They’re dirty. They’re rotten. They’re scoundrels.
BQB here with a review. (Yes, it’s on Pluto TV. I’m really getting my money’s worth out of this app, which is zero.)
I remember thinking this movie was funny as a kid but now as a geezer, I think it is more clever. I was able to guess the jokes as they were coming, partly because they are memorable and partly because 2019’s “The Hustle” starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in a modernized female version with basically the same plot kept the jokes fresh in my head.
Michael Caine, looking rather dapper at roughly 55 here and man what a life you can live if you eat your Wheaties, plays Lawrence Jamieson, a master con artist who lives a lavish lifestyle in a wealthy town in the south of France. He finances his mansion, servants, travel, wardrobe, extravagances, etc. by bilking rich women out of their money, often by telling them he is a prince living in exile, trying to coordinate a rebellion against the communists who have conquered his non-existent nation. The ladies think they are donating to the cause of freedom, while Jamieson simply pockets the dough and gives the women the heave-ho.
Freddy Benson is also a con man, but on a much less impressive scale. He is an American, conning his way through Europe with stories about his sick grandmother and how he can’t afford lunch because he’s saving up for her operation. Freddy bilks rich women out of free lunches and pocket money.
When they meet on a train, Freddy demands that Lawrence take him on as a student, that he become Darth Vader to Jamieson’s Emperor, which is funny because Palpatine himself is in this flick. Ian McDiarmid plays Jamieson’s trusty butler Arthur, who assists in the cons. I know McDiarmid has a long career but personally, I believe this is the first non-Emperor role I’ve seen him in (at least that I can remember.)
Lawrence and Freddy go out on the con together but soon butt heads, finding it difficult to work together as they rarely see eye to eye. They settle their differences with a bet. First one to con super sweet soap company heiress Janet Colgate out of $50,000 gets to stay in town, while the loser must leave.
From there on, it’s a mad cap romp as Lawrence and Freddy constantly one up each other, telling one lie after the next and apparently they have no fear of burning in hell for there’s nothing, literally nothing that they aren’t willing to do to defraud this poor woman.
To the film’s credit, I remember it being a common trope in many films where a character sets out to defraud another character (sometimes it’s a man defrauding a woman or vice versa) and then after they get to know one another, they fall in love. Here, love does bloom amidst this twisted triangle, but (SPOILER ALERT) the duo is not rewarded for their treachery. The ending is rather ingenious and if you’re watching it for the first time, unexpected. I thought it was better than the old “Oh OK I forgive you for being a fraudulent piece of crap and will reward you with my love and trust now” ending that so many other movies go with.
The late, great Glenn Headley plays Janet and this movie reminded me of how sad I was to hear of her passing. She also played Dick Tracy’s Tess Trueheart and I always thought that movie illustrates the dilemma many a man finds himself in. Dick wants Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) because she’s hot, but knows she’s trouble as she can have any dude she wants. Tess, on the other hand, is true blue and will be there for Dick through thick and thin. Ultimately, you bang Breathless and marry Tess…or maybe just skip breathless and marry Tess because Tess will dump you if you knock up Breathless. Whatever. God, my knowledge of film stretches back to some super old movies. No one even gets these references I wager.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. I do remember repeating Steve Martin’s bathroom at the dinner table joke over and over as a kid.