Film Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Release Date: December 14th, 1988
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Based on: Bedtime Story by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Music by: Miles Goodman
Cast: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, Anton Rodgers, Barbara Harris, Ian McDiarmid, Dana Ivey, Meagen Fay, Frances Conroy, Louis Zorich

Orion Pictures, 110 Minutes, 104 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“His name is – James. No. His name is – James Josephson. Oh, no, no! James Lawrence. Lawrence! Lawrence! Lawrence. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Fings. Forest Lawrenceton. La – Lars. Lars! Lawrence. Lawrence Lacko. Lawrence. His name is James Jessenden. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Jesterton. Lawrence Jesterton.” – Freddy Benson, “Lawrence Jamieson?” – Inspector Andre, “Yes! Yes! Yes! We’re like this!” – Freddy Benson

I remember my mother taking me to see this when I was ten. While it was a bit more adult than what I would’ve been normally interested in, I liked it quite a bit and it only helped solidify Steve Martin as one of my all-time favorite comedic actors. It also introduced me to the greatness of Michael Caine and birthed a fondness and appreciation for the mostly underutilized Glenne Headly.

It’s been years since I’ve revisited this but it’s been in my queue for so long that I felt like a bastard having ignored it.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels holds up incredibly well and even if you know the big plot twist, it’s still worth rewatching, as you can kind of pick up on some clues, here and there.

Martin and Caine have impeccable chemistry and once Headly shows up, things magnify quite a bit. They’re all so good, in fact, that I can’t believe that they never followed this up with a sequel. Maybe it didn’t perform well at the box office, as it came out during the holidays, but it definitely is a movie that developed a pretty solid following from its fans.

It’s also a beautiful looking picture and that’s not just because it is shot in opulent places. The cinematography is wonderful and being that this is only Frank Oz’s second film as a director without Jim Henson at his side, is a really impressive accomplishment. The guy has a great eye and understanding of visual composition.

This is also Oz’s first film where he didn’t work with puppets and animatronics and just filmed living, breathing, human actors.

It doesn’t hurt that the story and the script were very good. Also, having a solid cast that clicks really helped take this to another level. It probably made Oz’s job a lot easier but at the same time, this was his film and he put in the work and got the best out of his talent in front of and behind the camera. With Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he has a lot to be proud of.

Ultimately, this is a movie that I’d say deserves more recognition that it has. While everyone that I know who’s seen it, loves it, it seems to be somewhat forgotten due to Steve Martin movies that performed better and because it came out a long time ago.

Also, comedy just isn’t like this anymore. In fact, for the most part, comedy sucks now. This is a smart, quirky film that is lightyears ahead of the norm in the 2020s but may also be too smart and quirky for modern audiences to enjoy.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’80s.