b The Fortune Cookie at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Fortune Cookie. IMDb via Internet Archive. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  3. ^ Gingrich initially sues the Cleveland Browns, CBS and Municipal Stadium for $1 million; the settlement is $200,000, equivalent to $1,580,000 in 2019. In the script Gingrich calls this the largest personal injury settlement in Ohio to that time.
  4. ^ Stowe, Madelaine (June 25, 2016) Outro to the Turner Classic Movies presentation of the film
  5. ^ "'The Fortune Cookie,' Funny Fantasy of Chiselers, Begins Its Run". Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 20, 1966) "Screen: 'The Fortune Cookie,' Funny Fantasy of Chiselers, Begins Its Run:3 Manhattan Theaters Have Wilder's Film Walter Matthau Stars As Farcical Villain A Western and a Horror Film Also Open Here" The New York Times
  7. ^ "The Fortune Cookie". Variety. 1 January 1966. Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  8. ^ "'The Fortune Cookie': THR's 1966 Review". Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  9. ^ "The Fortune Cookie, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012.

External links[edit]