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Fortune, The (Blu-ray Review)

12 Jan, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time
$29.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Stockard Channing.

Except for the great New York Times critic Vincent Canby, whose one Achilles heel was a taste for lethal-to-others comedies, I and just about everyone was hugely disappointed at the time in this pedigreed flop — which Columbia Pictures’ varied home outlets never saw fit to release on DVD or even VHS and which Turner Classic Movies has sometimes programmed in insomniac time slots.

Somewhat to my surprise, it now plays better than it originally did, when expectations (Mike Nichols directed) were astronomic. Inoffensively befitting its ‘PG’ rating, the result differs from the subsequent Beatty-Columbia pariah Ishtar, which opens and wraps up with spurts of hilarity while going completely to hell for about an hour in the middle. The Fortune, by contrast, is mildly amusing all the way — with another of those great Jack Nicholson performances (Hoffa and The Pledge come to mind in other contexts) that even a lot of his fans haven’t experienced.

Set in the 1920s, it’s a farce about the Mann Act and the onetime ramifications of taking even an adult woman over the state line for sex. As a result, money-hungry lothario Beatty (married) talks his doofus of a buddy (Nicholson) into marrying the heiress to a feminine napkin fortune to facilitate his own financially motivated amorous conquest of her. Shacked up in a California bungalow where the suspicious landlady always seems to be watering something nearby, the three automatically arouse suspicions from which no good can come, especially when the two males are finally motivated to murder her.

Beatty is kind of a neutral comic presence here, and I suspect that Channing’s slovenly unattractive character and performance had more to do with the film’s lousy box office reception than people think (she got the best reviews here). But sporting a haircut that would have fit in with Spike Jones’ orchestra, Nicholson and his nervous-Nelly of a turn is a consistent stitch, culminating in his hysterical collapse when cops come sleuthing. If you approach the movie in the right spirit, Jack is just enough to carry an 88-minute period piece that has so much production clout (Richard Sylbert production design, Chinatown’s John Alonzo as cinematographer) that the relatively witless Adrien Joyce screenplay (she had written Five Easy Pieces as Carole Eastman) was likely set up for a prodigious critical fall. As a Twilight Time release, of course, all this cosmetic craftsmanship is rendered splendidly.

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