I’m starting to get to the point with my TBT film jar where the fun films are getting fewer and the more serious ones are piling up. It will mean that I will finally get to see some of the classics of the 80s that I’ve always put off but it also means I’ll have to be in the right frame of mind when I watch them. Today I don’t think I could have handled anything other than this light-hearted crime caper. It’s been my day off and I’ve been super lazy all day. So lazy, in fact, that I fell asleep during my initial viewing of this film and missed a good chunk of the story. Once I’d been revitalised by my nap I went back and finished it properly. I don’t think my inability to stay awake was caused by the film itself. More the fact that my bastard body clock refuses to let me sleep in when I’m not working. The problem with working 7am shifts during the week means I’ve not had a proper lie in for years. I miss my uni days when I could genuinely sleep in all morning and not give a shit. Also, back in those days, because I had so little contact time, I could watch at least 3 films in one day.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a comedy film that is based on the 1964 film Bedtime Story starring David Niven and Marlon Brando. A film that, by all accounts, wasn’t received with enough praise that it was the most obvious choice people to be desperate to remake. But they were. It all started with David Bowie and Mick Jagger who saw it as the perfect way to kick-start their respective film careers. Then Eddie Murphy signed on instead. Then, after many changes in cast and crew, the final film was made with mega stars Michael Caine and Steve Martin. And, as wonderful as they both are as performers, I can’t help but wonder what this film would have been with Bowie and Jagger in the main roles. I mean we’ve all seen how well they collaborated on that ‘Dancing in the Streets’ video.
Still, Caine and Martin are who we were left with. The pair play two conmen who enter into a competition to swindle a young heiress out of $50,000. As it’s essentially a buddy film, the two men couldn’t be more different. Michael Caine plays the suave and sophisticated gent, Lawrence Jamieson, who uses his finesse to get desperate women to hand over their cash. Steve Martin plays the brash and opportunistic hustler, Freddy Benson, who is willing to use whatever lie he can think of to tug on people’s heartstrings. The pair come together in a small French town and, after Lawrence tries to teach Freddy to be a better con man, the pair compete to take control of their hunting ground.
Luckily, in strolls the hapless and sweet, Janet Colgate, a naïve heiress on a trip to Europe. The two men use their different techniques to approach her. Lawrence’s normal habits don’t have their desired effect whilst Freddy gets an in by pretending to be veteran suffering from psychosomatic paralysis. Lawrence then takes the guise of imminent psychiatrist Dr Shaffhausen who claims to be able to heal Freddy. Will either man be able to charm Janet enough to get their hands on her inheritance?
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is hardly the most exciting or surprising film you’ll ever see. The big plot twists are all really obvious for anyone who has ever seen a film before. But, the two main actors work really well together despite the very different styles to their comedy. Caine has a lot of fun here but is more steadied and subtle in his humour. At the same time, the narrative allows Martin to do his usual over-the-top, in-your-face insanity. There are great moments for his physical comedy and his general weirdness to work. It’s impossible not to find the partnership between these two to be utterly charming and their chemistry is the thing that carries this film.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and it is certainly entertaining enough. It’s just a shame that the work itself doesn’t give its two stars enough to do. I’ve certainly watched worse films from 1988 but I’ve also seen better. And, you know, I’d still like to have seen what Bowie and Jagger would have done with those roles. Can you even imagine?