The Fortune Cookie

After working with Adolph Deutsch on Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, Billy Wilder turned to composer André Previn for his next four films: One, Two, Three (1960), Irma La Douce (1963), Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) and The Fortune Cookie (1966).

A big sports fan, Wilder had once witnessed a sideline collision between a football player and a cameraman while watching a game on television. “Nothing happened,” he later recalled, “but I put the incident into my idea bank, where it didn’t collect interest.” The director had hoped to film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes after Kiss Me, Stupid, but due to casting problems with the Holmes film—and the immediate availability of Jack Lemmon—he opted to develop The Fortune Cookie instead. Walter Matthau, then starring in The Odd Couple on Broadway, quickly signed on.

The film’s story centers on CBS-TV cameraman Harry Hinkle (Lemmon). While working at a Cleveland Browns football game, he is accidentally tackled by Luther “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich), the league’s leading punt returner. Harry’s shyster brother-in-law, “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich (Matthau), concocts a plan to fake a severe injury and defraud an insurance company. To help persuade the generally honest Harry to go along with the conspiracy, Willie enlists the aid of Sandy (Judi West), Harry’s no-good ex-wife, for whom Harry still has feelings. Convinced that Gingrich is up to something, the insurance company’s lawyers hire private detective Chester Purkey (Cliff Osmond) to mount an around-the-clock surveillance of Harry’s apartment. In the end, Willie’s plan succeeds—at least temporarily—when he negotiates a $200,000 settlement, but Purkey uses Harry’s innate honesty and loyalty to goad the cameraman into giving up the hoax in order to defend Boom Boom.

Shooting commenced at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium during an actual NFL game on October 31, 1965. Local residents were invited to participate as extras the following day for additional location photography. The production then moved to California and proceeded without incident for the next two months—until Walter Matthau suffered a heart attack. Initially the press was told that he had been hospitalized with hepatitis, but it became clear that Matthau would not make a quick recovery. Rather than reshoot Matthau’s scenes with another actor, Wilder and his crew shut down production and waited. The gamble paid off: Matthau won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the resourceful but ethically compromised attorney; Matthau’s career as a leading actor was launched; and he and Lemmon would team up again and again, most famously in the screen adaptation of The Odd Couple.

By 1966, André Previn was on the verge of an international conducting career: The Fortune Cookie would be his last score for a Hollywood film. Previn and Wilder shared a similar background (both had fled from Hitler’s Germany to the United States via Paris around the same time) and sense of humor—the composer’s musical sensibilities were a perfect match for the director’s razor-sharp wit.

Each of Previn’s prior collaborations with Wilder had involved an element of adaptation as well as original composition: his score for One, Two, Three interpolated Aram Khachaturian’s “Saber Dance,” Irma La Douce incorporated songs from the original stage musical into the instrumental background score, and Kiss Me, Stupid employed lesser-known Gershwin tunes. The Fortune Cookie would use one of songwriter Cole Porter’s most famous compositions, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” (originally written for the 1943 Columbia Pictures musical Something to Shout About). The song is heard both instrumentally as a theme for Sandy and vocally as source music. Another pre-existing work is also incorporated into the score: The fight song for the University of Chicago, “Wave the Flag (For Old Chicago)” by Gordon Erickson, is heard during the football sequences and when allusions are made to Hinkle’s accident.

Previn’s original thematic material includes themes for the “bad guys” (Willie and the private detectives), the “nice guys” (Boom Boom and Harry) and a rhapsodic waltz that serves as something of love theme for Harry and Sandy. The score was recorded at Goldwyn Studios on June 13, 14 and 15, 1966, with an additional session on July 14. Previn also wrote a song called “The Fortune Cookie” (with lyrics by his then-wife, Dory Langdon Previn) that was “inspired by” the film but was not heard in the movie or thematically related to the score in any way; it was recently recorded by vocalist David Pascucci for his CD Inside André Previn.

