Well, well, well! Look at Sam Failor all acquitting himself and stuff! This week marks the second straight week he has brought us a movie that falls somewhere between “good” and “great”, and while I still haven’t forgotten about “Tetsuo: The Iron Man”, I’m on the verge of forgiving.
Before the feature, I took the opportunity to seize on Sam’s France theme to show three shorts – all installments of Henri, Le Chat Noir by Will Braden (shockingly, he actually has an IMDB entry for web-only content…sic transit gloria mundi). All you need to know here is that Henri is a tuxedo cat dubbed as if he were a french existentialist philosopher. Enjoy!
And then it was time for Sam’s feature film, which amazingly enough was directed by none other than the voice of Yoda – Frank Oz. (No, know anybody else’s father nobody in this film did.) The film, if you didn’t notice when you clicked on the link, was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Lawrence Jamieson is a high-class con artist working the lovely French Riviera resort of Beaumont-Sur-Mer. His classic scam is posing as the prince of a fictional country and playing on the heartstrings of the rich little old ladies to help fund his country’s fight against communist revolutionaries. That sort of thing. Apparently, he makes a lot of money this way, and while he may need to keep up some appearances, he manages to juggle this fairly well. Freddy Benson, on the other hand, is a low-class con artist, whose m.o. is to scam the younger ladies out of meal money with a story of a sick grandmother. After Lawrence witnesses Freddy shake down a sucker in the dining car, they have the fortune of meeting in a compartment, with Freddy showing off about what a great con artist he is and how he’s off to work…Beaumont-Sur-Mer! Lawrence, ever dignified, stays mum but cannot allow this to happen. If word gets about that there’s a hack con artist at work there, things might dry up. With the help of a beautiful female counterpart Lawrence slyly tricks Freddy into passing on B-S-M, only to read in the papers of rumors of an American con artist called the Jackal currently working Europe.
When Freddy makes his way back to B-S-M, Lawrence pegs him as the Jackal and pulls another fast one on him (this time involving a police cell and some trumped-up charges) to get him to flee France, this time for good.
Because Freddy meets up with one of Lawrence’s victims on the plane who saw them together in B-S-M, and she really wants the down-low on how the fight she is funding against the communist revolutionaries is going. Well, Freddy may not be the sharpest cheddar in the cheese aisle, but he figures this one out all right and heads back to B-S-M to become Lawrence’s pupil.
Lawrence isn’t too keen on the whole idea, but since Freddy knows his secret and Lawrence isn’t really the type to kill a man and dispose of a body (FAR too classy for that), he reluctantly takes him on, and they begin scamming together, with Freddy playing Ruprecht, the Prince’s retarded brother. Lawrence scams the ladies, gets money out of them on the pretense of being engaged to them, and then springs Ruprecht on them, which oddly always manages to scare them off. But the partnership is always tenuous at best, and soon enough Freddy wants to strike out on his own. The two eventually settle on a bet – they will select a victim, and the first to scam $50,000 out of her gets exclusive con-artist rights to Beaumont-Sur-Mer, while the loser leaves town forever.
They settle on a newly-arrived woman identified as Janet Colgate, the United States Soap Queen. From such an heiress, getting $50K should be a piece of cake.
Freddy makes the first inroads, and passes himself off as a naval officer who is suffering from psychologically-induced paraplegia due to the infidelity of his former fianceé. He needs to see a fictional German (Swiss?) psychiatrist, but could never possibly afford the $50,000 fee. But of course, just as it appears that his efforts are going to be successful, Lawrence works his way in playing the psychiatrist himself (Freddy didn’t see that one coming, but he can’t protest!) and things get hilarious.
But when it turns out that Janet’s Soap Queen title is the result of a laundry detergent contest and has earned her little more than a tour of Europe, Lawrence decides to call the bet off, because as a high-class con artist he only scams those who can afford to lose the money. Janet has wired back to America and had her father hock the car in order to earn the money for Freddy’s treatments, and Lawrence won’t stand for it. Of course, when Janet comes crying to Lawrence to tell him that Freddy has stolen her $50,000, Lawrence reimburses her and puts her on the next flight home only to find a note she has left him – signed as The Jackal. Freddy never stole any $50K – she has scammed them both!
It’s a delicious ending – Janet plays it off so well you truly don’t see it coming. Even on a re-viewing, the script does a great job of not tipping you off to the twist. And while I’ve tired of the ubiquitous twist ending, in this case it works, largely because the film doesn’t need it – it’s an entertaining enough film on its own, and the twist, rather than coming in a droll “oh, what’s the twist?” moment, acts instead as the cherry on top.
And not only that, there’s a second cherry! Because as the nearly disconsolate Lawrence and Freddy are commiserating at Lawrence’s seaside estate a few weeks later, there’s a commotion coming up the beach path, and a brash New Jersey real estate agent leading a tour of Greek…suckers. Lo and behold, it’s the Jackal herself, running the show on a three-man scam. “Fellas,” she says, “last year I made 3 million dollars, but your 50 thousand was the most fun. Are you ready? Then let’s go get ’em!”
See? It’s a buddy film after all. And you nod your head and your eye twinkles a bit and you smile to one side as the credits roll, and you figure yeah, this Yoda dude can make a pretty decent movie.