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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a 1988 American comedy film directed by Frank Oz. The screenplay by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning focuses on two con artists who ply their trade on the French Rivieramarker. Although it is not officially credited as a remake of Bedtime Story, it closely follows the plot of the 1964 film starring David Niven and Marlon Brando.

The film ranks as #85 on Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies .


Mick Jagger and David Bowie wanted to make a movie together. Jagger had written the title song to Ruthless People based on his enthusiasm for the screenplay written by Dale Launer. When Jagger and Bowie asked Launer to write a screenplay for them, Launer suggested they do a remake of the movie Bedtime Story, which originally starred David Niven and Marlon Brando. Launer ended up securing the remake rights from Stanley Shapiro, one of the original writers. Shapiro was responsible for writing (or co-writing) a genre known as "sex comedies" also known as "Doris Day" movies. Shapiro had successful movies with Doris Day starring with either Rock Hudson or Cary Grant. Bedtime Story (original title King of the Hill) was written with Doris Day, Cary Grant and Rock Hudson in mind. According to Shapiro, "Cary had asked Rock to do a movie with him, but Rock turned him down. So Cary would work with Rock,. and Doris wouldn't do it without the two of them."

Launer rewrote the screenplay and took it to Orion Pictures. The first director on the project was Herbert Ross (Turning Point). Eventually Ross was replaced by Frank Oz who preferred the Launer version written previously to Mr. Ross' involvement.


Lawrence Jamieson is a cultivated, suave master con artist who operates in the deluxe hotels along the French Rivieramarker under the watchful -- and approving -- eye of Inspector Andre, the resident chief of police who receives a cut of his take. Their only concern is a mysterious, anonymous character known only as "The Jackal" who has been preying on other wealthy victims of late.

When small-time American hustler Freddy Benson decides to search for easy marks in Beaumont-sur-Mer, Lawrence's home base, Lawrence recognizes that the Jackal has shown his face. He agrees to school Freddy in the art of the con. Unbeknownst to Freddy, however, Lawrence only does this as a way to get rid of Freddy since Lawrence does not want a lowly competitor infringing on his territory.

When Freddy decides that he's had enough of Lawrence's humiliating tutelage and wants to go out on his own, Lawrence offers Freddy a challenge to see who will remain in Beaumont-sur-Mer, since there isn't enough room for the two of them in the same small town. The first one to con $50,000 out of a selected mark will be allowed to stay, while the other must leave and never return to Beaumont-sur-Mer.

The two select Janet Colgate, a naive and wealthy American heiress, as their target and embark on their separate strategies while at the same time ruthlessly sabotaging each other. Freddy poses as a psychosomatically crippled soldier who needs to borrow $50,000 for treatment by a celebrated Liechtensteinmarker psychiatrist. But when Lawrence discovers this scheme he pretends to be the doctor, insisting Freddy's condition is one he can cure with the stipulation that Janet pays his $50,000 fee directly to him.

Lawrence discovers that Janet is not wealthy after all but on vacation as a contest winner. She plans to sell the remainder of her prizes and combine the proceeds with her father's savings to finance Freddy's phony treatment. Lawrence has always taken advantage of wealthy and corrupt members of society, but he does not take advantage of the poor and virtuous. Impressed by Janet's innate goodness, Lawrence wants to call off the bet. Freddy suggests they change the challenge and make Janet herself the bet, with the first to bed her declared the winner. Lawrence refuses to try to "win," agreeing only to bet that Freddy fails to do so.

Scheming with a group of sympathetic English sailors (who pity Freddy and think he really is disabled), Freddy has Lawrence abducted and taken to a transport plane to Honduras. He goes to Janet, who admits that she is in love with him. This "cures" Freddy of his disorder. But before they can make love, Lawrence reappears. Once a member of the Royal Navy Reserve, Lawrence has told the sailors the true story. Frustrated at being played for fools, they strong-arm Freddy into joining their party and glue his palm to a wall to stop him from escaping while Lawrence puts Janet on the next plane out of France. Despite being trapped, Freddy enjoys the party greatly.

The next day, however, Janet does not board her flight. She instead returns to her hotel room to find a remorseful Freddy there. They kiss, close the door and begin to undress.

Janet later goes to Lawrence in tears. She tells him that Freddy has stolen the money her father sent. Lawrence compensates her with $50,000 of his own and takes her to the airport. As the plane leaves, Freddy, in handcuffs, appears claiming that Janet robbed the both of them, and it is then revealed that Janet was The Jackal all along. Freddy rants his head off, while Lawrence smiles in admiration at Janet's cleverness.

Freddy and Lawrence assess their loss. They are about to part company forever when Janet, under a new disguise (as a loud New Yorker named Paula), suddenly arrives at Lawrence's villa with a yacht filled with wealthy people. While the guests refresh themselves, Janet takes the two men aside and announces that as The Jackal she has made "3 million dollars, but your 50,000 was the most fun." Joining arms, they set out to find fresh victims.


Filming locations included Antibesmarker, Cannesmarker, Beaulieu-sur-Mermarker (depicted in the film as "Beaumont-sur-Mer"), Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferratmarker, Nicemarker, and Villefranche-sur-Mermarker. The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschildmarker 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.

The film opened on 1,466 screens in the US and earned $3,840,498 on its opening weekend. It eventually grossed $42,039,085 in the US .

In a DVD extra providing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, Frank Oz discusses a teaser trailer he created for the studio, which wanted to begin promoting the film 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. Oz says audiences were surprised to discover the scene was not part of the released film.


Critical reception

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 said " of the season's most cheerful, most satisfying new comedies" and "...blithe, seemingly all-new, laugh-out-loud escapade" and "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."

It currently holds a 87% (out of 100%) Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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 Headley was named Most Promising New Actress by the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Musical adaptation

The film served as the basis of a successful stage musical of the same name that opened on Broadwaymarker in early 2005. It starred John Lithgow as Lawrence and Norbert Leo Butz as Freddy.


  3. Chicago Sun-Times, December 14, 1988
  4. Variety
  5. New York Times, December 14, 1988

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