Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) Poster

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As strong as a cup of my famous java...
David16 September 2003
I first saw this in the theater with my dad, at the age of 13, when it was first released - he was a huge fan of classic movies and usually suffered through the stuff he took me to. Not this one - we were both in hysterics, and I'd have to say I owe my huge love of classic Hollywood (and global) cinema to this film. CITIZEN KANE it may not be but no matter - I dug the humor and the atmosphere at the time, and even then was aware of how much work this must have been.

I still watch this one on occasion, and it is the rare comedy that has held up very well with the passage of time - critics at the time seemed to write it off as a stunt, but I've noted that at least a little reevaluation of DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID has occurred over the years. The performances - as both a spoof and a love-letter to film noir - are top notch, with Steve Martin at his best here. The dialog gets deep into Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett hard-boiled private-eye stylishness, serving up gumshoe-with-dame clichés just juiced up enough to give Steve something to run with, while still offering an a solid story. The finale is magnificent, Martin and Carl Reiner jousting their way through an avalanche of every two-bit dime-store whodunnit game-over cliché to ever grace the big screen, cheap alibis falling like drunken angels across the naked city as the big heat descends... Or - ahem -something like that...
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Steve Martin's Affectionate Parody of 1940's Thrillers
stryker-511 December 1998
Rigby Reardon, private eye, runs the gauntlet of hoods, femmes fatales and crazed Nazis as he investigates the death of beautiful Juliet Forrest's father. Who are the mysterious "Friends of Carlotta"? And why does Rigby keep dressing in women's clothes? And where did Juliet learn to do that trick with her lips? This celebration of the black and white movies of the 1940's and 50's is a very clever and very amusing film. Extracts from celluloid classics are skilfully spliced into the action (check out the architectural detail on the doorframe in the Alan Ladd sequence). The film is a vehicle for Martin's comic talent and he carries it off beautifully. Rachel Ward as Juliet is terrific: she can hold her own with the screen goddesses who so liberally populate the film (Bergman, Davis, Turner and Crawford all make inserted appearances). A project like this could easily have come a cropper, but thanks to the brisk direction of Carl Reiner (who has a great cameo) and Steve Martin's ability to dominate the screen, the movie is a resounding success. It's also very funny.
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So they don't
andy stew20 July 2001
An incredible achievement. My mind boggles at the amount of thought, time and effort that must have gone into this superb film. The plot is brilliantly and hilariously convoluted, with screen legends from the 1940s making appearances in amazingly edited scenes, and Steve Martin's trademark absurd humour is present almost all the way. Steve and Rachel Ward have remarkable chemistry, and each of their performances are highly impressive. If it weren't for the bundles of humour employed, one would almost think at times that this actually is a film noir from the 1940s, so legitimate and believable is the 'feel' or the atmosphere of the film.

I cannot believe that some people who commented on this film have said that the plot is merely an excuse to hang old movie clips onto, and not much use at all; and the person who claims that Steve Martin overacts in this movie mustn't realise that this is regarded as one of Steve's more restrained, deadpan comedic performances (the 'cleaning woman!' device turns out to be an important part of the plot and also seems to be a way of using the strangling scene that is taken from the Bette Davis movie - it is also a chance for Steve to get in a very tiny element of his 'wild and crazy guy' persona, which he substituted with a more suitable [for parody] 'straight' performance).

A rousing and side-splittingly funny success - they don't make 'em like this anymore!
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Film noir was never this funny!
jotix10022 October 2005
Carl Reiner, the multi-talented director of this film, is the only one that could have pulled it off. Working with George Gipe, and Steve Martin in the screen play that serves as the basis of the movie, Mr. Reiner has done the impossible with "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid".

Of course, this film is blessed with the magnificent editing by Bud Malin, who meshed the present images against those film noir masterpieces we see, blending the characters of this movie with the stars of the past, in what seems to be a seamless product. It also helps that Miklos Rozsa was the man composing the music, as everything shows a cohesiveness that is hard to distinguished in what was shot in 1982 and the old movies.

