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The Fortune (1975)

This dark comedy from director Mike Nichols has all the makings of a sure fire box office smash when in reality it just never seems to truly catch fire. Seriously, if I told you that Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty were teaming up as a pair of con men for a roaring 20’s comedy you’d think we were about to witness the second coming of The Sting. As it turns out it’s an all but forgotten entry on their credits list that admittedly is still worth a look for fans of these two iconic leading men.

I couldn’t help but think Jack and Warren came across as a warped version of Abbott and Costello over the first half hour of this short film clocking in at just 88 minutes. To aid in the plot, the following caption is splashed across the screen to kick start the movie …. During the 1920s, in the United States, the law known as the Mann Act was much feared. It prohibited transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. Because of the Mann Act, a man who wanted to run off with a woman and was willing, or unable, to marry her, would sometimes go to unusual lengths. 

On the basis of this law, Jack marries heiress Stockard Channing, on behalf of Warren who’s currently involved in a supposed divorce. Playing like a silent film opening, Jack and Stockard are married in a comedy vignette that is sure to elicit laughter. Jack mimes “I do” and she’s immediately pawing Warren. I guess we could call Jack a “beard” in this case. Did you spot long time character actor, Ian Wolfe, as the J.P.?

So across the state line they go over to California where the likes of Hollywood star, John Gilbert, are to be found. This in reference to Beatty’s pencil thin mustache. To get there they’ll take a train where Beatty shares a berth with Jack’s bride. Then it’s time to catch a plane where Jack pulls a stunt right out of The Twilight Zone. Once in Hollywood the trio will take an apartment and we’ll soon find that Jack’s a layabout while Warren’s not much of car salesman though he dresses impeccably compared to his costar. As for Jack, he’s getting the romantic bug watching Miss Channing all day at the apartment. Not only is he looking to consummate their union but he’s got motives of his own where her inheritance is concerned.

Perhaps if he grew a mustache and slicked back his frazzled hair more like Warren’s.

Best scene in the movie? For me it’s when Jack finally beds Channing and the nosy landlady (Florence Stanley) is watering the grass beneath the bedroom window. Home comes Warren and Jack comes crawling out the window straightening up his clothes. Warren goes into the bedroom and assumes “the position”. Problem is he’s supposed to be her brother as far as the landlady is concerned who’s been watching the whole comedy of errors. Truthfully I thought this had the makings of a laugh out loud scene but again the comedy doesn’t follow through to it’s promised ending.

Moving along, the boys are going to get into some fisticuffs but will come to the conclusion that their bond is more valuable then the one they share with Channing. So with Jack the legal husband, why not set her up as a suicidal danger and just bump her off.

And so the dark humor begins and I’d love to tell you it’s all hilarious but again it only elicits a few chuckles. In large part to the appearance of Dub Taylor as a snake handler and Scatman Crothers as a fisherman who comes across the boys in the early morning hours releasing a large trunk into the ocean waters. A trunk with a drunken Channing inside it. Film buffs should be quick to point out that The Fortune makes two films that Jack and Scatman appeared in together during the calendar year of ’75.

Thankfully it all wraps in slapstick fashion as the boys get more then a little nervous when the police come calling.

I guess it’s a rather easy decision to make when picking a film to watch of Jack’s or Warren’s from 1975. All too obviously the choices should be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Shampoo. Both big hits at the box office and for my money, Jack’s R.P. McMurpy, was his finest moment in an incredibly stellar career. With all due respect to Warren’s role in The Fortune, what enjoyment there is to be found comes from Jack’s dimwitted Larry Fine inspired performance. One look at Jack’s hair and his playing second fiddle to Beatty had me thinking of the second stooge.

Far from flashy, this seems to play like the opposite of 1973’s The Sting. While the Sting was a set designer’s dream come true to transport the viewers back to the depression era, The Fortune, is really nothing more than a stage play with a trio of leading characters and a small supporting cast stuck in the 1920’s. One that also includes the memorable character actor, John Fielder, as a police photographer.

I’m not too sure how this title eluded me for so many years but then again, it’s not one people generally reference when talking of Jack or Warren. I finally caught up to it thanks to it’s being put out on blu ray by Twilight Time in a limited run of 3000 units. Now all I need is to find this goofy looking poster to accompany it.

Jack and Warren would share the screen to much greater acclaim in 1981’s Reds. Directed and starring Beatty, Jack turned up in a supporting role that netted him another Oscar nomination. For his efforts Beatty was nominated for Best Actor and scored the statuette for Best Director. Appearing with them in that film was Best Actress nominee, Miss Diane Keaton.

 

6 Comments »

  1. Wow, never heard of this one until now…the title, the story synopsis, the stars, the goofball poster…nothing at all rings a bell. And the way you describe it, it sounds like the ‘Ishtar’ of the ’70s, which of course is not a good thing. I think I’m going to pass on this one, Mike,..but I enjoyed the review!

    • So I guess I’m right. A forgotten title on the cred lists of these two iconic leading men. I saw Ishtar on VHS but have forgotten all but the look of the movie poster. Suspect I’ll have the same reaction about The Fortune in a few years.

  2. I have a soft spot for the movie. Yes, it wasn’t great (not many laughs), but I enjoyed it. The three actors are great. It does share some similarities with much-hated Ishtar (I guess Beatty didn’t learn his lesson 😉 ). As a matter of fact, Ishtar isn’t as bad as its reputation suggests.

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