A failed salesman and otherwise terminally unemployable, Duncan is lost in his life. Under the guise of market research, however, businessman Mr. Forbes takes an interest in him, and concocts a plan for Duncan to go to the small town of Bonenbone to marry an heiress, so that Duncan will never have to worry about employment again. Of course, Duncan needs to appear like a solid marriage prospect, so Mr. Forbes gives him a small notebook full of tips on how to behave to give everyone the impression that Duncan is worthy. Basically, Duncan must put on the airs of a mysterious rich man, go to church every weekend, never drink, never swear, never smoke and, oddly enough, get a job.
And Mr. Forbes’s plan is right on, as the bored and curious townsfolk of Bonenbone become infatuated with the awkward stranger, and Duncan finds work as a soda jerk in town. As days go by, he begins to fancy the daughter, Addy, of his soda fountain partner, Mr. Graham, even as the more well-off ladies begin their pursuit of Duncan. The other result of Duncan’s arrival is that it reinvigorates the town, and the soda fountain in particular, not always to the delight of the other businessmen. Will Duncan fulfill his quest to marry an heiress, or will he finally find employment suitable for him and pursue Addy instead? And what will happen if the town ever finds out the truth about the mystery man?
Though the film doesn’t establish its timeframe, the source novel and play were from the early 1900s and the automobiles on display appear to be from the 1930s or later. Accents and currency also reveal that the film is set in Australia. Being neither from the early 1900s or Australia, I can’t speak to the film’s veracity, but it definitely sets a unique mood that hearkens to cinema of the past.
From the credits to the back lot-style set, if someone told me that Fortune Hunter had been found after decades hidden in a closet somewhere, I’d almost believe them. The score is very Western-like, if not just jaunty enough to turn into a musical at some point. It feels like it actually came from a different era of filmmaking, more than was just being set in a different era. No doubt the source material is a big part of that, but the illusion is disrupted by the digital imagery and effects here and there that date it otherwise.
Not that the digital effects are particularly good, but it’s definitely a case of a filmmaker making the best out of what they’ve got and using new technology to augment old fashioned filmmaking tricks. For example, many of the exterior shots are re-touched photos, utilized in much the same way matte paintings were, and when interaction is required in a number of wide shots, it’s pretty obvious that green screen was utilized to add in the actors, or signs were digitally added after-the-fact. In the case of cars, it’s just animated cut-outs zipping by.
Altogether, while it has a very awkward look to it, it also adds a stylistic touch to a film that is already aping an older cinematic vibe. Amateurish? Maybe at times (in particular the cash floating on the wind sequences), but it does what it needs to do and shows a level of ingenuity on the filmmaker’s part to not be defeated by their limitations, particularly the lack of access to period automobiles.
Unfortunately, for a film based on the early 1900s play “The Fortune Hunter” by Winchell Smith, based on a novel by Louis Joseph Vance, it has failings related to almost every stage of adaptation involved. The acting is very wooden and stage-like, the dialogue rife with clever wordplay that is really too clever for its own good, with the story seldom moving forward. On top of that, there are a number of characters in the film that you can tell the filmmaker wants to bring some substance to by fleshing out aspects of their back story, but it usually works to the film’s detriment, spending time with characters who pad out the running time but who, ultimately, don’t seem to mean very much when the film is wrapped. Still, there must be something to the source material, as there were a number of cinematic adaptations of “The Fortune Hunter” from 1914-1927.
Additionally, the recorded audio is often lacking; attempts to flesh out the environment with a music bed of ambient sounds doesn’t always work either, such as for crowd noise, street sounds or birds. I get why the choices were made; something needs to fill out what appears to be a very play-like production and make it feel more cinematic. But when they’re bad, they’re distracting.
I’m at a bit of a loss because part of me wants to believe that this is an elaborate satire of films-gone-by, but the film is so earnest that it doesn’t seem like that is the case. More like someone wanted to make an updated film from a bygone era, and just succeeded in making a poor one. The vibe was right, the style sufficiently askew but the story and acting never come together.
In the end, Fortune Hunter has the type of charm you sometimes find in the bad films victimized by Mystery Science Theater 3000, as in it’s really not that good, but its earnest nature is too endearing to just dismiss. For the world it creates, and the rules it sets up within that world, it is vaguely successful. Maybe not for 95 minutes, though there is something to be said for staying engaged, if for no other reason than to see if it eventually goes anywhere. Kudos for a unity of vision and the ingenuity to try and elevate the film beyond its means; even though it didn’t quite come together for me, I can’t ignore the charm.
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