Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Set in the fictional French Riviera town of Beaumont-sur-Mer (Though actually filmed in Nice), Michael Caine plays debonair con man Lawrence Jamieson, whose con game is so sophisticated and lucrative that it has even afforded him his own butler (Ian McDiarmid, Emperor Palpatine to you and I). His con usually involves impersonating a rich prince attempting to raise funds for resistance fighters back home. But he always refuses women’s’ charity at least at first, before thanking them kindly and ‘reluctantly’ accepting. It’s a good gig, but Lawrence’s world is about to be turned upside down by a crass interloper, gauche American Freddy Benson (Steve Martin), a decidedly smaller-scale confidence man who robs gullible women blind by offering a sob story about his sick and dearly beloved grandmother. Not only is Jamieson feeling threatened by someone moving in on his territory, he’s offended by the third-rate con artist’s shameless, classless (i.e. American!) methods. But after attempting to rid himself of this little problem (by getting his French police inspector cohort Anton Rodgers to throw him in jail and deported) to no success, the two men decide to play a little game; The object of the game is to be the first one to clean out a rich and naive soap heiress named Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly). The winner gets the fortune, the loser gets the hell out of Beaumont-sur-Mer forever! Needless to say, there’s lots more twists and turns along the way. Barbara Harris (looking good for 53!) plays one of their dopey victims, a rich Omaha native named Fanny Eubanks.
There exists a snobbery towards the American comedies of the 1980s, many of which starred the same sorts of people (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, John Candy, etc). I just don’t get the derision at all, but then one of my favourite comedies is “Revenge of the Nerds”, and a lot of people won’t get that. This misguidedly derisive attitude must now stop, and not just because many of these films are among my all-time favourite comedies. Well, OK, so it’s primarily for that reason, but hey, I’m right, so there! This is a list that includes such largely unheralded classics as “Ghostbusters”, “The Blues Brothers”, “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, “Spies Like Us”, “Beverly Hills Cop” and many, many others. This Frank Oz (“What About Bob?”, “Bowfinger”, “The Score”, “Death at a Funeral”) remake of the Marlon Brando film “Bedtime Story” is definitely on the list and represents the high point of Oz’s career (Yes, I’m including voicing Miss Piggy in that equation). I know a lot of people love the original “Bedtime Story”, but if you’re of the belief that casting isn’t 90% of the work in making a successful motion picture, you really need to see this film. Caine (whose thin moustache is probably a tribute to “Bedtime Story” star David Niven) and Martin are pitch-perfect as two very different kinds of con men, but most importantly, they are such charismatic and likeable stars that the audience has an interest in them that might otherwise not be there with other actors in the roles. Sure, Caine has played his fair share of unlikeable and sleazy villains, and Martin’s innate likeability might just tip the scales of audience sympathy to his favour (even though Caine’s character is the only one to show any remorse for their behaviour!), but these actors really do seem to make it alright for audiences to spend 90 minutes with them, and maybe even root for them. And that absolutely should not be the case, given that they are, at the end of the day, shameless crooks. Meanwhile, the biggest Dirty Rotten Scoundrel of them all, is actually Ian McDiarmid. Thank you to the two of you who get that fanboy gag.
Caine shows a genuine gift for comedy here, especially his perfect facial expressions and reactions. The guy is clearly having a whale of a time being silly in such gorgeous surroundings. Martin, for his part, shows himself to be a masterful physical comedian, whether it’s his hilarious body language in his attempt to look and act sophisticated, or in his genius comedic turn as Ruprecht. Who is Ruprecht, you ask? Well, most of you didn’t ask because you’ve seen the film and know Ruprecht is simply one of the funniest characters in comedic cinematic history. But for those unaware, Ruprecht comes about when Caine and Martin are teaming up in scamming women, and Martin gets saddled with the role of Caine’s intellectually-challenged, Simian-like brother Ruprecht. Watching Martin banging spastically on pots and pans, or sitting at the dinner table with an eye patch, a trident, a cork on his fork, and a constipated look on his face, is one of the funniest scenes in the movies. Growing up, I’d quote from the scene constantly, especially Ruprecht’s request to relieve himself, an indescribably hilarious scene. Almost as funny is the scene where Martin is doing his ‘wounded soldier whose lover left him for a TV dance show host’ routine to woo the gullible Headly. Caine, impersonating a clipped Germanic-accented psychiatrist, believes Martin’s case is psychosomatic. His methods of extracting this out of Martin (i.e. Getting him to expose his pantomime) is one of the most sadistically funny things you’re ever likely to see. The facial expressions of both men in the scene (Martin in comedic pain, Caine- whether in character or not- taking great delight in it all) are priceless. Actually, it’s almost worth seeing the film just to watch Caine’s bemused reactions to Martin’s phony paraplegic act. I especially love Martin’s attempt at gaining sympathy from a couple of sailors (wheelchair and all) whilst watching Caine dancing with Headly at a disco. I don’t know if it’s the hilariously profane dialogue (‘What a piece ‘o sh*t!’) or the cockney accents of the sailors (‘Get up and dance ‘e says, I’d like to smack ‘im one!’), but it’s just a very funny scene that I would rewind over and over again as a youngster.
I just don’t get the mild reaction of mainstream critics to this film. What were they on at the time? I mean, this is surprisingly classy stuff for an American comedy of the 80s, and not just because of the French Riviera locales and the top-notch music score by Miles Goodman (“La Bamba”, “The Muppet Christmas Carol”), which at one point even incorporates ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. That’s all great, but the whole film is just so clever, especially the way in which Caine manages to remove Headly from Martin’s clutches and right into his own. Even if the critics weren’t huge fans of some of the sillier (but in my view, still great) comedies of the 80s like “The Blues Brothers” or “Spies Like Us”, this film is, forgive me, in a class of its own. What I mean by that is, that it seems like the sort of comedy critics would love even if it is a remake.
By the way, it must be said that this isn’t just a boys club here, as Ms. Headly (in her career highlight, perhaps sadly) acquits herself very well indeed. There’s a little naive Marilyn Monroe quality to her work here, and presumably wholly intentional (Indeed, if you remember MM in “How to Marry a Millionaire” it will stand you in good stead here). She’s extremely convincing as the innocent sheep being courted by a couple of wolves (née, jackals!). It must be said, though, that it’s a little strange that the female romantic lead only enters the film after 44 minutes. What’s up with that? Meanwhile, Caine caps the film off with one of the worst (and funniest) Aussie accents ever. It’s a funny conclusion, but I actually think they should have ended the film with the previous scene (set at an airport) which is even better.
The screenplay is by Dale Launer (“Blind Date”, “My Cousin Vinny”, and more importantly “Ruthless People”), and based on the original screenplay by Stanley Shapiro (“That Touch of Mink”, “Pillow Talk”) and Paul Henning (creator of “The Beverly Hillbillies”). I suppose its origins are part of the reason why it’s so much classier, wittier, and more intelligent than many others from the 80s, but I doubt the original is as laugh-out-loud funny as this film often is.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older