Mann acting out.
Streaming services have done plenty to keep small and obscure films from falling through the cracks, but who is looking out for those of us who cling to physical media? The fine folks at Twilight Time are filling that gap by licensing niche movies and making them available on Blu-ray in limited quantities.
Among the movies in Twilight Time’s latest slate is 1975’s The Fortune. On paper, the film is tailor-made for a ’70s cinema shortlist. A Mike Nichols film starring Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and first-timer Stockard Channing, written by Five Easy Pieces scribe Carole Eastman, shot by Chinatown cinematographer John Alonzo, with production designer Richard Sylbert (Rosemary’s Baby), costume designer Anthea Sylbert (Shampoo), and composer David Shire (The Conversation). It’s an all-star lineup from an all-star decade.
Sadly, it takes more than a killer pedigree for a film to succeed. Star power doesn’t guarantee box office returns and great directors stumble. Neither of which explains the The Fortune‘s relative obscurity. It’s a competent period comedy, with energetic performances and a memorable final act. It’s not anyone’s best work, but it deserves better than a dusty corner of Hollywood’s attic.
The Fortune centers on two bumbling con men in the 1920s—dashing Nick (Beatty) and frazzled Oscar (Nicholson)—who abscond to California with maxi pad heiress “Freddie” Bigard (Channing). Their motive appears to be love. Freddie and the married Nick want to be together, but the only way to avoid prosecution under the Mann Act is for her to marry Oscar and carry on with Nick in secret. As tensions mount among the trio, the men admit they are more interested in Freddie’s money than her, with desperate, deadly results.
It’s hard to go wrong with ’70s-era Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. Beatty oozes chiseled charm, with an exasperation that undercuts his confident facade. He’s firmly in control until he isn’t. Nicholson is manic in a different way than usual. His Oscar is a passive aggressive sad sack, a simpleton with a Larry Fine hairdo. He bends to Nick’s will one minute, and lashes out the next. Stockard Channing holds her own in her feature debut. Her Freddie starts out naive but her confidence grows as Nick and Oscar’s crumbles, so that by the end they are all miserable equals.
Although Beatty, Nicholson, and Channing throw themselves headlong into the proceedings, the screenplay isn’t always there to catch them. After a raucous opening that introduces the characters, stakes, and scheme the film slows way down, only regaining momentum after the con men stop squabbling and move into their ill-conceived endgame. The sluggish middle section only highlights the fact that, while The Fortune has some impressive set pieces, it isn’t that interesting to look at. The 1920s are realized in near-perfect detail, with clothes, cars, and decor looking suitably shabby. The tones of grey and brown may be authentic, but this brand of comedy begs for color and style.
The Fortune‘s biggest misstep might be the title. The first half of the movie is a romantic farce, with the question of Freddie’s family funds raised once or twice in passing. The revelation that Nick is only into her for the money kicks off the hilarious ending, as the con men spiral into self-destruction and Nichols is allowed to show his stuff.
Whatever its strengths and shortcomings, The Fortune is getting an excellent release from Twilight Time. It’s a slim package, but what the Blu-ray lacks in bonus features it makes up for with a pristine 2.35:1 1080p transfer. Colors pop against deep blacks—even the browns look good—with strong detail and rich film grain. It’s the kind of presentation that reminds you why we should hang onto the Blu-ray format for as long as possible. HD streaming has come a long way, but there’s nothing like a 35mm film at a high bit rate. The audio is a slightly less impressive lossless mono track that delivers the overlapping dialogue and period pop music with clarity, if not punch.
The only disappointing thing about The Fortune‘s Blu-ray release is the lack of bonus features. I’d rather it be available without extras than held up in budget meetings, but the 3,000 of you buying the disc should know what you’re in for. The only two extras are an isolated music track available from the set-up menu, and a slim booklet with production photos and an insightful essay by Julie Krigo.
The Fortune‘s pedigree might be more impressive than the final results, but there’s no good reason for it to languish in obscurity. Nichols, Beatty, Nicholson, and Channing make this a must-see for film fans, and Twilight Time gives those fans a great way to experience the film—with an impressive hi-def transfer (and sadly not much else).
Not Guilty, or forgotten