Tuesday, May 26, 2009

THE FORTUNE (1975) - Mike Nichols

This Memorial Day weekend's crime viewing was all about the light-hearted con. First up was The Fortune about a group of low rent 1920s scam artists who steal a young heiress off to California after a shotgun wedding in the hopes that one (or both) of them will be entitled to her eventual fortune. After she's disinherited as a floozy from daddy's trust fund, the plan soon turns to murder-masquerading-as-suicide in the hopes of grabbing a piece of her mother's fortune in the will.

I'd heard a lot about this movie over the years, mostly about how bad it was and how it is supposedly one of the Coen Brothers' favorite flicks. This and the all-star pairing of Nicholson, Beatty, Stockard Channing, Mike Nichols and a pseudonymous Carole Eastman (writer of the classic Five Easy Pieces) got my curiosity up enough to finally give it a look-see. And let me say The Fortune IS bad. Very bad. Oh yes, it's production designed up the wazoo. But scenes that are supposed to be hilarious slapstick comedy set pieces just lay there like big dead fish, Nicholson and Beatty mugging shamelessly (and painfully) for the camera in a series of overwritten long takes/ long shots. The only real reason to watch this one may be to see Nicholson act wildly against type as a powerless dullard who has no luck with the ladies.

I get the Coen Brothers fetish only in that The Fortune features one of their beloved botched-murder plots performed by two boobs, a plot that could fit snugly anywhere into their oeuvre from Fargo to Lebowski to Burn After Reading. Come to think of it, Burn After Reading shared a lot of the same problems. Big stars acting as buffoons in a series of failed murder-extortion scenarios. Hmm, maybe they re-watched The Fortune one too many times.

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