The Fortune Cookie

The Fortune Cookie

theatrical film poster
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
Phalanx Productions
Jalem Prductions[1]
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • October 19, 1966 (1966-10-19) (NYC)


Running time
125 minutes
Language English
Budget $3,705,000
Box office $6,800,000[2]

The Fortune Cookie (alternative UK title: Meet Whiplash Willie) is a 1966 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) gets injured when a football player Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson (Ron Rich) of the Cleveland Browns runs into him while he is running a hand-held side-line camera 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 lawyers at O'Brien, Thompson and Kincaid (Harry Holcombe, Les Tremayne, and Lauren Gilbert) suspect that the paralysis is a fake, but 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 Gingirch has had a paroled dentist (Ned Glass) give him. The one hold out, German 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, with the hope of exposing him as a fraud. However, Gingrich sees Purkey entering the apartment building across the street from Hinkle's, 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. Knowing now that he was a way to feed the insurance company lawyers misinformation, through the watching P.I.s, he incorporates the "Harry Hinkle Foundation", a non-profit charity to which all the proceeds of any settlement are to go, above and beyond actual medical expenses. When Sandy questions Gingrich about this in private, he tells her that it's just a scam to put pressure on the insurance company to settle, and that there will be enough money in the settlement for everyone to get some.

Hinkle begins to enjoy having Sandy back again, but he also starts to see how Boom-Boom's guilt over the accident is affecting him, especially when he is booed by the fans for his lackluster performance on the field, and then grounded by the team for getting drunk and involved in a bar fight. Hinkle wants Gingirch to help out Boom-Boom by representing him, but, to Hinkle's displeasure, Gingrich says he is too busy negotiating with O'Brien, Thompson & Kincaid. Hinkle also finds out that Sandy is back by his side strictly out of greed, to get enough money to put on a first class singing act and play the Persian Room.

Hinkle shows up with the $200,000 settlement check, and shouts up from the street to Purkey that the game is over. When Gingrich brings the check upstairs, Hinkle is distressed by the avaricious behavior of Sandy. Meanwhile, Purkey has a plan to get Hinkle to break down: he shows up at the apartment to collect his hidden microphones, and while he is there 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, who gets up and yells across the street to his assistant Max (Noam Pitlik) to find out if he got the shot. Told that he's not sure because "It's a little dark", Hinkle asks Purkey if he'd 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 going on a tear around the apartment, swinging from curtain rods and bouncing on the bed, all to show that he is not actually injured. 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.

Purkey is packing up his equipment to leave, but Gingrich tell him to keep rolling, and launches into a speech about his having no idea that his client (Hinkle) was deceiving him, but announcing his intention of suing the insurance company lawyers for invasion of privacy, and reporting Purkey's racist remarks to various organizations. As he proceeds, a crunching sound lets him know that he's just stepped on Sandy's contact lens.

Hinkle drives to the football stadium where he meets Boom-Boom sitting on the bench on the field, 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.



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 ten films:

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 at the Minnesota Vikings versus Cleveland Browns game, held at Cleveland Stadium on the afternoon of Halloween 1965, in which the Vikings beat the Browns 27-17. "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.

Box office

The Fortune Cookie grossed $6,000,000 at the North American box office,[5] making it the 24th highest-grossing film of 1966. The film earned $6.8 million worldwide.[2]

Awards and honors

Walter Matthau won the 1966 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this film. The film also received Oscar nominations for Art Direction-Set Decoration (Black-and-White) (Robert Luthardt, Edward G. Boyle), Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. Walter Matthau was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor – Musical/Comedy.[6]

See also



  1. 1 2 The Fortune Cookie at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. 1 2 Box Office Information for The Fortune Cookie. IMDb. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  3. Gingrich initially sues the Celevland Brown, CBS and Municipal Statium for $1 million; the settlement is $2000,000, equivalent to $7,305,641 in 2015. In the script Gingrich calls this that 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, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012.
  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

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