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DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pairing Steve Martin and Michael Caine in a movie seemed like a real odd-couple choice in the 1980s. Could the charming, stoic Brit and the ‘wild and crazy (American) guy’ really have comic chemistry? They could and they did; the film was an unexpected holiday hit. It was also a remake (‘Bedtime Story,’ 1964), and a new distaff remake is on the way (‘The Hustle,’ May 10). So now, The Shout! Factory has given the Martin-Caine film a new Blu-ray ‘Collector’s Edition.’ Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 16, 1988.

At first glance Steve Martin and Michael Caine seem like an odd pairing — and at second and third glance, for that matter. Especially when you examine the characters they play in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Martin plays a sub-par, down-on-his-luck con man with no scruples, who substitutes brashness for talent while attempting to separate women from a bit of their money.

Caine plays a polished European con artist, complete with slicked-back hair and thin mustache, who really does have the talent to take money from women and leave them feeling good about it, but is scrupulous enough to swindle only those who are so wealthy they won’t miss it.

The story line, which is almost as thin as Caine’s mustache, has Martin and Caine trying to out-con and outwit each other until they finally encounter a young victim (Glenne Headly) who causes them to change, if not change their ways.

     

Glenne Headly, left, Steve Martin, Michael Caine, 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is based loosely on “Bedtime Story,” a light comedy that starred Marlon Brando and David Niven some 2 ½ decades ago. This incarnation, however, is more like “The Sting,” though it is certainly less complex.

Caine is introduced first as the suave, debonair Lawrence Jamison, who poses as a deposed prince reluctantly taking money to help the poor people of his fictional country. He is quite successful in this con and lives in the lap of luxury in the South of France, where he preys on tourists with the help of his partner, the local police chief.

Then we meet Freddy Benson (Martin), an overconfident nincompoop who is more lucky than adept at his game. Jamison meets Freddy on a train and immediately attempts to derail him before he comes to the town where Jamison lives and works.

When he is ultimately unable to get rid of Freddy, however, Jamison takes him under his wing. Eventually he has Freddy play “Ruprecht,” a disgusting younger brother of Jamison’s “Prince,” his role being to chase away the women when they want to marry Jamison.

     

Then, about halfway through the film, they are back into competition and strike up a bet: The first to extract $50,000 from a likely victim will win and the other will leave the French Riviera forever.

Their chosen victim is bumbling but charming Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly), a naïve American tourist.

Though not terribly strong on story — and it’s not hard to figure out the twists and turns before they happen — “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” nonetheless boasts many hilarious scenes for both stars, especially when Martin cuts loose to play the “Ruprecht” character quite broadly.

Glenne Headly, a stage actress who has made a few movies, has a great impact here as the perfect comic foil for Caine and Martin. Frank Oz, the former Muppeteer who directed “Little Shop of Horrors,” has a wonderful eye for visual humor and directs the comedy very well, and Dale Launer’s (“Ruthless People”) script, with assistance from Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning, is tight and has some great dialogue. The French scenery is also gorgeously photographed by director of photography Michael Ballhaus.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is rated PG for a couple of profanities spoken by some sailors and some mild vulgarity.