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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Nine More Con Artist Movies

As a follow-up to my list of the Nine Best Con Man Movies, here are nine more that deserve honorable mention:

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." Michael Caine and Steve Martin are smooth yet smarmy rivals on the French Riviera competing to see who can con an American woman (Glenn Headly) out of $50,000.

"Tin Men." Barry Levinson's follow-up to "Diner" tells the story of aluminum-siding salesmen in Baltimore who use every trick in the book to convince homeowners to buy their product. With standout lead performances by Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito (fully absorbed in the local accent), plus Barbara Hershey as the woman caught between them, and a supporting cast that includes John Mahoney, Bruno Kirby, JT Walsh, and a "Bonanza"-obsessed Jackie Gale.

"The Spanish Prisoner." David Mamet's other con-man movie, named after a 500-year old confidence trick that plays very little role in the plot. Campbell Scott is an inventor with a revolutionary new process, which he's keeping secret until he can sell it to the highest bidder. While on a corporate retreat at a fancy tropical resort, he meets a rich man (Steve Martin) who seems interested in his process and falls for the guy's secretary (Rebecca Pidgeon, who by now was the new Mrs. David Mamet and replaced first wife Lindsay Crouse as The Woman In His Movies). From there, the plot gets thicker and more fun, thanks to a supporting cast that includes Ben Gazzara, Felicity Huffman, and the ever-present Ricky Jay.

"Heartbreakers." This is the only con artist movie I know of to have not just one but two female leads running the con. Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt play a mother-daughter team who swindle rich guys. In the course of the movie, their marks include Ray Liotta and Gene Hackman, with Anne Bancroft as their nemesis, an IRS agent.

"Housesitter." Another movie with a con-woman lead, as Goldie Hawn sets up house in architect Steve Martin's place and convinces everyone she's his wife. The movie's a little too cute to qualify as great, but it serves as a reminder of the era when Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn movies were something to look forward to.

"Diggstown." James Woods plays a con man who has it in for Bruce Dern, the rich guy who runs a small town. With Oliver Platt as his set-up man, Woods engineers a bet that Honey Roy Palmer (Lou Gossett Jr.) can beat any ten men from the town in a boxing ring in a 24-hour period. Needless to say, neither Woods nor Dern plays fair. With Heather Graham and Randall Cobb in bit parts.

"The Lady Eve." The earliest film on the list, this 1940 classic stars Barbara Stanwyck as part of a trio of con artists trying to rip off the heir to a brewery fortune (Henry Fonda). It plays a lot slower than modern movies, but with stars like that working with writer/director Preston Sturges, you won't care.

"Leap of Faith." Steve Martin (again!) plays a traveling preacher who is only interested in the money he can take off suckers who fall for his religious road show. He uses many of the same phony faith healing tricks that Peter Popoff and other preachers use -- as detailed by James Randi in his book, "The Faith Healers" -- including an earpiece through which he divines information about the crowd from his partner in crime (Debra Winger). Martin's character offers up quite a show, including gospel singers and a band led by Meatloaf (!) and the small-town Kansans fall for it, despite the protestations of Liam Neeson as a skeptical sheriff. With Lolita Davidovich, Lukas Haas, and a not-yet-famous Philip Seymour Hoffman.

"The Music Man." Yes, this 1962 Meredith Willson musical is a classic con-man movie, with Robert Preston brilliant as Harold Hill, who sells band uniforms and instruments to a town in Iowa that didn't know it needed them -- then plans to skip town with the money without delivering the goods. With Shirley Jones as Marian The Librarian, Buddy Hackett as Preston's sidekick, Paul Ford as the mayor, and a very young Ron Howard as Marian's little brother.