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The Fortune: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

The Fortune (1975) movie poster The Fortune

Theatrical Release: May 20, 1975 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Mike Nichols / Writer: Adrien Joyce

Cast: Warren Beatty (Nicky Wilson), Jack Nicholson (Oscar Sullivan), Stockard Channing (Fredericka "Freddie" Quintessa Bigard), Florence Stanley (Mrs. Gould), Richard B. Shull (Chief Detective Sergeant Jack Power), Tom Newman (John the Barber), John Fiedler (Police Photographer), Scatman Crothers (Fisherman), Ian Wolfe (Justice of the Peace), Rose Mitchum (His Wife), Brian Avery (Airline Steward), Dub Taylor (Rattlesnake Tom), Nira Barab (Girl Lover), Christopher Guest (Boy Lover)

Buy The Fortune on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

The 1970s belonged to Jack Nicholson. The decade began with a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for 1969's Easy Rider. It would proceed to include starring roles in three Best Picture Oscar nominees, each of which also earned Nicholson a corresponding Actor in a Leading Role nomination, as did a fourth film.
Nicholson's hot streak culminated with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which earned him his first Oscar win and practically swept the ceremony by taking statuettes in five major categories including Best Picture.

If you think Nicholson could do no wrong in the '70s, however, you are mistaken. Earlier in 1975, some six months before Cuckoo's opened to vast acclaim, Nicholson could be seen co-starring with another defining figure of the New Hollywood movement, his friend Warren Beatty, in The Fortune. This dark comedy did not just boast talent in front of the camera, but behind it too. The film was directed by Mike Nichols, the Oscar-winning director of The Graduate, and written by Adrien Joyce (real name: Carole Eastman), who had penned Nicholson's decorated 1970 soul-searching drama Five Easy Pieces.

All of that must sound amazing to someone fond of American films from this era and yet such a person is unlikely to have even heard of The Fortune, let alone seen it. Despite its wealth of talent and charisma, this Columbia Pictures release has faded into obscurity, having never appeared on North American DVD in any form. That is unusual but not unprecedented. The lack of clamor over this film's home video absence in the modern age isn't hard to wrap your head around. We've gone an entire generation without this movie being available on the prevalent format. How many people do you think would go through the trouble of acquiring an out-of-print VHS just to see the film? How many would take such measures knowing that The Fortune is not particularly well-regarded? How many would track down a movie, regardless of who's in it and who made it, that simply wasn't very enjoyable or rewarding?

Getting ahold of this forgotten film recently become much easier with its December debut on Blu-ray Disc from Twilight Time, the specialty boutique label who issued just 3,000 copies of it per the standard print run of their Limited Edition Series.

Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty play 1920s scam artists determined to circumvent the Mann Act in the 1975 comedy "The Fortune."

The Fortune is set in the 1920s, a time when opening titles explain the Mann Act prevented men from taking women across state lines for immoral purposes. Con men Nicky Wilson (Beatty) and Oscar Sullivan (Nicholson) have a way of getting around that strictly-enforced law. The married Nicky has Oscar marry Nicky's love interest, the wealthy heiress Fredericka Quintessa Bigard (Stockard Channing in her first credited film role). The marriage is real, but strictly for show. The three of them move into a rented house together in California, where a love triangle emerges. Oscar consummates his sham marriage, complicating Nicky's relationship with Freddie.

Freddie wises up to the guys' plan to get wealthy off her inheritance and wants out. So the guys decide they would do better by offing the dame and then collecting the dough. The only problem is that Nicky and Oscar are not smart men. Neither is well-equipped to knock off the lady in a stealthy manner that would avoid suspicion. Their plot to stage a suicide is doomed from the start.

Killing is not something that is easy to build a comedy around. It's possible, as movies from Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace to Horrible Bosses have shown. But it's unsurprisingly a tricky act to pull off, taking the single worst thing a person can do and trying to get laughs out of it.

In her first credited film role, Stockard Channing plays Fredericka Quintessa Bigard, the "mouse bed" heiress who grows wise to and complicates the men's plan to get rich.

