Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1988
Directed by
Frank Oz
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Michael Caine plays high-end confidence man Lawrence Jamieson working the French Riviera posing as an émigré prince whose country had been overtaken by Communists. He’s got a nice little racket going bilking wealthy women but then an obnoxiously low-rent grifter, Freddy Benson (Steve Martin), shows up and threatens to soil Jamieson’s cosy nest. Despite his best efforts Freddy won’t go away so Lawrence challenges him to a winner-takes-all competition: whoever swindles their latest mark first can stay whilst the other must leave town

The sort of ‘sophisticated’ caper comedy set in the playgrounds of the rich that Hollywood was making in the 1960s when this would have been directed by Blake Edwards and starred David Niven and Peter Sellers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels would seem by the late ‘80s to have been too silly for words. How, one might well ask, would Jamieson have a lived a double existence amongst the very people he was swindling, let alone deceive anyone with his gim-crack “dispossessed royal” routine. Martin’s grubby opportunist seem an equally unlikely character.

Surprisingly, Frank Oz’s film was a hit in its day and even more surprisingly still remains much-liked. Admittedly, albeit not in the league of The Sting (1973), once the battle of wits engages, even if it is equally implausible, the film is entertaining enough, largely thanks to Caine and Martin’s double act. Caine in particular is good although that is arguably simply because he drops his Cockney schtick (even having a credible attempt at some Strine) whilst Martin amps up his usual physicality with silly walks, face-pulling and gesticulations that are amusing enough even if, one again, low scorers on the verisimilitude stakes (he was somewhat more credible as a confidence artist in Leap Of Faith,1992). 

The only real good news is that as yet no-one has thought to re-make the film although that will no doubt happen.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst