Case Number 01550


MGM // 1988 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 30th, 2001

The Charge

Nice guys finish last. Meet the winners.

Opening Statement

A throwback to the spirited comedies of the 1950s and '60s, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is proof that even the most despicable of men can be lovable in the right kind of movie. Director Frank Oz (The Indian In The Cupboard) brought together the wacky Steve Martin (Little Shop Of Horrors) and the debonair Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters) for some con artist hijinks with actress Glenne Headly (Dick Tracy) in tow. Originally released by Image Entertainment in a bare-bones edition, MGM cleans up Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with some new features on DVD!

Facts of the Case

Lawrence Jamieson (Caine) is one of the French Riviera's most deceptive and successful con artists. Swindling women out of house and home, Jamieson is a suave and high-minded skunk who lives the good life on someone else's dime. Things are going swell for Jamieson, who couldn't be happier with his extravagant lifestyle. Enter Freddy Benson (Martin), a small-time con artist who thinks that taking a woman for twenty dollars is the highlight of his week. Benson is traveling across Europe on whatever handouts he can scam from unsuspecting ladies.

When Freddy unsuspectingly gets caught in one of his scams he's thrown into the local prison. Jamieson bails him out and sends him on his way back home via a plane...but this is just the start of a series of double crosses that will pit each man against the other in the ultimate con! Jamieson at first helps Freddy to become a better con artist by showing him how to spend his money or culture and retrieve a higher class of "clients." The two men work together until it's painfully obvious that the Riviera isn't big enough for the both of them. The decision is made for a winner-take-all contest to acquire the fortunes of seemingly naïve American soap heiress (Headly) vacationing among the tourists. The winner gets her money and the Riviera -- but the loser has to get out and stay out of town for good!

The con is on!

The Evidence

For my money there were only three great comedians from the 1980s: Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Steve Martin. Some of the funniest comedies came from these three individuals. National Lampoon's Vacation, Meatballs, The Jerk, Ghostbusters, Fletch and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is easily the most intelligent of these films, though is still game to go for silly when the need arises.

At first, you might think that Steve Martin and Michael Caine aren't the best pairing for a comedy. Director Frank Oz proves us wrong with some wonderful scenes that utilize both actors' comedic abilities. Michael Caine plays more or less the straight man to Martin's obnoxious wackiness. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is filled with all kinds of memorable moments that made me laugh out loud. One of the funniest scenes in the film involves Martin playing Caine's "supposed" retarded brother Ruprect. This is easily one scene that must be seen to be believed. Watching Martin run all over the room, banging pots and pans and shouting out the word "Oklahoma!" over and over had me in complete stitches. Both Martin and Caine work off each other well. Once the con gets into full swing, we really see what these two men are made of. Caine impersonates a famous doctor. Martin pretends to be a cripple who was wounded by love. And so it goes, each situation more far fetched than the last. Watching Dirty Rotten Scoundrels I had the feeling that I was witnessing two pros at work.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels also works wonders because the script actually makes you pay attention to where it's going. The interwoven plot is sophisticated while never being overly complicated. Director Frank Oz keeps things moving briskly with a supporting cast that works wonders around Martin and Caine. With plenty of wit, fun and humor, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is well worth your time!

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While not perfect. MGM has done a very nice job on this transfer. The bright color schemes and black levels all look well rendered and even. There is a slight amount of dirt in the image, as well as a tiny amount of edge enhancement in a few scenes. Overall, this is a very nice looking print (and miles above the Image Entertainment version from a few years ago).

Audio is presented in a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. I wasn't all that impressed with this remix, though it does work well with the film. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is not really an effects heavy film (the utilization of the surround speakers are mostly with the Miles Goodman's music score). All aspects of the dialogue, effects, and music were clear of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles, as well as a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack in Spanish and French.

I was surprised to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels get some extra treatment by MGM in the way of special features. The Image version only included the film, while MGM has decided to slap on some nice supplements on this version of the film. To start with there is an audio commentary by director Frank Oz. Oz is a very chatty and talkative guy who has a lot of knowledge about the making of the film. There are a few lulls in the track, but overall this is an enjoyable commentary with Oz coming off as very personable and likable.

Next up is a six and a half minute "behind the scenes" featurette. This is a typical featurette that includes interviews with director Frank Oz, director of photography Dale Launer, actors Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, and writer Dale Launer, among others. There are some very funny interviews with Martin and Caine, but otherwise this is a very typical clips heavy promo for the film.

Finally, there are two theatrical trailers, one being a teaser that includes commentary by Frank Oz. The teaser was filmed specifically for theaters and has a very memorable ending gag.

Closing Statement

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has class, style, and Steve Martin peeing in his pants at the dinner table. What more can you ask for from a comedy? MGM has done a very nice job on this title with some well produced extra materials and decent audio/video components.

The Verdict

Innocent and free to go con more women out of their hard earned cash!

Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 92
Audio: 88
Extras: 80
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile
Studio: MGM
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)

* English
* French
* Portuguese
* Spanish

Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary Track by Director Frank Oz
* Teaser Trailer W/Commentary by Frank Oz
* Theatrical Trailer
* "Behind-The-Scenes" Featurette

* IMDb