The soundtrack LP for The Fortune Cookie released by United Artists Records (UAS 5145) in the fall of 1966 presented slightly less than half of the music heard in the film, but included all of the thematic material and most of the major musical episodes. While only the album masters survive today, many of the omitted cues were brief in duration and/or consisted of slight variants of cues included on the LP. Two unreleased sequences are noteworthy, however: in one, Previn employs a Theremin (recalling Rózsa’s score for Wilder’s The Lost Weekend) when insurance company doctors perform a battery of tests on Harry Hinkle; in the other, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” is treated to a stellar orchestral arrangement as Sandy arrives in Cleveland. The album tracks are discussed below in film order.

20. Main Title
Previn opens the film with a vigorous string-dominated motive (not heard elsewhere in the score) bookending quotations of “Wave the Flag” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” as well as Previn’s own waltz theme.
15. The Bad Guys
The most prominent theme in Previn’s score (introduced in an early cue, “The Brother-in-Law”) is this sneaky tune initially connected with the devious exploits of Willie Gingrich. It also comes to represent the efforts of the detectives hired to uncover Gingrich’s deceit. This extended album version of the melody is dominated by a sly solo saxophone but eventually builds to a climax with big band-style brass.
23. One Million Dollars
Willie calls The Plain Dealer to announce that he is filing a lawsuit on Harry’s behalf seeking $1,000,000 in damages. The Bad Guys theme is utilized amidst some playful scoring as Willie steals a coin (from a hospital collection box for unwed mothers) in order to use a pay phone. The final 0:40 of this track consists of another cue featuring the Bad Guys theme (called “Indian Givers” on the cue sheet) for a later scene in which the detectives hired to watch Harry continue their surveillance.
22. The Caper
Boom Boom arrives at the hospital with flowers for Harry. Previn presents his melancholy Nice Guys theme, which is associated with Boom Boom—and the guilt he feels over accidentally injuring Harry—as well as the growing friendship between the two men.
21. An Old Roommate
Sandy telephones Harry just as he is about to give up on the caper. Previn provides a tender setting of his waltz music, which throughout the film is associated with Harry’s more pleasant memories of his relationship with Sandy. The ex-spouses recall happier times and Sandy agrees to fly to Cleveland to help care for Harry.
19. You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To
While Boom Boom helps Harry get settled in his apartment after returning home from the hospital, Harry puts on a record; he reveals that it is an audition recording Sandy cut with Gus Gilroy and His Gaslighters—right before she ran off to New York with Gus. (The version heard in the film features an extended instrumental vamp before the entrance of the vocalist.)
24. The Detectives
Willie visits Harry and realizes that his apartment has been bugged by the detectives. Willie runs water in Harry’s bathtub and turns on a Jacuzzi device to create a diversion so that he can talk to his brother-in-law in private. Previn scores the sequence with variants of the Bad Guys theme.
18. Waltz of the Fortune Cookies
Sandy has returned to Cleveland to care for Harry (with her eye on a share of the payout from the lawsuit). As she dresses for bed, Harry puts on this recording of the waltz theme.
17. Second Chance
Boom Boom attempts to drown his sorrows in liquor. A bystander picks a fight and Boom Boom takes the bait, sparking a barroom brawl that lands the athlete in jail—and results in his suspension from the Browns. This bluesy instrumental version of Previn’s theme from Two for the Seesaw (1962) plays through the scene as quasi-source music.
16. The Nice Guys
This version of Previn’s theme for Boom Boom comes from the film’s final scene (see below).
25. Final Score—End Title
After exposing himself as a fraud to the detectives, Harry drives to Municipal Stadium looking for Boom Boom; Previn provides urgent string counterpoint for the Nice Guys theme (in the film, this cue is shorter, due to edits made after a June 1966 preview screening).
Harry finds Boom Boom on the empty playing field, having just cleaned out his locker to quit football and become a professional wrestler. “The Nice Guys” (track 16) is heard as Harry confesses to Boom Boom that he was faking and convinces the athlete not to destroy his career.
The two “nice guys” toss around a football as the camera pulls back and “Wave the Flag” swells for the end title card. Previn had originally scored this concluding scene with his waltz theme—perhaps suggesting that Harry has finally given up on Sandy as the object of his affection in exchange for a true friendship with Boom Boom—but Wilder requested a more playful tune for this concluding sequence after the June 1966 preview. —