Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Michael Caine, Steve Martin, Glenne Headly
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Teaser Trailer, Trailer

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is a gem of a comedy movie, by far one of the most hilarious comedies I have seen in my entire life. We all know that Steve Martin and Michael Caine have a funny bone or two, but teamed up together with director Frank Oz and the movie’s clever script, this team is unbeatable. Lawrence Jamison (Michael Caine) is a stylish, upper-class con man posing as an exiled prince, raising funds for the "freedom fighters" of his stricken homelands. Pressing hard on wealthy women’s sentiments, he runs the ultimate scam and takes anything the women are willing to part with for his noble cause – cash, checks, jewelry or gambling chips.

One day he meets Freddy Benson (Steve Martin), another scam artist on the way to Jamison’s home turf on the French Riviera to make a few easy bucks. While not afraid of the contender himself, Jamison is afraid the obvious small-time fraud might get caught, cause some fuss within the rich society, and ultimately make his own work considerably harder. Thus he quickly plans to lure Freddy away to Italy. But before long, the pretender is back – and with newfound knowledge about his "friend", he now poses a real threat to Jamison’s royal cover.

Jamison gives in and decides to educate Freddy, to make him "safe," at least, by teaching him all the details of his profession, hoping to keep Freddy from getting busted. Soon, however, Freddy grows overly confident and decides to try his newly learned lessons in practice… much to Jamison’s dismay. They agree that there is not enough room for both of them in the small holiday resort of the rich and so they strike a wager. The first one to extract $50,000 from their chosen target, wins. The loser has to bite the bullet and leave. They settle on Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly) as their victim, heiress to an American soap empire, and supposedly an easy target for both of them. What follows is a determined duel over the naïve woman’s money, one that quickly breaks every ethical and moral rule and escalates into a private war between the contenders.

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" bases its humor mostly on the interaction of the two main characters, Jamison and Freddy. Counteraction might in actuality be the better word for it, because every time one of them pulls ahead, the other will desperately try his utmost to regain ground – not necessarily by coming closer to his own goal, but by attempting to destroy his opponent’s success and damage his credibility. The men set up traps, blatantly take advantage of each other’s weaknesses, sometimes with only sheer luck that comes to their aid. This kind of comedy is completely different from recent comedies or Monty Python’s black humor, which mostly rely on funny and/or dumb characters and puns. In "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" the characters themselves are not necessarily funny. They are exceedingly clever, focused, and absolutely serious within the story itself. Seen in the story’s context, with the constant shift in power between the two, they become wickedly funny; the knowledge of their mischief, and the viewer’s malicious pleasure over their misfortune, is what finally makes this movie so brilliant.

It takes a lot of skill to create a comedy that walks the line as well as this one, and I cannot think of a single scene in the movie that did not work. This is partly due to the excellent script and Frank Oz’s purposeful direction, but mostly through Steve Martin’s and Michael Caine’s sizzling chemistry and their convincing and charming portrayal of the two rivaling characters.

After Image Entertainment’s barebones release a few years ago, MGM Home Entertainment has now prepared a DVD that also contains a few extras. Most strikingly however, this new DVD finally offers an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer that restores the movie’s great cinematography in all its splendor. The new transfer is somewhat superior over the previous one and reveals better slightly definition and a noticeably better color reproduction that is free of noise. The colors are rich and saturated with warm and natural fleshtones throughout, making Michael Ballhaus’ gorgeously captivating photography of the French Riviera jump off the screen; it comes to life to such an extent that you can almost smell the salty, and uniquely spicy air of the Mediterranean. Edge-enhancement is at a minimum and no compression artifacts can be found in this transfer.

Improvements can also be found in the audio department. Where Image’s version featured only a <$DS,Dolby Surround> track, the new DVD finally offers a full <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix. Miles Goodman’s stylish and comic music score is more lively than ever as it bounces around the room. It nicely fits in the overall atmosphere of mischief and deceit, yet without giving away hints or overly exaggerating certain scenes.
The audio mix is very well balanced makes subtle use of the surround channels. The frequency response is natural, although a bit limited in the lower registers, and offers good dynamics that perfectly suit the movie. French and Spanish language tracks in Dolby Surround complement the audio presentation on this release.

As extras the disc contains a great <$commentary,commentary track> by director Frank Oz. Oz has always been a good commentator on all his films and he manages to keep a light tone throughout while exploring all aspects of the movie. Whether he is talking technical details, shot sequences, casting or reminisces about the production of the film with interesting anecdotes, Oz always manages to remain conversational, adding a great flair to his track and making it very accessible.

The DVD also contains a 6-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that was produced when the film was first released. Featuring interviews with cast and crew members it offers a good overview over the production, but is ultimately a promo piece rather than a behind-the-scenes look.

The DVD also contains the movie’s teaser trailer for the movie with an optional commentary by Frank Oz where he reveals that the footage for the trailer was actually shot specifically for this trailer, among other things. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included, which his also very entertaining. Great trailers, so check them out.

Well, what can I say? I have had a great time watching "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" for the umpteenth time, and I am sure you will too. The movie is a riot, still made me chuckle and smile through every one of its 110 minutes and this new DVD makes it an even more attractive movie. Take some vivid colors and a beautiful landscape, capture them with the eyes of one of the world’s best cinematographers, throw in a gorgeous soundtrack, and top it off with a team of serious comedians, and you might end up with an exceedingly stylish and funny comedy that easily knocks out the competition… "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"