The Fortune (1974) Directed by Mike Nichols
Can you smell it? It's steaming? It's on the pavement, just over there, don't step in it!...oh...yes, it's a turd. Of course, if you excuse the shit analogy, I'm really talking about expectation. The cruelest way to refer to a failure or a let down, is to bring out the turd. This year, I've experienced a few. The new Cut Copy album, the Finnish election results, Spurs' collapse against Real Madrid and the book I'm currently reading; Star : The Life & Wild Times of Warren Beatty by Peter Biskind. I've enjoyed Biskind's gossipy tales in the past, but 400 pages into his Beatty tome you realize Biskind has got no real idea who Beatty is and why, occasionally, Beatty was a cinema zeitgeist. To be fair, it piqued my interest enough to revisit The Fortune, a film that has had over the years a reputation akin to that steaming pile of...oh you get the idea!
You won't find much zeitgeist in The Fortune. When I first watched this film a couple of years ago, I was forgiving. It was hard to find, a neglected New Hollywood picture that featured Beatty and Jack Nicholson, both in their respective primes. It's directed by the often good Nichols, so why was this picture so not rated? In a clearer frame of mind it's fair to say that farce, combined with hammy hysterical acting and jokes that fall flat (although there are a few laughs) just add to the general feeling that everyone was lost making The Fortune. Nichols shoots from a distance, we never get close to the characters. Beatty and Nicholson try to find some comic chemistry, but both are cast against type, so they struggle for empathy. Worst of all, you never believe that either Lothario would waste their time on the pretty yet plain Stockard Channing, even if they are trying to swindle her out of her fortune.
Saving graces here, as in most Hollywood pictures at this time is that it looks good, and the period feel (1920's) is well evoked. But an hour into The Fortune you wonder how any of the principles didn't begin to feel how flat all this over acting was going to be and if they all lost interest. A curiosity at best, sadly The Fortune's reputation is deserved. A missed opportunity still.
I like Mike Nichols and I love Jack Nicholson and I grimace and admit to liking Warren Beatty. I really love the 1970s cinema. And the 1970s as the romantic chaotic decade before I was born into this world. Yet, somehow The Fortune fails to impress me.
The Fortune is a hostile movie. I'm not certain how much of it is in the script and how much of it is in Warren's and Jack's performances (they cannot hide their disappointment at the looks of the leading lady). Anyhow, what is supposed to be funny and satirical turns into an embarrassing and serious story. It's Jack already playing his usual crazy hair-sticking-up jerk and Warren stiffly portraying a controlling and flawed lover boy. There were a few times that I chuckled though, and Stockard Channing was alright.
I guess the hostility of the film is in its narrative: how to kill a woman for her money and get away with it. That's the question of the film. When I write it down it becomes clear that it's a simplistic and boring subject matter. Well, at least she does not die that easily. Amongst all the fresh new feminist rhetoric and the joys of the freed Western woman, the 1970s was boiling over with open hatred towards women. The Fortune is a reminder of that.