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May 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Fortune (1975, Twilight Time)

Directed by Mike Nichols

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

It's the Roaring twenties, and lovable con men Oscar (Jack Nicholson) and Nick (Warren Beatty), intend to separate sanitary napkin heiress Fredericka “Freddie” Quintessa Bigard (Stockard Channing in her big screen debut) from her many millions. Freddie loves Nick, but Nick is already married – and so she weds wild-haired Oscar instead. Mindful of the Mann Act – transporting females across state lines for immoral purposes was taken very, very seriously back then – the trio head for Los Angeles, California. Settling into a crumbling apartment block, much like the one in The Day of the Locust (1975), things quickly go south. Freddie rarely puts out, Oscar is not keen on finding and keeping employment, and Nick is a bit of a washout as a used car salesman. The three get on each other's nerves big time, until Nick and Oscar decide that outright homicide is the way to speed things along. Their rotten luck follows them in this regard as well …

A bit of trivia on The Fortune is the fact that the role of Freddie was originally offered to Bette Midler. Things were going just swimmingly until Midler asked Mike Nichols what pictures he had done previously. Nichols, one of the hottest tickets in Tinseltown at the time, was justifiably miffed. Hadn't she heard of his previous successes, such as The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? As Julie Kirgo points out in the liner notes to this Twilight Time release, limited to 3,000 copies, The Fortune had a very respectable pedigree. Stars Nicholson and Beatty, coming off major motion pictures such as Shampoo and Chinatown, cinematography by John A. Alonzo, a script by Adrien Joyce and a stunning debut performance from Channing. It all went for naught. The film failed to click with audiences and critics, and The Fortune failed to make one at the box office. Vaguely remembered today, it’s stuck in a big pile of films about the 1920s and 19302 made by Hollywood in the Seventies – Locust, The Great Gatsby and Chinatown among them.

Actor Nicholson does bring manic energy to his role of Oscar. His star turn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that very year, while comedic, was grounded in tragedy, and audiences just couldn't cotton to him in a slapstick comedy. The film does brag many familiar character actors, but they're essentially wasted in throwaway bits. Scatman Crothers, before he would re-team with Nicholson in The Shining (1980) five years later, gets less than five lines as a fisherman who stumbles upon our heroes after they attempt to cast Channing to the sea in a steamer trunk. John Fiedler and Richard B. Shull get even less to do as investigating policeman. It's only the glorious Florence Stanley, as the trio's world-weary landlady to seize the screen with numerous funny bits.

Comedy is far more difficult to pull off than it appears, and a lot of The Fortune falls remarkably flat. When the two men decide to murder Freddie, the tone takes on a morbid sheen. This, in spite of the fact that they try to at first drown her in their apartment courtyard's two-inch birdbath!

Running a brisk 88 minutes, this Twilight Time release offers an isolated music track as the Blu-Ray's sole extra.   

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