Before “The Hustle” There Was “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a remake of a movie called Bedtime Story. That movie starred David Niven and Marlon Brando in virtually the same roles, although its ending was more fitting for the era, and the ending of this one shows a much more twisted and cynical conclusion that the 1980s viewing public had become more willing to accept.

There is a new remake that was just released called The Hustle, which has Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson as female equivalents of the story’s main characters.

A reminiscence: I went to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in the theater when it first came out. After having watched most of it, the film broke. By my estimation there was maybe two or three minutes left until the credits rolled. The theater (graciously I think) gave all of the theater patrons passes to see the movie again, (or another movie), at a later date. (I didn’t actually see this one again until it was released on video. As I recall, I actually used the ticket to go see I’m Gonna Git You Sucka).

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is a high class gigolo/scam artist. He uses wit and charm to bilk rich women out of their money. His main gig appears to be to convince them that he is an exiled prince from some foreign country who, along with some freedom fighters still in his former country, are battling to free themselves from a dictatorial reign. To this aid, he has the help of the local chief of police, Andre (Anton Rodgers) who helps convince the women Lawrence is whom he says he is.

Their are rumors of a competing confidence artist circulating the French Riviera. (Lawrence’s stomping grounds of Beaumont-sur-mer is in the Riviera). The competing trickster is one whom is only known as “The Jackal.” Lawrence meets Freddy Benson (Steve Martin), a small-time grifter (one who preys on women, but thinks taking them for $20 is top hot stuff). Lawrence is convinced that Freddy is “The Jackal” and tries to con him into traveling further down the coast instead of sicking around Beaumont-sur-mer.

But Freddy ends back in Beaumont-sur-mer. So Lawrence, with the help of Andre, gets one of Freddy’s victims to file charges and has him jailed. He then maneuvers Freddy to leave the Riviera and go back to America with the promise the charges will be dropped.

But on the plane Freddy finds out the true identity of Lawrence and manages to blackmail him into helping Freddy become a full-fledged raconteur. Eventually Lawrence is able to groom Freddy into a respectable resemblance of a high-class person. Then the two work together. Lawrence does his usual shtick of manipulating the ladies, while Freddy becomes the backup in case marriage looms close. See, Freddy is passed of as the nitwit brother of the prince that Lawrence portrays, thus causing the women to have second thoughts about a potential marriage.

When the going gets tough is when Lawrence refuses to cut Freddy in on the illicit gains. It comes down to a battle to see who will win rightful domain over the territory. Freddy bets Lawrence that the first one to extract a certain amount ($50,000 to be exact) from the same woman will win the territory and the other must leave. The chosen victim is the newly arrived “Soap Queen,” Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly).

Freddy poses as an injured soldier, but one whose “crippling” is purely, he admits, psychosomatic. (It’s all in his mind, even though he wants to walk, a fictional ditching by a true love being the cause.) He claims there is a doctor who will “cure” him, but he needs $50,000 for him. Step in Lawrence, who in his effort to be the one who will win the bet, claims to be said doctor.

But all is not what it seems. It turns out that Janet is not a rich heiress, merely a young girl who won a soap company’s contest and was named “Soap Queen” and given a free trip to Europe as part of the winnings. Freddy, being more mercenary, says that he is willing to settle for whatever they can wrangle out of her, but Lawrence has a gentleman’s heart and dismisses the bet. Only to agree to “make her the bet.” See, Freddy, thinking below the neck as usual, decides that the one that gets her in bed first is the better man. But Lawrence has different ideas about chivalry and manhood.

Stick around for the end. I guarantee you won’t see it coming. According to director Frank Oz, he and Martin spent most of the movie production hashing out ideas on how to end it. I will say it is a very satisfying ending. I can’t wait to see what they do with The Hustle.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.