Con (as in "confidence game") movies and novels

Several responses to the thread Recommend me a caper/heist novel mentioned cons, which got me thinking.

I’d always considered the film The Sting and the TV series Mission Impossible and, to a certain extent, The Catch* to be separate from the standard fare in that the entire operation was based on getting the mark to believe something that wasn’t true.

Yes, one part of a standard heist story might entail the hero pretending to be, say, a government inspector in order to get the keypad code they need. But that would be just one element of the adventure. What I’m taking about here is works in which the con is the be-all and end-all.

Are there other movies I’ve missed? Surely there must be a novel series about a con man or a group of con men. Anyone?

  • As well as another series from the early 70s, possibly British, that I can’t fully remember right now.

Hu$le, a UK show, and its inferior US rip-off Leverage.

The Grifters has some of this.


Oceans 11, 12, 13, 43 and 72?

Skin Game from the 70s with James Garner and Louis Gossett, Jr. They play a traveling master and slave duo. Garner has to sell Gossett (who is actually a free man, not a slave to begin with), who then escapes, catches up with Garner, and they run the same con in another town. It’s a light comedy with serious commentary. Not as good as Garner’s other westerns like Support Your Local Sheriff, but good nonetheless.

Matchstick Men is a pretty good film about con men.

Paper Moon includes a bunch of grifter moves, and The Grifters is almost nothing but, but neither is focused on a con job or heist.

the most obvious…Confidence Decent con story.

The Sting, though a really great film, was stupid. It would not have worked. Lonnigan would have realized the scam the next day and would have hunted down the entire crew like dogs.

The Ladykillers fits both this thread and the caper/heist thread. Both versions have their good points.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has about six cons going on simultaneously. :slight_smile:

On COLUMBO, they’d show someone committing what looked like the perfect murder followed by our hero trying to solve it – and if you watch carefully at the start, then roughly half the time you could see the clues that the detective would later find, allowing you to slap your forehead and say, oh, right at the reveal.

But roughly half the time, the reason it looked like the perfect crime is because it was the perfect crime; there was no conclusive piece of evidence, and so the great sleuth would give up on finding clues to instead just con the guy into confessing.

The Flim-Flam Man is a great older con-man film starring George C. Scott. Both versions of The Italian Job were also about cons.

Of recent TV shows, both *Leverage *and Burn Notice were largely based on pulling off elaborate cons.

House of Games is extremely good (I didn’t know Mamet wrote it but that makes sense). For whatever reasons it must not have gotten much of a release as when I stumbled upon it on HBO years ago I first thought it was some cheesy made-for-cable film. Also, watch it cold (without reading about it), as it has very effective multiple double-crosses right to the end.

For 70s nostalgia there are a couple of great episodes of The Rockford Files that involve a ‘long’ con. One has him getting his detective friend out of a timeshare condo swindle by building an oil derrick in the country club’s parking lot. Another was a two-parter (that served as a backdoor pilot for a short-lived spin-off) where he helps a guy’s father get back his business after the mob muscles it from him by hiring a bunch of people as extras and convincing the mob boss that the business has a voodoo curse on it*!*

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) and the movie it was a virtual scene-by-scene remake of, Bedtime Story (1964).

In the former, the girl was a con artist who outconned the conmen. In the latter, IIRC, the girl (played by Shirley Jones, and goddamn, she was hot! :o ) was not a con artist.

Force of Evil is something of a high level con on the numbers runners in NYC. 776

The Music Man is all about a con (albeit a benign one).

In the eclectic arena, I’d offer The Brothers Bloom. Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Maximilian Schell and Robbie Coltrane in a story about an elaborate con. Witty and full of references to other films and books. And Ricky Jay narrates. Very well-cast and interesting.

TCM showed that movie a couple of weeks ago, on a day featuring James Garner films. I watched it, but it’s uncomfortable to watch today, and was probably uncomfortable when it was released.

And another movie I’d recommend is a small British film called Shooting Fish with Stuart Townsend and Kate Beckinsale.

Slight hijack:

Is the shortened term ‘con’ or ‘con man’ used in Britain? I remember the very first episode of Fawlty Towers involved a con man (Lord Melbury) and in it they referred to him as a ‘confidence trickster’. I’ve heard ‘confidence man’ too, but in America it’s always ‘con man’. In fact, if you asked most Americans what the ‘con’ is short for they probably wouldn’t know.

I remember a B&W* British film made with an ensemble cast back in the '50s (I think), in which the actors (all of whom were very famous) engaged in a gigantic con that, of course, failed in the end, but just before the fade out you realized their next caper would be the Bank of England. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the movie or those of the actors save for Robert Morely. (Though I kinda think Alec Guinness was in it too, maybe.) Does this ring a bell with anyone?

*I saw it on a B&W TV, so don’t take this as Gospel.

I recommended it in the other thread, but Nine Queens is more of a con movie than a heist movie, with of course some overlap.