Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)


In the south of France, a posh British con artist (Sir Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters) leads a comfortable conning wealthy ladies out of their bank accounts. But when an obnoxious American hustler (Steve Martin, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) appears unexpectedly, the smooth hustler is forced to defend his turf.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“To be with another woman, that’s French. To be caught, that’s American.”

Nearly scene-for-scene remake of Universal’s comedy Bedtime Story (1964), starring Marlon Brando (The Godfather), David Niven (The Pink Panther), and Shirley Jones (Oklahoma!). I was in fact shocked to see how close it stays to the original (similar camera angles, same dialogue, Caine’s appearance suggests Niven, etc.).

Directed by Frank Oz (The Dark Crystal), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels does have a completely new dénouement, and unlike the 1964 movie, it was shot on location. The tone is different too. The original reflects the rise of nihilism in the ’60s, while the playfulness of the remake is more representative of the optimism of the Reagan years.

Being a huge fan of Michael Caine and Steve Martin, I saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels during its original theatrical run. Although I liked it, the film’s reputation as one of the best ’80s comedies baffle me. This rewatch has confirmed my initial reaction — it’s good, but not great. I much prefer Martin’s satirical comedies The Jerk (1979) and The Lonely Guy (1984). However, I do think it is a delightfully funny film.

Here comes the unavoidable question: Is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels better than Bedtime Story? Well, I liked both movies. However, I tilt towards the remake because of its beautiful locales (it was beautifully shot by esteemed cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, Goodfellas and Gangs of New York). My only complaint is that I had a hard time accepting Martin as a ladies man. Brando? Yes. Martin? Hell no!

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is lots of fun, but so is the nearly forgotten Bedtime Story. Neither film is perfect, but I recommend both movies. Also, with Barbara Harris (Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars movies) and Glenne Headly (Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy) as the woman who comes between Michael Caine and Steve Martin. Color, 110 minutes, Rated PG.


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