Dirty Tricks (film)

Dirty Tricks is a 1981 American comedy film directed by Alvin Rakoff and written by William W. Norton, Eleanor E. Norton, Thomas Gifford and Camille Gifford. The film stars Elliott Gould, Kate Jackson, Rich Little, Arthur Hill, John Juliani and Alberta Watson.

Dirty Tricks
Dirty Tricks poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlvin Rakoff
Produced byClaude Héroux
Screenplay byWilliam W. Norton
Eleanor E. Norton
Thomas Gifford
Camille Gifford
StarringElliott Gould
Kate Jackson
Rich Little
Arthur Hill
John Juliani
Alberta Watson
Music byHagood Hardy
CinematographyRichard Ciupka
Edited byAlan Collins
Filmplan International
Distributed byAVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date
  • March 20, 1981 (1981-03-20) (Chicago)[1]
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[2]


A Harvard University student, (Nicholas Campbell) attempts to contact Prof. Chandler, (Elliott Gould) to authenticate a mysterious letter supposedly signed by George Washington. The student is murdered and the letter vanishes. Professor Chandler finds himself being hunted by a mafia killer and intrepid TV reporter Karen Polly Bishop (Kate Jackson).


  • Elliott Gould as Professor Chandler
  • Kate Jackson as Karen Polly Bishop
  • Rich Little as Robert Brennan
  • Arthur Hill as Professor Prosser
  • John Juliani as Roselli
  • Alberta Watson as Tony
  • Mavor Moore as Mr. Underhill
  • Nicholas Campbell as Bill Darcy
  • Michael McNamara as Thorn
  • Martin McNamara as Ozzie
  • Cindy Girling as Emily
  • Michael Kirby as FBI Agent Wicklow
  • Angus MacInnes as FBI Agent Jones
  • Hugh Webster as Mr. Darcy
  • Irene Kessler as Mrs. Cohen
  • Earl Pennington as Taxi driver
  • Joyce Campion as Mrs. Greenshields
  • Ken Umland as Cameraman
  • Neil Affleck as Student #1
  • Murray Cruchley as Anchorman
  • George E. Zeeman as Fire Captain
  • Lily Godfrey as Nurse
  • Michael Harrouch as Patient
  • Robert D. Koby as Doctor
  • Anthony Sherwood as Soundman
  • Lewis Pugh as Elderly Man
  • Griffith Brewer as The Veteran
  • Jeannette Tucker as Secretary
  • Isabelle Hunting as Elderly Lady
  • Lisa Bodie as Nurse
  • Kate Trotter as Sally


Principal photography began on August 13, 1979 in Montreal and lasted about nine weeks; additional location shooting was done in Boston where the film was set.[3] The film was made with the participation of the Canadian Film Development Corporation.[4]


Distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures, the film began an initial test run in Chicago[3] on March 20, 1981,[1] followed by a wider release on May 1 of that year.[5]

The film was released on VHS in the United States by Embassy Home Entertainment. As of 2017, it has not received an official DVD or Blu-ray release.


Larry Kart of the Chicago Tribune gave the film zero stars out of four and wrote that "the shoddiness of the product is beyond belief. Lines are blown left and right, cuts within scenes don't match, and the performances would be unacceptable in a home movie ... If you've ever wondered what it's like at the bottom of the barrel, this film will take you on a guided tour."[6] Variety wrote, "Despite the efforts of a willing and able cast, 'Dirty Tricks' flounders as a would-be chase comedy, done in by lame writing and misjudged direction."[7] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times stated, "Elliott Gould is such fun and so full of sweet mischief in 'Dirty Tricks' (selected theaters) it's a shame that it wastes both him and an amusing premise ... There are lot of car chases ending in routinely spectacular crashes, lots of trite spoofing of the Mafia and the FBI and lots of bloody violence, all of which is scarcely amusing."[8] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called the film "so shabby that it almost makes 'Foul Play' look classy."[9] David Macfarlane of Maclean's wrote, "Dirty Tricks is crass, witless and boring. Its humor is invariably sexist, its violence gratuitous. The acting is abysmal, the screenplay atrocious, and the direction beyond the pale. Any film that is little more than a vehicle for Gould's just-got-out-of-bed-where's-the-coffee style is obviously in very big trouble."[4]


  1. ^ a b "Dirty Tricks (advertisement)". Chicago Tribune. March 20, 1981. Section 2, p. 11. "STARTS TODAY".
  2. ^ "U.S. deal made on Dirty Tricks". The Globe and Mail. April 9, 1980. 13.
  3. ^ a b "Dirty Tricks - History". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Macfarlane, David (May 25, 1981). "And the winner is the dog". Maclean's. p. 49.
  5. ^ "Dirty Tricks - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  6. ^ Kart, Larry (March 23, 1981). "'Dirty Tricks' hits bottom". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
  7. ^ "Film Reviews: Dirty Tricks". Variety. June 3, 1981. 14.
  8. ^ Thomas, Kevin (May 1, 1981). "Mischief of Gould in 'Dirty Tricks'". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 10.
  9. ^ Arnold, Gary (November 20, 1981). "Reaching for Laughs in the Halls of Academe". The Washington Post. C3.

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