James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
THE FORTUNE COOKIE
Billy Wilder’s (THE APARTMENT) 1966 classic comedy THE FORTUNE COOKIE marked the first collaboration with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. The iconic duo would end up collaborating for the next 30 plus years. Wilder had a reputation as a chippy filmmaker who could use his personality and turn it into some great comedies that pushed boundaries and thrilling audiences alike.
THE FORTUNE COOKIE is about a grifter and a reluctant television cameraman who just may have stumbled into a fortune. The film plays upon Lemmon’s reluctance to the long con and Matthau’s ability to channel the energy of America’s favorite dirtbag. Harry Hinkle (Lemmon) is inadvertently injured when football player Luther “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich) crashes into the cameraman during the game. Even though Hinkle’s injuries are minor, he’s recruited by Boom Boom’s sleazy brother-in-law “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich to sue the pads of his wealthy in law, comedy ensues.
Wilder was a master of his generation with comedy, and THE FORTUNE COOKIE is another top-tier film, and SOME LIKE IT HOT and THE APARTMENT. The best part of this film, along with THE APARTMENT, is watching Jack Lemmon squirm at every awkward moment or cruel joke played at his expense. What makes Wilder’s films so enjoyable today is the humanity surrounding the farce, and despite his reputation, each of his films is ultimately sweet and hopeful.
RENT/BUY: Fans of classic cinema will eat this up and ask for more; luckily Kino Lorber has a fascinating commentary track on this disc. With a smashing blu ray transfer that enhances the black and white photography, everything about this Studio Classics release is elevated. If you are even remotely a fan, snatch this up immediately. Worthy of a watch for generations to come.
LILLIES OF THE FIELD
LILIES OF THE FIELD is a history-making film with gentle themes such as kindness and morality at its center. Starring Sidney Poitier in an Academy-Award-winning performance, this 1963 film traces what New Hollywood would look like when things exploded just four years later.
Homer Smith (Poitier) is a traveling handyman who is a little salty about getting where he needs to go, but the only thing that can stop him is a little jingle in his pocket. Or is it? When Smith is roped into helping a convent of Roman Catholic nuns in rural Arizona, he just may have found his purpose in life. Director Ralph Nelson instilled the film with wholesome comedy and a classic tone about healing yourself through acts of kindness.
Rent/Buy: The thing with Kino Lorber Studio Classics is knowing your taste in films. LILLIES OF THE FIELD is a leisurely-paced film with more solid hang than a riveting drama. The film is a landmark piece of cinema that’s not entirely forgotten but luckily has been preserved for decades to come. The special features are relatively light, but that’s because most of the people associated with the film are either retired or have died. Use your best judgment here, but I thought the movie was beautiful.
COOGAN’S BLUFF was the first collaboration between the icon Clint Eastwood and his mentor Don Siegel. The film is essentially Eastwood versus counter-culture, old school versus new school with little on its mind to make that concept fascinating. Eastwood plays Arizona deputy Walter Coogan, sent to New York City to extradite a murderer (Don Stroud). When the cocky Coogan is too worried lecturing NYC punks about their manners, the criminal escapes, and it’s a race to find him before the local police lieutenant (an excellent Lee. J. Cobb) has a meltdown.
The film is a quick 90 minutes, but Siegel has yet to find his true voice in cinema as a provocative filmmaker. This film shows the primordial ooze of DIRTY HARRY and THE BEGUILED, yet the film’s themes are punctuated in procedural TV fashion. In addition, Eastwood’s performance is a little stilted, and it seems like this iconic duo had yet to develop a shorthand.
RENT/BUY: As a massive Eastwood fan, I say go ahead and purchase this. The Kino Lorber release comes with a sharp slipcover and artwork, plus a new interview with actor Don Stroud. If you’re on the fence and not a preexisting fan of Siegel or Eastwood, run away and blow your Kino Lorber budget on the laundry list of unique titles in their catalog.