Celebrating the brilliance from Martin, Caine, and Headly in one of the all time great comedies
Shout! Factory, not content with just dropping a snazzy new version of The Jerk in our laps a month ago, now follow up with another gem from Steve Martin’s back catalogue. (The Man with Two Brains and All of Me next, please!) We veer from elevated stupidity to the breezy smarts of con-men on the Côte d’Azur, but find no less a showcase for the talents of Martin, whose chemistry with Michael Caine (The Italian Job, Zulu, Get Carter) and Glenne Headly (Dick Tracy, Mr Holland’s Opus), and the admirable direction of Frank Oz (Little Shop of Horrors, What About Bob?), resulted in one of the greatest comedies to ever grace our screens, one certainly deserving of this special 30th Anniversary Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory.
In the wealthy French Riviera resort town of Beaumont-sur-Mer resides one Lawrence Jamieson (Caine) — at least that’s his name when not assuming one of his many guises to help part fools from their money. A man of sophistication and intellect, he’s living the good life, until one day when everything is threatened by the blundering entry of third-rate American hustler Freddy Benson (Martin). His antics make Lawrence’s own schemes in the area all the riskier, not to mention the personal conflict between the pair. After much sparring, it becomes evident that the town isn’t big enough for the both of them, and a wager is set. An unsuspecting target (Headly) is selected; the first to fleece her out of $50,000 wins, the loser must leave town.
Lawrence’s approach is altogether more developed, grand and ambitious, whether impersonating a king in exile or a renowned surgeon to fleece an heiress. Freddy is altogether more brash, often playing on people’s empathy, a poor tale of misfortune to get a free meal being more his style. Initially at odds, there’s a transitional phase where the film goes all My Fair Lady, with a makeover to burnish Freddy’s rough edges as he is taught how to eat, drink, walk, talk, even arrange flowers. Once ready, Lawrence takes Freddy under his wing for a while, deploying him as an assistant in his pursuit of big game; but it’s unsustainable, leading to the wager. As Freddy grows more formidable, Lawrence has to up his game, and it’s a game of maneuvering and escalation as they try to outsmart each other, as well as their target.
It’s a situation that plays to each of the actors’ strengths and gives them the opportunity to spark off one another. Martin milks every moment for all it’s worth, a scene in a prison cell where he tries to physically contort a name out of his brain showing what a presence he can be. You’d expect him to dominate a comedy like this, but it’s to Caine’s credit he meets him every step of the way, deftly playing off him, showing some impeccable timing of his own as well as his own mastery of body language, facial expressions, and an exasperated, dismissive tone. It’s a wonderful chemistry they share, enhanced by one further ingredient. The last piece of the puzzle is the magnificent Glenne Headly as the mark, American soap queen Janet Colgate (Glenne Headley). A truly endearing ditz, she’s simultaneously delicate while weathering this comedic maelstrom swirling around her. You care for her and unequivocally cheer for her come the film’s end.
While extolling the comedic qualities of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it’s important to state how well crafted the duplicitous qualities of the film are. You could strip out the laughs and still have an enthralling drama in its own right. Taking Dale Launer’s script (adapted from one Bedtime Story), Frank Oz manages to fuse a screwball comedy with a high stakes thriller. It mirrors how Martin and Caine each bring a different character to the mix, a low-brow and high-brow component, each in balance and expertly milked. Wit and vulgarity intermingle, with events pushed to the edge of the farcical at times. It’s one of those romps that becomes indelible in the mind, with the mother/not mother conundrum, the ‘treatments’ of Dr. Emil Shaffhausen, not to mention the host of characters created, including Chips O’Toole, Lady Fanny of Omaha, and Prince Ruprecht the Monkey Boy. If the thirty year anniversary isn’t sufficient reason to revisit the film, perhaps the fact that an oft planned remake seems to be once again gaining steam. Whatever they come up with, nothing will take the shine off this timeless endeavor. An barrage of brilliance that is undeniably a landmark of American comedy.
Shout Factory’s collector’s edition of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels showcases a brand new 2K scan of the film. After viewing the film countless times across a host of mediums and releases, this is the best one yet. Blacks are deep, showing good saturation throughout; colors are strong but natural; texture and detail also impress, noticeably for skin or fabrics. It has a nice ‘film’ quality to it, with some heavier moments of grain at times. Extra features are slim, but of good quality:
- Audio Commentary with Director Frank Oz: A very enjoyable commentary, largely due to Oz not having watched the film in a few years, making this something of a trip down memory lane. Some cute tales about Martin’s behavior on set, technical insights, words on cast improv, and more.
- Interview With Writer Dale Launer: A charming and insightful conversation with the writer, who reveals some of the details behind how the film was originally adapted from the film Bedtime Story, including the numerous names connected with the film. Mick Jagger and David Bowie! Later Eddie Murphy, before his favorite pairing of Warren Beatty and Tom Cruise, and finally the Oz-helmed version. Loaded with nuggets of info and delightfully frank opinions.
- Vintage Featurette: Just under 7 minutes in length, it’s a compilation of a few on set interviews with the main cast and director.
- Teaser Trailer with optional commentary: Commentary by Frank Oz.
The Bottom Line
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels celebrates the charms and chemistry of its incredible cast, but also the joys of the con. Frank Oz gives his players the perfect platform for their escapades and lets them rip, resulting in a romp that has lost none of its sparkle or wit after 30 years. Shout! Factory have given the film a visual polish, and a selection of extras that enhance the appeal for fans of one of the greatest comedies to ever grace our screens.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is available via Shout! Factory from January 22nd, 2019.
About Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory, LLC is a diversified multi-platform media company devoted to producing, uncovering, preserving and revitalizing the very best of pop culture. Founders Richard Foos, Bob Emmer and Garson Foos have spent their entire careers sharing their music, television and film favorites with discerning consumers the world over. Shout! Factory’s entertainment offerings serve up feature films, classic and contemporary TV series, animation, live music and comedy specials. In addition, Shout! Factory maintains a vast entertainment distribution network which delivers culturally relevant programming, movie and audio content to all the leading digital service providers in North America and across multiple platforms. Shout! Factory owns and operates Shout! Studios, Scream Factory, Shout! Factory Kids, Shout! Factory Films, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Timeless Media Group and Shout! Factory TV. These riches are the result of a creative acquisition mandate that has established the company as a hotbed of cultural preservation and commercial reinvention. Shout! Factory is based in Los Angeles, California. For more on Shout! Factory, visit shoutfactory.com.