‘Sometimes I dread having to be funny. it‘s much easier trying to be serious’ says Steve Martin. placing a pronounced accent on that word dread. It's not for nothing that he's gained a reputation as the most cerebral of Hollywood‘s comic talents. The screen‘s wild and crazy guy is also the ex-philosophy student who claimed that Wittgenstein had changed his life. As such he almost exemplifies the nature ofthe Star. the glittering fiction doing a high-wire act balanced precariously between private selfand public product.
Martin is all too aware ofthat tension. ‘Pcople come up to you and they want this other thing you're not delivering. They need you to be what they want at that moment. I‘m not
outgoing. It‘s actually kind ofcostly.‘
he muses. Watching him talk you
'realise how that contrast between the pensive silvery hair of the academic and the big smiley smile of the born goof makes his instantly recognisable features something like a window to the soul.
Heavy stuff. you might well think. After all. isn't this guy meant to be. like. funny? Well. ifit's laughs you‘re after then try Martin‘s latest movie Dirty Rotten .S'coundrels. Martin plays Freddy Benson. a small-time American scam-artiste working a few modest cons on the French Riviera. that is until he meets up with Michael Caine‘s Lawrence Jamieson. a suave English confidence trickster who makes enough from the gullibilty of the area‘s wealthy tourists to sustain a
— Trevor Johnston talks to the man who can inject seriously abstracted ideas with ludicrous nuttiness. Off screen he‘s thoughtful and guarded, on screen,
in the new film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,
he’s as brilliantly
funny as ever.
life ofsophisticated luxury for himself. Before long. the two have become romantic and professional rivals over the charms (pecuniary and otherwise) ofvisiting young soap magnate Glenne Headly. and thus begins a triangular relationship that is to plumb the very depths of unscrupulousness and deceit.
Remade from a 1964 David Niven and Brando piece Bedtime Story. it‘s a well-plotted and quite old-fashioned piece of mainstream entertainment that consolidates Martin's status as the marketplace champion of amiable nuttiness. The narrative’s rivalry scenario allows him and (.‘aine to trade blows in a slugfest ofcomic scene-stealing. and Steve‘s moments of unconstrained craziness include posing as the idiot Prince Ruprech't (‘he‘s so stoopid‘) and a paraplegic navalman who‘s traumatised by the sight ofdancing. It's another effortless comic tour-de-force which nearly matches his performances in Roxanne (lovesick fireman with a proboscis problem) and All ofMe (where the left side of his body is possessed by the soul ofgrouchy millionairess Lily Tomlin). all triumphantly making generally accessible at humour that‘s conceptually quite outrageous.
So far as Britain is concerned that has not always been the case. however. for it‘s really only this trio that has won wider acceptance from our moviegoing public. In the US. however. Martin has been a big name since the early Seventies. first finding huge audiences as a stand-up opening for rock dinosaurs like The
GThe List 3OJune— 13 July 1989
Eagles and building up an enthusiastic youth counterculture following that later proved highly receptive to the frazzled invention of the legendary Saturday .N’i‘eli! Live TV show.(a series never networked in the UK). Working alongside the likes of(‘hev_v Chase. Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi. like them he was also soon to make the move towards the big screen.
His his first effort. 1979‘s 'I'lielerk. was a brave attempt at an original comedy on the rags-to-riches-to-rags theme that played as a spectacular explosion of scattershot dullness. where often brilliant routines like the classic cat- juggling sequence rub shoulders with gags that are just dumny unfunny.
It was a pattern repeated by his next two pictures.
both ofthem genre spoofs. Dead
Men Don't Wear I’Iaid (a patchwork