While working the sidelines during a Browns-Vikings game, cameraman Harry Hinkle (Lemmon) is flattened by Browns running back Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson (Rich) and rushed to the hospital. Although Harry is fine, his shyster brother-in-law, "Whiplash" Willie Gingrich (Matthau), convinces him to
fake an injury and sue the Browns, CBS and Municipal Stadium for $1 million. Pretending to be paralyzed from the neck down and relying on an old spinal injury for X-ray proof, Harry fools a team of doctors and, under Willie's supervision, continues to deceive private investigator Purkey (Osmond).
In the meantime, Harry's wife, Sandy (West), a would-be singer who ran off with another guy, returns, anxious to get in on the gravy train.
Lemmon and especially Matthau--who deservedly won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role--are superb; this first teaming together more than justified later reunions. The screenplay by Wilder and Diamond sparkles with the dark satiric cynicism for which they are famous and LaShelle's frankly
unattractive cinematography is entirely appropriate to the unsavory goings-on. Rich's Boom Boom is a bit too noble, but his relationship with Harry is still touching. In fact, toward the end the film goes perhaps a little too soft. Despite some minor flaws, THE FORTUNE COOKIE is a very satisfying
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A very funny film, this morality tale is a deft mixture of cynicism, wit and idealism as only writer-director Wilder could do it. The only problem is that morality tales can get moralizing.