Michael Caine did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Lawrence Jamieson and Steve Martin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Freddy Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
For the film we get perhaps get a somewhat unusual team up between Michael Caine and Steve Martin, although actually it feels quite natural as the two often play some form of scoundrel to begin with so here we get to see both fully embrace that side of their onscreen persona. Both are well cast in their respective roles and in creating their respective types as con men. Caine emphasizing very much his most suave English qualities at his disposal and offers the proper sort of grace for the character. That grace of course being this dignified method of conning women out of their cash by pretending to be a Prince in need of funds. Caine exudes such an upbringing so well though with that little glint in his eyes that always reminds of his true intentions. This is against Martin he is a bit less subtle since he's a far less subtle conman, going for the small gains, but in a big way. Martin is a terrific other side of the coin by presenting the completely unabashed style going big in the right way as his Freddy isn't afraid to look utterly pathetic in order to steal meal. Although these two both setup their differing characters well what makes this film work is cramming the two unlike pairs together.
The two's dynamic is a delight given how well their atypical chemistry comes together through their very different styles. Caine, who actually can go rather overt when he wants to as well, wisely keeps his Lawrence the far more subdued of the two, which works quite well against Martin's portrayal of Freddy's fairly bombastic approach to conning. The two are initially quite enjoyable by delivering this extreme clash as the two try to outsmart the other in a more general sense. Caine bringing almost cutthroat sort of deviousness with everyone of his knowing smiles, against Martin who just plays so well into the outrageous behavior of Freddy. Martin goes about taking every moment in bringing not a hint of modesty particularly in a scene where we see Freddy almost parading around in some of his ill-gotten games, and Martin is hilarious by being as coarse as Caine is refined. The two clash so well and I especially enjoy just the initial reactions to each other with Caine conveying a low key disgust against Martin's intrigue and a bit of confusion at his upper class rival.
When the two initially seem to come together, although it is in fact just a ploy by Lawrence to get rid of Freddy, we are granted the great dynamic the two share for much of the film. As we get Caine playing very much the straight man, well to a certain degree as he always captures that duplicitous nature of Lawrence even when he's working with Freddy, against Martin's performance. Martin often actually will often play the straight man himself and this a great example of him doing anything but. This is particularly seen in the series of scenes where Freddy helps Lawrence rid himself of some of his conned women by posing as the Prince's stunted brother. Both Caine and Martin are so enjoyable in these scenes by how well they make them work. Martin is very much off the deep end with his strange twangy accent, and the ridiculousness of his apelike physical performance, which is made all the funnier by the way Caine reacts to it. Caine giving this sincere affection with only the occasional respectful correction towards Martin in these moments is what makes them truly work. Martin goes off to sea, but Caine offers the right anchor in every moment.
Thankfully this continues though in an altered way as the two men make a bet to outfox the other in trying to con the seemingly rich and naive American Janet (Glenne Headly) out of her money. Each taking up a different approach with a Caine going the quieter route, though quieter in that he is a quietly manipulative German psychiatrist, against Martin's more overtly manipulative crippled navy man though only crippled due to a mental trauma. Each are just splendid in their own ways with Caine having such a striking undercurrent of deviousness at everyone of his concerned deliveries about Martin's Freddy though with that sinister intention in his eyes, and the always joyous grins to set him up for failure. Martin meanwhile is comic gold in being such an overt sad sack in every regard. I especially love his reactions of hidden pain when Caine sadistically tests his "injury" or his hilarious wailing when he sees Lawrence dance with Janet, since dancing "caused" Freddy's "injury". The two make so much out of every single setup. Now there is a bit of a divide though as Martin stays wholly vapid, though purposefully so even as Freddy tries to seduce Janet, while Caine slowly portrays a concern for her when it is revealed she is in fact poor. Again this isn't given too much focus however Caine makes the transition work for just a few moments, plus importantly does not drop the comedic nature of his scenes with Martin. The two are simply wonderful to watch together and let us in on the fun they seem to be having in portraying Lawrence and Freddy getting ahead of each other, then eventually both of them meeting a mutual failure.