Peter’s Retro Reviews: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

July 28, 2011

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) movie posterby Peter Nielsen

This is my favorite Steve Martin-movie! Sure, he’s made other funny movies too, like for instance The Jerk, Three Amigos and All of Me, but he was never better or funnier than in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. It’s a classic detective story in the same spirit as the ones from the 40’s and 50’s. All the clichés are here, like rain-soaked streets, the chain-smoking hero, tough-talking crooks and beautiful dames… You know, classic film-noir stuff! But the twist is that, through great editing by Bud Malin, the classic film-noir movies are blended seamlessly into this one.

So Steve Martin’s co-stars are actually some of classic cinema’s greatest stars. Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Alan Ladd, Ray Milland, Bette Davis… Well, the list could go on for quite a while. It helps if you know about the classics or actors to fully appreciate the brilliance of this movie. As I stated before, the editing is fantastic and the man responsible for it has worked with the director Carl Reiner on many occasions before and after.

This seat isn't taken, is it?

This seat isn’t taken, is it?

Mr. Reiner is of course the man behind other great comedies such as The Jerk, Oh,God!, The Man with Two Brains, Sibling Rivalry and All of Me. You get my drift, right? An accomplished director is what I’m getting at! Throw in Steve Martin at his best, a great editor (remember this was the early 80’s with no CGI in sight) and a great score by Miklós Rózsa (Ben Hur, El Cid) and you have a great movie. Is it a serious one? Nope, but it is, however, a seriously funny one! The humor swings between being subtle to sometimes being all over the place.

The movie starts with a wonderful title sequence and the fabulous score, we witness a car-crash and we then hear the dry voice-over of our hero: “It was a slow day at The Rigby Reardon Detective Agency. I had a hangover and business was so slow I was rereading old newspapers”  There’s a knock on the door and the stunningly beautiful Juliet Forrest literally faints into his life. She is played by Rachel Ward, whom you’ll know from Against All Odds, Sharkys’ Machine or The Thorn Birds perhaps?

These opening minutes kind of sets the tone for the rest of the movie as our hero takes advantage of the situation and basically feels her up while she’s unconscious. She wakes up and asks what he’s doing and he explains his behavior with him just adjusting her breasts. When she fainted and fell, they “shifted all outta whack

Nightly car-ride...

Nightly car-ride…

She hires him to solve the alleged murder of her father, and what follows is a parody and also an homage to the classic film-noir detective story. The search takes him all over the place and ends on a small island of the coast of Peru. Here he befriends the captain of the local police-force, Carlos Rodriguez, played hilariously well by Reni Santoni (Cobra, Dirty Harry, Brewster’s Millions).

It’s great fun to see Steve Martin interact with the likes of James Cagney, Charles Laughton and Lana Turner and it must have taken a great deal of time to find the different scenes to incorporate into the finished film. The friendly banter between Rigby and Marlowe, for instance, works very well and you don’t think of it as being from different movies. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaidis chuckful of funny lines and most of it comes from the voice-over which is delivered very dryly and I suppose, with a straight face. All the

Juliet and Rigby

Juliet and Rigby

lines are said with a straight face, which makes them so much more fun. Like in the movie Airplane, remember?

In one sequence Rigby has had a bullet sucked out of a wound he’s been shot in once before. Same arm, same hole! (Watch the movie and you’ll understand) Immediately after, he’s kissing Juliet and we hear his thoughts: “Her lips were warm and my arm wasn’t the only thing that was throbbing… our hearts were too. My plan was to kiss her with every lip on my face…” Hilarious!

In another scene he enters an office with the words: “I knew it was the right room! It smelled like the number on the door…” Wait! What? What the hell does that even mean Rigby? There’s plenty more where that came from, believe me.

If you’re a lover of movies from all eras, like I am, and especially the classics, this one is a must-see. It actually makes you want to take a trip down that black & white movie-lane and revisit some of those timeless masterpieces, and for that alone, I embrace it. But it’s first and foremost a damn funny movie that makes you laugh out loud on more than one occasion. So with that guffaw, it’s time for me to go.

Until next time, my friends…

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