Saturday, October 16, 2010

Guest Review: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

By Philip Schweier

With Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Steve Martin tried another send-up of old movies, this time with an eye toward comedy. Whether it’s actually funny or not is for others to judge. I’ve seen it too many times to offer a valid opinion. For me, the appeal of the film is the gimmick of watching Martin seemingly interact with the stars of old 1940 film noir thrillers such as Humphrey Bogart and Veronica Lake.

It is interesting to note that in this day of digital imaging and green-screen photography, all of these effects were managed through the use of creative editing and trick photography.

Martin plays private eye Rigby Reardon, who is hired by Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) to look into the mysterious death of her father, a local cheese magnate. As the investigation ensues, list continually appear: Enemies of Carloota, Friends of Carlotta. And who exactly is Carlotta? Reardon encounters situations straight out black and white crime thrillers, moving through these scenes relatively seamlessly, though some of the set-ups are a bit of a stretch.

Martin appears in drag twice; three times if you include a sequence lifted from In a Lonely Place (1950), which was edited out of the theatrical release, but reinserted for television. Other films referenced include Suspicion (1941), This Gun for Hire (1942), The Glass Key (1942), Double Indemnity (1946), The Big Sleep (1946), and White Heat (1949).

The film was written by Martin, co-star/director Carl Reiner and George Gipe. In addition to its comedic pedigree, two other participants stand-out for fans of film noir. Miklos Rosza provided the film’s soundtrack, having scored several of the films to which it is an homage, such as The Lost Weekend (1945), The Killers (1946), and The Bribe (1949).

The film is also dedicated to Edith Head, who is arguably the most famous costume designer in Hollywood history. Her career spanned more than 50 years, and covered films of every genre. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was her final film.

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1 comment:

Lisa said...

Glad to see this shout-out to an underrated movie that I think is very funny indeed! My personal connection to it is that I used to be a phone pal to George Gipe, co-writer of the film, when I worked at KTLA-TV in Los Angeles and we'd have great conversations about the Three Stooges, classic comedy and all sorts of stuff. The very talented Gipe (who also co-wrote "The Man With Two Brains") died much too young -- 53 -- at his home in Glendale, CA, from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. It was shocking and of course unexpected and we lost a tremendous comic mind and an informed fan of nostalgia when he passed away.

The movie has been showing up on cable lately and I think it holds up pretty darn well.

Thanks again for the article!