Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a 1988 American comedy film directed by Frank Oz and starring Steve Martin, Michael Caine and Glenne Headly. The screenplay was written by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning. It is a remake of the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven film Bedtime Story, also written by Shapiro and Henning, and was later remade in 2019 as The Hustle, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson.
The film tells the story of two con men competing to swindle an heiress out of $50,000. Caine plays educated and suave Lawrence Jamieson, who stages elaborate ruses to bilk rich women, while Martin plays his less refined, small-time American rival, Freddy Benson. It takes place on the French Riviera.
Lawrence Jamieson is an intelligent and sophisticated British con artist operating in Beaumont-sur-Mer on the French Riviera; with the help of manservant Arthur and amoral police official Andre, he seduces wealthy women and steals their money. His only concern is another con artist known as "The Jackal", reported in the area.
While on a train, Lawrence crosses paths with small-time American hustler Freddy Benson, who brags about his meager accomplishments. Worried that Freddy's inexperienced antics will scare away his prey, Lawrence attempts to trick Freddy into choosing a different destination, then has him arrested and put on a plane out of town. However, after Freddy meets one of Lawrence's former marks, he blackmails Lawrence into taking him on as a pupil.
Lawrence attempts to teach Freddy style and refinement, with limited success. He then involves Freddy in his cons, playing his mentally challenged brother Ruprecht to scare away women Lawrence has seduced (and now, in the new con, proposed to). When Lawrence refuses to give Freddy a cut of the profits, Freddy angrily quits but refuses to leave town.
Lawrence is unwilling to share his territory with Freddy, so the two agree on a bet: the first to con $50,000 out of a selected mark wins, and the other must leave town. They target new arrival Janet Colgate, the naïve "United States Soap Queen". Freddy poses as a psychosomatically crippled U.S. Navy veteran who needs $50,000 for treatment by the celebrated (fictional) psychiatrist Dr. Emil Schaffhausen of Liechtenstein. When Janet shows sympathy to Freddy, Lawrence poses as Dr. Schaffhausen and agrees to treat Freddy but stipulates that Janet pay the $50,000 fee directly to him.
Lawrence discovers that Janet is not actually a soap heiress, having won her vacation and "Soap Queen" title in a sweepstake; nevertheless, she plans to liquidate most of her assets to pay for Freddy's treatment. Lawrence attempts to call off the bet, as he only cons wealthy marks. Freddy counters with a new bet: Janet herself, with the first to bed her declared the winner. Lawrence is disgusted and refuses to seduce Janet, betting instead that Freddy will fail to do so.
Under the guise of continuing Freddy's treatment, Lawrence dances with Janet and taunts Freddy, raising the ire of some nearby British sailors, whom Freddy convinces to waylay Lawrence. He rushes to Janet's hotel room, where he demonstrates his love by standing and walking to her. However, Lawrence has secretly been present the whole time and declares Freddy cured. Ushering Freddy out of the room, he explains that the sailors released him after discovering that he is a Royal Naval Reserve officer. Lawrence leaves Freddy with the sailors and puts Janet on a departing plane.
However, Janet instead returns to her hotel room and finds Freddy there. She declares her love for him, and they kiss and begin undressing. Andre reports this to Lawrence, who accepts his defeat with grace. He waits for Freddy to return and gloat over his victory, but instead Janet arrives in tears and says that Freddy stole the money her father sent. Disgusted, Lawrence calls Andre to have Freddy arrested, gives Janet a bag containing $50,000 of his own money, and takes her to the airport.
Before her plane departs, Janet returns Lawrence's bag, refusing to take what isn't hers. Andre arrives with Freddy, who claims that Janet stole his wallet and clothes. Lawrence disbelieves him, pointing out Janet's honesty in returning the $50,000. Opening his bag, he finds that the money has been replaced with Freddy's clothes and a note wherein Janet reveals herself to be the Jackal. Freddy is furious, while Lawrence is impressed.
The following week, Freddy and Lawrence contemplate their loss at Lawrence's villa. They are about to part ways when Janet, posing as a New York City real estate agent, arrives in a yacht filled with wealthy people. She prompts the shocked Lawrence and Freddy to assume roles in her scheme and, after sending her guests off to refresh themselves, takes the pair aside and announces that while she made three million dollars the previous year, "[their] fifty thousand was the most fun." Joining arms, they set out to fleece their latest victims.
- Steve Martin as Freddy Benson
- Michael Caine as Lawrence Jamieson
- Glenne Headly as Janet Colgate
- Anton Rodgers as Inspector Andre
- Barbara Harris as Fanny Eubanks
- Ian McDiarmid as Arthur
- Dana Ivey as Mrs. Reed
- Meagen Fay as Miss Trumble
- Frances Conroy as Diana
- Louis Zorich as Nikos, the Greek millionaire
The original 1964 film titled Bedtime Story was written as a vehicle for Doris Day, Cary Grant and Rock Hudson. It was eventually made with Shirley Jones, David Niven and Marlon Brando.
The 1988 version similarly underwent casting changes. It started as a possible vehicle for Mick Jagger and David Bowie, who approached Dale Launer to write a screenplay for them. Launer suggested a remake of Bedtime Story. Launer acquired the rights for the remake, but Bowie and Jagger dropped out to do a movie with Martin Scorsese. According to Bowie, they were "a bit tweezed that we lost out on a script that could have been reasonably good." According to Splitsider, Eddie Murphy was considered for the role of Freddy Benson. John Cleese was also approached for the role of Jamieson, but declined. He admitted in a 2008 interview that he regretted doing so. In the second volume of his published diaries, Michael Palin confirmed that Cleese "reluctantly" turned down the role. Palin wrote that he then received a phone call from Frank Oz on April 1, 1988, asking him to consider the part of Jamieson. Palin flew to New York City from London a few days later to read for the role, but was not sure of his own suitability for the part.
Richard Dreyfuss was also sent a script. Though he was intended for the part of Benson, a misunderstanding resulted in him preparing the part of Jamieson, so Steve Martin (who conversely had also been asked to play Jamieson) read Benson's part instead. Oz was excited by Martin's version of Benson, and settled on this choice. Michael Caine was eventually chosen to play Jamieson. Palin wrote in his diary that Caine was "probably the nearest he (Oz) will get in an English actor to the effortless charisma of Niven."
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 (Villa Hier) 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 he wanted to use for promotion 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.
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.
According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 42 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "A buoyant, clever update of the conman flick Bedtime Story, with plenty of comedic jousting resulting from a winning chemistry between Michael Caine and Steve Martin." At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100 based on 14 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
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." 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." Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "one of the season's most cheerful, most satisfying new comedies" which was a "blithe, seemingly all-new, laugh-out-loud escapade". He added that "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."
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.
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 and Norbert Leo Butz as Lawrence and Freddy and Sherie Rene Scott as the "Jackal", in the show named Christine Colgate, not Janet.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has produced a remake of the film with Rebel Wilson, Anne Hathaway and Alex Sharp, titled The Hustle. It was released on May 10, 2019.