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    The Fortune's Fools

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Personal relationships do not always a successful film make. Carole Eastman, who had written the plum role of Bobby Dupea in Five Easy Pieces for Jack Nicholson, had concocted another screenplay, a 1930s screwball farce. Loyal pal Nicholson took an immediate interest and brought the project to the attention of his friend and Carnal Knowledge director Mike Nichols. Meanwhile, another Nicholson buddy, Warren Beatty, despite his resentment over Paramount’s favoring of Nicholson’s Chinatown over his own The Parallax View in terms of promotion and marketing attention and dollars, wanted to team with Nicholson, right after production ended on his own pet project Shampoo. Nichols, the much-awarded stager of comedies, could use a hit following the tepid reception to his thriller The Day of the Dolphin. When the greenlight was given to a Beatty/Nicholson/Nichols comedy project and everyone’s schedule came into alignment for production to start, producer Dean Devlin – with 35 years hindsight summoned for Peter Biskind’s Beatty biography Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America – was a lone dissenting voice. He told Biskind: “I said, ‘What are you doing? You have 240 pages, two acts and no third act.’ But I was the only person there saying, ‘This script is nowhere near ready, this is ridiculous.’ None of them had studied the thing, and all of a sudden they were beginning to ask the questions that should have been asked six months or a year earlier.” Biskind observed, “It seemed as if the three principals, Beatty, Nicholson and Nichols, were all so excited by everyone else’s excitement, they didn’t notice the script wasn’t finished.” Despite the chaos, the partners soldiered on and the resulting movie, The Fortune (1975), opened 41 years ago today. The nutty period piece, about two dim-bulb con men (Beatty and Nicholson) who kidnap and try to do away with a slow-witted heiress (the nimble and amazing Stockard Channing in her starring breakout role), emerged as an unexpected slapstick delight, and benefitted from some behind-the-scenes script massaging by the reliable Buck Henry. Audiences and reviewers of the time were unprepared for a trifling romp from this talent pool and despite the glistening production values and the deft and daffy byplay among the three principals, The Fortune failed to make one for itself at the turnstiles. However, with 41 years hindsight now, the film’s very oddity, and the chance to see Beatty and Nicholson playing goofballs with a vengeance as well as witnessing The Good Wife treasure Channing’s flair for comedy emerging in full blossom in her breakthrough starring role are ample compensations for the film’s notorious reputation. Foolish behavior off and on screen made The Fortune a bumpy ride at the start but a joyride at the finish, available for your personal pleasure on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.