The Fortune has no success selling us on the murder plot. By the time that even emerges, you've probably already checked out. There is simply nothing sympathetic or interesting about our three lead characters.
The men are scam artists, eager to deceive but not particularly skilled at it. Their target is just plain annoying. Do they deserve one another? Maybe. Do we deserve any of them? Not really.

There is the occasional glimmer of entertainment value: Oscar's early story about "mouse beds" is strangely compelling and kind of amusing in a bizarre way, as told by the wild-haired Nicholson. But the narrative main course doesn't grab us and the obstacles designed to complicate and heighten the murder plot do not show much imagination or make a great deal of sense. The Fortune may run under 90 minutes, but you're checking the clock before the halfway point and counting down minutes by the one-hour mark.

Contrary to what you'd expect given the personnel and production era, this comedy is tedious and rarely funny. Nicholson may be a dramatic actor primarily, but he's always carried an air of comic subversion. Asked to carry out broad gags that take precedence over any story, he is far from at his best and nothing else here is any better.

As a result of the movie's rampant unlikability, the mystery of its DVD absence shifts from "How is that possible?" to "Who cares?" The Fortune may have drawn mixed reviews in its original release, getting high praise from The New York Times among others. But it hasn't aged well at all and those hoping to discover a long-forgotten gem from the stars' distant pasts are bound to be highly disappointed.

The Fortune: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Marketplace Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (Isolated Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 9, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Sony VHS (March 21, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

You might expect The Fortune not to look very good, having not been made available on physical home media in the US in ages. But Twilight Time has succeeded by regularly making old catalog titles look new. This pleasing 2.40:1 presentation adds to the company's favorable track record. The element shows minimal age and wear plus a pretty good amount of detail. Colors are kind of faded and sharpness is a bit lacking, but the former might simply reflect the period setting and the latter is pretty common for '70s filmmaking. The soundtrack is offered only in 1.0 DTS-HD, remaining true to the film's original monaural format. Dialogue isn't always the easiest to make out, but the recordings stay crisp enough and, as usual, Twilight Time includes English subtitles on the movie.

Save for an effects and music soundtrack, The Fortune's Blu-ray is uncharacteristically void of bonus features, as you can gather from its top menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Fortune's only on-disc bonus feature is an isolated music and effects track in 2.0 DTS-HD master audio. Twilight Time is great about including these. Even if presumably there isn't a huge audience dying to listen to such an option in full (and the effects would seem to encroach upon those more understandably wanting isolated scores),
it doesn't appear to be a challenge to the company to include this feature, so there's no point complaining.

It is disappointing to not find the film's original trailer here, but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment hasn't always been forthright with those, be it in their own discs or ones like this they license out to others.

The static menu simply adapts the cover art. It includes the company's full Blu-ray catalogue, now kindly (but imperfectly) divided by year. The Blu-ray gives you the option to resume playback, which is nice even if you can't set bookmarks for your favorite scenes.

This being a Twilight Time release, there's one last thing to discuss. The standard blue keepcase is equipped with an 8-page booklet featuring another one of film historian Julie Kirgo's fine essays, this one about The Fortune, which it places into context of the 1970s' film renaissance with mention of the cast and crew's other seminal credits and of other notable films from the time set in the '20s and '30s.

The police confession of Nicky (Warren Beatty) and Oscar (Jack Nicholson) takes an interesting twist in the final scene of "The Fortune."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Fortune is about as disappointing and unpleasant as a 1970s film boasting so much talent on either side of the camera can be. Short on laughs and even shorter on logic, this irritating comedy may not deserve its present obscurity, but nor does it demand to be discovered.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray Disc is basic but agreeable and surely represents a significant upgrade over the long out-of-print pan and scan VHS you'd previously have to settle for. (It's also now available to buy, but not rent, on Amazon Instant Video.)

Buy The Fortune on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Jack Nicholson: The Postman Always Rings Twice Chinatown One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest How Do You Know The Shining
Warren Beatty: Ishtar Dick Tracy Lilith | Stockard Channing: Multiple Sarcasms | Directed by Mike Nichols: The Graduate
1975: Nashville Jaws The Killer Elite Escape from Witch Mountain

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Reviewed January 5, 2015.



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