Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin
directed by Frank Oz
screenplay by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning
Orion Pictures (1988)
This is one of those comedies that I never get tired of watching. Even after twenty-five years, it holds up. Steve Martin and Michael Caine seem like the unlikeliest comedy duo, in retrospect, but when I first saw this as a kid it seemed like a perfect match. And when I saw it again a couple months ago, I noticed the butler was played by the same guy who played the Sith Lord in the Star Wars franchise. That made me chuckle.
Michael Caine plays Lawrence Jamieson, a debanaire conman who fleeces wealthy women of their riches while luxuriating on the French Riviera. He's got the life any hustler would only dare to have in their wildest dreams. Enter Cedric Benson (Steve Martin), a two-bit grifter who realizes he can achieve a whole lot more than a free lunch when he sees what Lawrence has accomplished. In an effort to get rid of Cedric and restore balance to his own life, Lawrence agrees to train Cedric on the condition he take his business elsewhere, but when Cedric eventually turns against him they arrange a wager: the first man to con 50,000 Francs from a woman they agree upon as a target, wins, and loser leaves town.
The chemistry between these two guys is astonishing. Caine's on-screen sophistication is turned up to eleven on the dial, while Martin taps into his seediest attributes. Both men are ultimately deplorable for using women the way they do, but you can't help but love them. And the antics they get up to as they try to con their target, an American heiress played by Glenne Headley, are hilarious. There's one scene in particular, where Cedric plays a paraplegic war veteran trying get close to the heiress, only to have Lawrence pose at the renowned doctor Cedric actually concocted as part of his own con. The torture Lawrence puts Cedric through to make him walk again is hilarious. It's a level of slapstick that you just don't see these days.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remains one of my absolute favorite comedies of all time. If you haven't seen it yet, you have to. You just have to.