Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
This remake of the 1964 movie Bedtime Story is one of those rare examples of a remake of a damn good film that is even better than the original. Way better, in fact.
Lawrence Jameson (David Niven/Michael Caine) is a suave, sophisticated Englishman living in a super-swanky town on the French Riviera. He makes his big, big money by hoodwinking super-rich women into believing he is some sort of royalty in exile. Freddy Benson (Marlon Bando/Steve Martin) is a crass, crude penny-ante con man who thinks scoring a free $20 meal is a big deal. He ends up in the French town, which Jameson finds intolerable. So they make a wager. The first one to swindle $50,000 out of some random rich woman wins, and the other has to leave town. The object of their bet is Janet (Shirley Jones/Glenn Headly) the rich “Soap Queen” from America. And the race is on.
I won’t reveal all the sneaky stratagems the two con men employ; suffice it to say they are both brilliant in their own ways. The girl is wrestled back and forth. Clearly we want Larry to win, because Freddy is so despicable and … well, tacky. Then it is revealed that Janet actually isn’t rich, she is on a free vacation in Europe because she won a contest …
Oh, hell, I do have to reveal one part. Freddie’s schtick is always to portray himself as pathetic and needy, usually needing money for an operation on his beloved grandmother, “Gram Gram.” To win the bet, he gets into a wheelchair in a Naval uniform, passing himself off psychosomatically crippled because his girlfriend left him. He can’t feel anything below the waist. He desperately needs $50,000 for treatments from the renowned Viennese psychiatrist Dr. Emile Shauffhausen. Lawrence hears of this, and impersonates the good doctor (who doesn’t exist) and begins Freddy’s treatment right there in the hotel. The scene where the “doctor” is testing to see where Freddy is numb by whacking the shit out of his legs, and Freddy’s desperate attempts not to cry out in pain … I nearly killed myself laughing.
Steve Martin will make you want to gag (comically) with his horrible, needy, kicked-puppy desperation. Michael Caine is the perfect choice for the man who preys only on those rich enough not to miss the money, women greedy to land a prince like Grace Kelly did. He appeals to their greediness. Freddy fleeces women by taking advantage of their kind impulses. Both of these old pros are a pleasure to watch.
This is one of my favorite comedies of all time. As I have said before, I love stories about cons, swindles, heists, etc. This may be the best ever, along with The Sting. The two movies are almost alike in plot, except for a brilliant bit at the end (which I will not reveal), a twist that makes it even better than the original.