Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (film)

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (film)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Oz
Produced by Bernard Williams
Written by Dale Launer
Stanley Shapiro
Paul Henning
Starring Steve Martin
Michael Caine
Glenne Headly
Anton Rodgers
Music by Miles Goodman
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Editing by Stephen A. Rotter
William S. Scharf
Distributed by Orion Pictures Corporation
Release date(s) December 14, 1988 (1988-12-14)
Running time 110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $42,039,085

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a 1988 American comedy film directed by Frank Oz. The screenplay by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning focuses on two con artists who ply their trade on the French Riviera. Although it is not officially credited as a remake of Bedtime Story, it closely follows the plot of the 1964 film starring David Niven and Marlon Brando.

The film ranks as #85 on Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies.[1][citation needed]



Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is a cultivated and suave British master con artist who operates in the deluxe hotels along the French Riviera under the watchful and approving eye of French Inspector Andre (Anton Rodgers), the resident chief of police who receives a cut of his take. Their only concern is a mysterious, anonymous character known only as "The Jackal" who has been preying on other wealthy victims of late.

When small-time American hustler Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) decides to search for easy marks in Beaumont-sur-Mer, Lawrence's home base, Lawrence recognizes that the Jackal has shown his face. He briefly has Andre arrest Freddy for conning a gold digger and release him on the promise of a bribe, but Freddy encounters one of Lawrence's past victims on his plane and realises who Lawrence really is. Freddy returns to Beaumont-sur-Mer and confronts Lawrence, demanding training in his art of the con in exchange for keeping silent. Lawrence agrees, but only as a way to get rid of Freddy since Lawrence does not want a lowly competitor infringing on his territory. Freddy's roles in subsequent cons are limited, and much to his chagrin, he is forced to play Lawrence's mentally disabled younger half-brother, Ruprecht, whose extremely socially subnormal traits are used to repel women that Lawrence has recently conned, and to whom they believe they will be wed.

When Freddy decides that he's had enough of Lawrence's humiliating tutelage and wants to go out on his own, the two agree to a challenge to see who will remain in Beaumont-sur-Mer, since there is not enough room for the two of them in the same small town. The first one to con $50,000 out of a selected mark will be allowed to stay, while the other must leave and never return to Beaumont-sur-Mer. The two select Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly), a naive and wealthy American heiress, as their target and embark on their separate strategies while at the same time ruthlessly sabotaging each other. Freddy poses as a psychosomatically crippled soldier who needs to borrow $50,000 for treatment by a celebrated Liechtenstein psychiatrist, Emile Shauffhausen. But when Lawrence discovers this scheme he pretends to be Dr. Shauffhausen, insisting Freddy's condition is one he can cure with the stipulation that Janet pay the $50,000 fee directly to him.

Lawrence discovers that Janet is not wealthy after all but on vacation as a contest winner. She plans to sell the remainder of her prizes and combine the proceeds with her father's savings to finance Freddy's treatment. Lawrence has always taken advantage of wealthy and corrupt members of society, but he does not take advantage of the poor and virtuous. Impressed and emotionally touched by Janet's innate goodness, Lawrence calls off the bet. Freddy suggests they change the challenge and make Janet herself the bet, with the first to bed her declared the winner. Lawrence refuses to try to "win," agreeing only to bet that Freddy will fail to do so.

Scheming with a group of sympathetic English sailors (who pity Freddy and think he really is disabled), Freddy has Lawrence abducted and taken to a transport plane to Honduras. He goes to Janet, who admits that she is in love with him. This "cures" Freddy of his disorder. Lawrence is in the bedroom hidden from view, and Janet reveals that he had told her how to handle Freddy's return, and that he would be 'cured'. Once a member of the Royal Naval Reserve, Lawrence had told the sailors the true story. Frustrated at being played for fools, they strong-arm Freddy into joining their party and glue his palm to a wall to stop him from escaping while Lawrence puts Janet on the next plane out of France. Despite being trapped, Freddy enjoys the party greatly.