This spoof to the film noir genre is a pure delight. The main character, Rigby Reardon is the P.I. from hell, but thanks to the creators of this movie, he is perfect as the man at the center of the action.

Not being a Steve Martin fan, one has to recognize that when this actor is inspired, he can do excellent work. It would appear that with a director like Carl Reiner, he would have gone off the top, but instead, Mr. Martin gives a good reading of Rigby. Rachel Ward, as the typical woman of those films, is charming. Reni Santoni, Georege Gaynes and the rest of the supporting cast do wonders under Carl Reiner's orders.

The film brought back memories of those timeless masterpieces of the past and the stars that shone in them. We get to see Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Vincent Price, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred McMurray, Edward G. Robinson, and the others at the height of their fame playing against the present cast and making the viewer happy watching all the antics which Mr. Reiner and his team have created for our amusement.

This is a funny look at the old movies!
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A quirky but funny movie
Crimpo216 December 2005
Its the sort of idea that inevitably gets tried out as soon as it becomes technically possible. Inter-cutting classic film noir with contemporary work to produce a comedy film. Usually such ideas come a serious cropper - as was proved (as others have stated) by Zelig. However, this film hits it right on the mark. The design and editing allow for seamless cutting between the old and the new footage. The script is good and has the right level of absurd humour to make the film work. I'm not a fan of Steve Martin but its impossible to imagine anyone else matching this performance. Rachel Ward is beautiful and sassy. Its a film of its time - just made in time to catch the costume and musical talent of the past before they departed from the scene but made before the sort of hi-tech morphing and cgi which would have ruined its feel.

If you haven't seen it then watch it - if you have seen it then watch it again. This definitely rewards repeated viewings. Its no Citizen Kane but it is darned good entertainment if you share my sense of humour...
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Along with "The Jerk," one of Steve Martin's top two finest films
garytheroux19 July 2005
I remember reading reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere in 1983 fawning over Woody Allen's brilliant and wholly original idea of inserting himself into old film footage in "Zelig." They'd not noted, of course, that everyone from Ernie Kovacs to John Zacherle had already done that "brilliant and wholly original idea" on television -- and, most notably, Steve Martin did it in a feature film, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," one year prior to "Zelig." While "Zelig" has its moments, it is ultimately tedious, running about twice as long as it's one-note gag treatment can sustain. In sharp contrast is the far more clever, inspired, fully developed, insightful and witty DMDWP, which, as noted. came out one year earlier. As often happens with groundbreakers set somewhere outside the norm, DMDWP was not exactly a box office hit -- a key reason why no sequels were ever made. That's unfortunate, as Martin's character was one of his finest creations and could have sustained more installments in the series. (Steve was never better on film than he is here.) It's good that the people behind "Police Squad" did not give up on it after it failed to fit within the confines of standard TV concepts around the same time. Reborn as "The Naked Gun" series of feature films, the "Police Squad" concept turned into three of the greatest comedy motion pictures of all time. DMDWP deserved a lot better than it got in 1982 as well, and I'm glad to see that it has finally found respect and its audience through television exposure (much like a previous box office bomb, "It's A Wonderful Life"). The kind of creativity Martin, Carl Reiner and the rest of the DMDWP crew put into their project needs to be strongly encouraged -- as it represents excellent comic film-making, as opposed to the witless parade of routine crudities that Hollywood ordinarily churns out.
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A serious laugh at the moody films of the 40's.
Michael O'Keefe29 May 2000
I had to watch this a second time to appreciate it. The story is not the most impressive; but the concept is. Steve Martin plays a detective in a parody of classic film noir. The movie features actual scenes cut from several films and blended with precision. These skillful splices feature some of the great names from old time Hollywood. Names like Cagney, Douglas, Davis, Crawford and Bergman.

Martin really shows his talent and ability to make a scene imitate reality. His comedic wit is sharp as a switchblade. His co-star is Rachel Ward, who can vamp or play coy with the best of them. Along with directing, Carl Reiner has a cameo part.

