While most people know Frank Oz for his peerless work as a puppeteer in bringing Yoda, Fozzie, and a host of other characters to life, during the 1980’s and 1990’s he was also one of the best comedy directors in Hollywood. One of his gems is probably my favorite comedy from the 1980’s: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In the film, an American con man (Steve Martin) encroaches on the territory of a sophisticated scammer (Michael Caine) in a town on the French Riviera. Deciding he can’t get rid of his competition, the two team-up in a series of scams in which Caine seduces rich women, brings them to the point of marriage…..and then brings them home for dinner to meet Martin playing his role of Caine’s brother, Ruprecht, who is…..special. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s essential viewing, and for Star Wars fans, a rare chance to see Ian McDiarmid in a non-Emperor Palpatine role.
*photo property of MGM
3 thoughts on “My Favorite Scene: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) “Ruprecht the Monkey Boy””
Frank Oz’s reputation as a great comedy director really rests on just three comedies: this, What About Bob, and Little Shop of Horrors. Bowfinger is great, but by the time that one rolled around Oz had already been enshrined. He just had this effortless way of getting his actors to play off of each other. Because it’s the interactions in these movies that get you. Like who knew that Richard Dreyfuss was one of the greatest comic straight men who ever lived? It never would have come out, except that Oz gave him Bill Murray, acting against type, to play off of in one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a joy. As the characters spar, you can tell the actors were kind of sparring too. I doubt I’ve seen every movie Micheal Caine has ever made, but this is the funniest performance I’ve ever seen him give. (His worst movie that I know of, BTW, is a film noir that he made with Nicholson called “Blood and Wine,” a pointless, mean-spirited bloodbath like an early Coen brothers film, but without the cleverness or artistry, that I once saw on a plane–a PLANE! Sorry, just a warning here to avoid it if it ever comes up.)
I watch these films with a tinge of regret though. Everything is very crass these days. I wonder if these films would be made the same way if they were being made in 2017. I guess we’re going to find out, since Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Little Shop of Horrors are both getting remakes, I hear. I saw these films when they first came out, as a kid, and I think I enjoyed them on much the same level that I do today. Even Little Shop of Horrors, with its plot about a monster that feeds on blood, and a dentist who’s a sadist, and a hero who’s an axe murderer–almost–had a kind of sweetness to it, and an innocence.
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I personally love Bowfinger, and Oz has directed a lot more. Death at a Funeral, Muppets Take Manhattan, The Score, The Dark Crystal, and a host of others, but I do think this is his best film. I don’t know if this film would thrive today but we’ll find out because they’re remaking it. Yep. And gender inverting it, of course. Now, if they were doing that with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, I would actually be interested in that. But they’re doing it with Anne Hathaway and REBEL WILSON, so cherish your memories of this whilst you can.
I was just talking about his straight up comedy classics. Obviously I will cherish him forever for his work with Jim Henson.
You could write a terrific spoof of the post apocalyptic genre, set in a dystopian future LA where every intellectual property has been cannibalized and beaten into the ground, and people are scrounging for some new spin on any story at all, while killing and eating each other.
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