The next day, however, Janet does not board her flight. She instead returns to her hotel room to find a remorseful Freddy there. They kiss, close the door and begin to undress. The news reaches Lawrence as he swims, and he accepts his defeat with grace. He is later seen struggling to retain composure as he waits for Freddy to return and gloat over his victory. Janet later goes to Lawrence in tears. She tells him that Freddy has stolen the money her father sent. Lawrence compensates her with $50,000 of his own and takes her to the airport. As the plane leaves, Freddy, in handcuffs, appears claiming that Janet robbed the both of them, and it is then revealed that Janet was The Jackal all along. Freddy rants his head off, while Lawrence smiles in admiration at Janet's cleverness.

Freddy and Lawrence assess their loss. They are about to part company forever when Janet, under a new disguise (as a loud New Yorker named Paula), suddenly arrives at Lawrence's villa with a yacht filled with wealthy people. While the guests refresh themselves, Janet takes the two men aside and announces that as The Jackal she has made a fortune, but she had great fun during her time with Lawrence and Freddy. Joining arms, they set out to find fresh victims.




The movie was rumored to have originally been written as a vehicle for Mick Jagger and David Bowie, who, according to Bowie were "a bit tweezed that we lost out on a script that could have been reasonably good."[2] Jagger had written the title song to Ruthless People based on his enthusiasm for the screenplay written by Dale Launer. When Jagger and Bowie asked Launer to write a screenplay for them, Launer suggested they do a remake of the movie Bedtime Story, which originally starred David Niven and Marlon Brando. Launer ended up securing the remake rights from Stanley Shapiro, one of the original writers.

Launer rewrote the screenplay and took it to Orion Pictures. The first director on the project was Herbert Ross (Turning Point). Eventually Ross was replaced by Frank Oz who preferred the Launer version written previously to Mr. Ross' involvement.


Filming locations included Antibes, Cannes, Beaulieu-sur-Mer (depicted in the film as "Beaumont-sur-Mer"), Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Nice, and Villefranche-sur-Mer. The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild was visited by the leading characters in a scene. The estate belonging to Lawrence is a private villa located at the tip of the Cap d'Antibes, and the hotel hosting a number of dining and casino scenes is the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat.


The soundtrack includes "Puttin' on the Ritz" by Irving Berlin, "Pick Yourself Up" by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and "We're in the Money" by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. They all feature the violinist Jerry Goodman.


In a DVD extra providing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, Frank Oz discusses a teaser trailer he directed for the studio, which wanted to begin promoting the film before there was enough actual footage to assemble a trailer. An entire day was spent filming a scene in which Freddy and Lawrence stroll along the promenade, politely moving out of the way of other people, until Freddy casually pushes an elderly woman into the water and Lawrence nonchalantly shoves a little boy's face into his cotton candy. Oz says audiences were surprised to discover the scene was not part of the released film.

There was no trailer for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Director Oz was shown three trailers made and submitted to Orion by "trailer houses" (companies employed by the studios who will take a movie and create a trailer). Oz didn't like any of them and as a result, no trailer was ever released.

Critical response

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "The plot ... is not as complex as a movie like The Sting, and we can see some of the surprises as soon as they appear on the horizon. But the chemistry between Martin and Caine is fun, and Headly provides a resilient foil."[3]

Variety called it "wonderfully crafted" and "absolutely charming" and added, "Director Frank Oz clearly has fun with his subjects, helped out in good part by clever cutting and a great, imitative '30s jazzy score by Miles Goodman."[4]

Vincent Canby of the "New York Times said "...one of the season's most cheerful, most satisfying new comedies" and "...blithe, seemingly all-new, laugh-out-loud escapade" and "Mr. Caine and Mr. Martin work together with an exuberant ease that's a joy to watch" plus "In this season of lazy, fat, mistimed and misdirected comedies, exemplified by Scrooged and Twins, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is an enchanted featherweight folly."[5]

Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 87% based on 31 reviews.[6]

Box office

The film opened on 1,466 screens in the United States and earned $3,840,498 on its opening weekend. In total it grossed $42,039,085 in the US.[7]

Awards and nominations

Michael Caine was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy but lost to Tom Hanks in Big. Glenne Headly was named Most Promising New Actress by the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Musical adaptation

The film served as the basis of a successful stage musical of the same name that opened on Broadway in early 2005. It starred John Lithgow as Lawrence and Norbert Leo Butz as Freddy and Broadway star Sherie Rene Scott as the soap queen, in the show named Christine Colgate, not Janet.


External links

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