A flat-out perfect classic farce, Mike Nichols’ The Fortune (1975) is a blend of sophisticated and low comedy, delicious, masterful work by actors at the top of their form. The classic dialogue walks the fine line between silliness and believability extremely well. Photography, production design, costumes and score are all top-flight. The actors have a field day with these larger-than-life but universal characters—they are expert farceurs. Warren Beatty channels John Barrymore and gives one of his best performances (and he is very handsome). Jack Nicholson is equally good in a rare truly comic role, and Stockard Channing is just fantastic—she easily earns her top billing (in her first starring role). Character actress Florence Stanley is funny and memorable in a latter-day Thelma Ritter turn.
The Fortune is like a soufflé—delicious but nearly impossible to pull off. Mike Nichols is a genius comedy director (he’s not bad with drama either.) This film is incredibly well-paced, setting the right tone and balance throughout. The Fortune reminds me of Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby. It has the same twisted logic and just laugh-out-loud humor. It has a terrific screenplay by Carole Eastman, who also wrote Five Easy Pieces (talk about extremes). If 1930s films could have been this sexually frank you could imagine James Cagney or Spencer Tracy in the Beatty role, Cary Grant as Nicholson and Jean Arthur or Irene Dunne as Channing doing this kind of material. I was shocked to read so many strongly negative reactions to this film on IMDB, but I didn’t get this film on my first go-round either. I think it’s never found an audience because it’s sophisticated and a bit obtuse; also, standards have fallen so low that many people can only accept things they’ve experienced before and feel safe with. I’m looking forward to many re-viewings and sharing it with friends.
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