Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (film)

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Dirty rotten scoundrels film.jpg
Directed byFrank Oz
Produced byBernard Williams
Written byDale Launer
Stanley Shapiro
Paul Henning
Music byMiles Goodman
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited byStephen A. Rotter
William S. Scharf
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • December 14, 1988 (1988-12-14)
Running time
110 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$42 million

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 Shapiro and Henning script for the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven film Bedtime Story.[2]

It is the story of two men competing to swindle an American heiress out of $50,000. Caine plays the educated and suave British con man Lawrence Jamieson, who stages elaborate ruses to acquire the wealth of rich women, so he can spend it on culture and a lavish lifestyle. Martin plays his less-refined American rival, Freddy Benson, a small-time trickster on the hunt for free meals and twenty-dollar bills. 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 corrupt police official Andre. He seduces wealthy and morally suspect women, and steals their money. His only concern is another con artist known as "The Jackal" who has been reported in the area.

Returning home on a train, Lawrence meets small-time American hustler Freddy Benson, who brags about his meager accomplishments. Worried that Freddy's inexperienced antics will scare away his prey, Lawrence first attempts to trick Freddy into choosing a different destination, then has him arrested and put on the next plane out of town. However, Freddy meets one of Lawrence's former marks and deduces that he is also a crook, and returning to Beaumont-sur-Mer, blackmails Lawrence into taking him on as a pupil.

Lawrence first attempts to teach Freddy style and refinement, with limited success. He then involves Freddy in his cons, playing his mentally challenged and socially inept brother Ruprecht in order to scare away women Lawrence has seduced after their money has been acquired. When Lawrence refuses to give Freddy a cut of the profits, tired of the humiliating part he has to play, Freddy strikes out on his own.

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. The two select Janet Colgate, a naive American heiress who just arrived in town, as their target. Freddy poses as a psychosomatically crippled U.S. veteran who needs to borrow $50,000 for treatment by the celebrated Liechtenstein psychiatrist Dr. Emil Schaffhausen. When Janet shows sympathy to Freddy, Lawrence poses as Dr. Schaffhausen, agreeing to treat Freddy, but stipulating that Janet pay the $50,000 fee directly to him.

When Lawrence discovers that Janet is not a wealthy heiress but a contest winner on a paid vacation, and will have to liquidate most of her assets to pay for Freddy's treatment, he attempts to call off the bet. Freddy counters with a new bet: Janet herself, with the first to bed her declared the winner. Lawrence refuses to seduce Janet, but bets 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 is able to convince 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. Instead, Lawrence leaves Freddy with the sailors to keep him occupied while Lawrence puts Janet on a plane to America.

The next day, instead of boarding her flight, Janet returns to her hotel room to find Freddy there. She declares her love for him, and they kiss and begin undressing. The news reaches Lawrence, who accepts his defeat with grace. Lawrence waits for Freddy to return and gloat over his victory, but Janet arrives in tears instead. She tells him that Freddy stole the money her father sent. Lawrence compensates her with $50,000 of his own, calls Andre to have Freddy arrested, and takes Janet to the airport.

As Janet is about to board the plane, she returns Lawrence's bag, refusing to take his money, and departs. The police arrive with Freddy, wearing nothing but a bathrobe, who claims that Janet stole his wallet and clothes. Lawrence opens up the bag to find Freddy's clothes and, underneath, a note from Janet admitting to having taken the $50,000 and revealing herself to be the Jackal. Freddy is furious while Lawrence is impressed.

The following week, Freddy and Lawrence are at Lawrence's villa contemplating their loss. They are about to part company when the Jackal, posing as a New York City real estate developer, 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.




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."[3] According to Splitsider, Eddie Murphy was considered for the role of Freddy Benson.[4] John Cleese was also approached for the role of Jamieson, but declined. He admitted in a 2008 interview that he regretted doing so.[5] 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."[6]


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 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.[7]

Critical response[edit]

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."[8]

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."[9]

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."[10]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 87% based on 31 reviews.[11]

Box office[edit]

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.[12]

Awards and nominations[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Musical adaptation[edit]

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 Broadway star Sherie Rene Scott as the soap queen, in the show named Christine Colgate, not Janet.[citation needed]


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is developing a remake of the film with Rebel Wilson attached to star.[13] Anne Hathaway and Alex Sharp are to appear in the remake.[14]


  1. ^ "DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 1989-01-25. Retrieved 2012-11-19.
  2. ^ "Movies".
  3. ^ Campbell, Virginia (1992), "Bowie at the Bijou", Movieline, III (7): 83
  4. ^ Evans, Bradford (7 April 2011). "The Lost Roles of Eddie Murphy". Splitsider. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  5. ^ Rabin, Nathan (5 February 2008). "John Cleese". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  6. ^ Palin, Michael (2009). Michael Palin Diaries 1980-1988 Halfway to Hollywood. St. Martin's Press. pp. 560–565. ISBN 978-0-312-68202-6.
  7. ^ TheTrailerGal (20 October 2011). "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) Teaser Trailer" – via YouTube.
  8. ^ Roger Ebert (December 14, 1988). "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels". Chicago Sun-Times. 3/4 stars
  9. ^ Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Variety, December 31, 1987
  10. ^ Movie Review – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels The New York Times, December 14, 1988
  11. ^ Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Rotten Tomatoes Flixster
  12. ^ Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Box Office Mojo Amazon.com
  13. ^ Kroll, Justin (4 August 2016). "Rebel Wilson to Star in 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' Remake (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety (magazine). Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  14. ^ Galuppo, Mike (24 August 2017). "Alex Sharp Joins Rebel Wilson in 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' Remake". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 August 2017.

External links[edit]