Plot: What’s it about?
I have recently been teaching my children about films that I watched growing up. In our household of six, (two sisters, one brother, two parents) there were limited choices that could please every single family member. Films like Twins, ¡Three Amigos!, and Top Gun seemed to constantly be playing on a television. Unless my big sister had the pick for the evening and then it would be Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. All of these movies informed my sensibilities and inspired me to a certain extent. None more so than Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Directed by Frank Oz and starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, this is one of my favorite films of all time and a staple at our current household of four.
The plot revolves around two con men. A rich English con man, Lawrence Jameson (Michael Caine,) specializing in conning rich women, meets a brash American con man, Freddy Benson (Steve Martin,) on a train ride to Zurich. Lawrence lives in Beaumont Sur Mer, a fictional town in the French Riviera similar to Nice or Cannes. Freddy plans on conning people on the Riviera including within Beaumont Sur Mer, and Lawrence fears that this could draw unwanted attention to his stalking ground. He uses a con (that I won’t spoil here) that leaves Freddy in his debt, and takes the opportunity to send Freddy back to the States. When Freddy encounters one of the rich women that Lawrence had conned, (Lady Fanny of Omaha) Freddy decides to return to Beaumont Sur Mer and have Lawrence train him in the art of the con. After some hilarious antics, Freddy feels confident that he is ready to be a full fledged well compensated part of the operation. Lawrence is unwilling to fund Freddy from the cons due to Freddy being his pupil, explaining his payment is knowledge. Displeased that Lawrence is unwilling to pay him, Freddy decides to branch out on his own in Beaumont Sur Mer. Lawrence is unwilling to share the town. Freddy and Lawrence reach an agreement that whoever can con a woman out of $50,000 first will win the rights to stay in the town. That is when they meet an appropriate target, the kind hearted Unites States Soap Queen, Janet Colgate (Glenn Headly.)
This is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. I literally think that I have seen this movie upwards of a hundred times, and it is still absolutely hilarious. Out of all of Steve Martin’s films, this provides the best material. When you see him as a character named Ruprick in what may be the funniest ten minutes of any film, you will have tears in your eyes from laughter. Michael Caine is brilliant as the more refined of the two con-men, a perfect counterpart to the brash American. These two should have been in more films together, because the result is absolutely glorious. Glenn Headly was up against two pros in top form, and she is pitch-perfect in her role. Sadly, she passed away last year. She was great in the film.
Frank Oz displays an amazing eye for location in this film. It is rare to say that a comedy film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, but this film is first class. The premise that Lawrence became a con man due to failing at artistic ventures and then focused on being a man of great taste is one of the most absorbing aspects of the movie. It is easy to believe thanks to the beautiful surroundings. It does not hurt that the cinematographer for the film was Michael Ballhaus. You might have seen some of his other films he was involved with like Goodfellas and The Departed. The score by Miles Goodman is great with extremely clever timing that amplified every scene of the film.
At the end of the day, if you have never seen this film, you owe it to yourself. It is one of the best comedies ever made in my opinion.
Video: How’s it look?
Warner Brothers did a good job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a 2K restoration. I have seen this film in every format and can firmly say that this is a big step forward from the DVD. While there is some specking that appears occasionally, and some softness occurs occasionally, fans of the film will be blown away by how great everything looks. The cinematography by Michael Ballhaus makes me want to go back to Europe with my wife so badly, that it is hard to resist just buying a ticket. While this may not stack up there with some of the more recent 4K releases, I think Warner did an excellent job here overall.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has one of my favorite scores. I am not sure if it is just because of how many times I have seen the film, but I just love everything about the score by Miles Goodman. It somehow brings out more from the comedy while feeling every bit as classy as the surroundings of the film. The surround livens up the film and is a good example of what Warner can do to broaden the sound field of catalog films. I thought everything sounded great, but don’t expect a ton of directionality.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Teaser Trailer
- Audio Commentary with Frank Oz – this commentary was recorded in 2001 and features a very happy Frank Oz as he reminisces about the making of the film. Good stuff.
- Behind the Scenes Featurette – typical EPK archival feature. Nothing too amazing here.
The Bottom Line
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is one of the few films that I watch every year. My wife and family love it as much as I do. If you have not seen it, you are in for a treat. Warner have provided a great looking transfer and the audio commentary is enjoyable. This film should be owned by anybody who likes a good comedy. It also is incredibly cheap to buy (under ten bucks) so what is holding you up?