Swift directing, with superb lighting and shading made this black and white crime comedy shine.
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Mostly fun, but loses its way a bit
Shawn Watson13 April 2005
DMDWP is a black and white film noir comedy that uses footage from real film noirs from the 40s and 50s and inter cuts them with the plot to make it appears that Steve Martin is really talking to/acting with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, James Cagney etc. The effect is almost seamless but for a movie made in 1982 it's quite impressive.

Martin plays the wonderfully named Rigby Reardon, a typical, gritty private eye who narrates the story with sarcastic observation and gets involved in the usual femme fatal plot and a conspiracy surround the death of a cheese maker. Yes, it's nonsense, and towards the end it becomes a bit hard to follow and the silliness gets out of control. But it's all played straight and for most of the film you could believe you were actually watching a classic film noir.

Steve Martin should have done more of these movies. Rigby Reardon was a great character and could have lasted for a few more movies. The humor is frequently hilarious and he certainly retains a lot of the integrity he has lost in recent years since he went the way of Eddie Murphy and sold himself out to family audiences. Either way, I say you should give this movie a go if you're a fan of his older work.

The DVD is sadly in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 2.0 surround. It still looks quite good for a black and white film and the sound has that limited sound space effect to it to make it fit in with the older footage. A Dolby 5.1 remix would have been totally unnecessary. Some boring extras (trailer, cast bios) are included.
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Carl Reiner's Masterpiece
Sparquelito11 February 2006
Simply brilliant. This gem of a movie slipped under the radar screen of the movie goer's consciousness when it was first released, but it will live on forever in the DVD collections of those who truly cherish good film-making. (And good parody. And good detective films. Film tributes, comedy, well, you get the picture I think.) As much an homage to the classic suspense/detective films as was Blade Runner, Chinatown, and Mullholland Falls. I have found myself, over the years, stealing lines from this movie at cocktail parties, and generally all I get is blank stares. But every now and then I will meet a kindred spirit, and their eyes will light up, and they'll join right it!

"You don't smoke, do you?" "No, I have tuberculosis." "Oh, thank heaven for that." Ha ha ha ha ha HAA!!

Two thumbs way up!!
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I live near Sun City, AZ and, unfortunately, it's the alive men that wear plaid.
thesar-24 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Ooh deary me. Either I forgot or didn't realize Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid took basically three main actors and spliced them into decades old films. (I did eventually, roughly one third of the way in, but I'll get to that later.) This Steve Martin feature escaped me for years until a close friend recommended it to me. I'm not the biggest Martin fan – I can only name three I especially liked, Roxanne, All of Me and (guilty pleasure) Housesitter – so I was in no hurry to watch this. And as much as my friend and I agree on 90% of movies, some we don't. So, it was no 100% guarantee I would like this.

Well, just to sum it all up, that 90% statistic turned to 95% of our movie compatibility. I was laughing throughout this movie, way after and when I woke the next morning, more scenes floated in my head and I found myself laughing some more.

Private detective Rigby Reardon (Martin) is so stereotypically almost flat broke and down on his luck when "doll face" Julie Forrest (Ward) shows up at his office door with an assignment for Rigby to investigate her father's murder. (Yeah, I say stereotypically but not in a bad way as that's the premise/spoof of this movie – either mocking or playing homage to film noir of half a century earlier.) Slapstick immediate surfaces and he takes the case on, meeting dozens of individuals (from a grand multitude of black & white features) who advance the case/story so he can get to the bottom of the murder.

Seriously, as a joy this was to watch – my first time of many guaranteed viewings – I don't want to give away any more. Each scene opened up more laughs for me. And it's one of those rare, VERY RARE films that starts off slow, mediocre even, and gets progressively BETTER.

One of the biggest complaints I have with a lot of films is the fact the director and/or writer is so incredibly preoccupied on making a movie based solely on one HUGE SECRET or TWIST that they simply forget to make a movie that happens to have a twist. M. Night Shyamalan films fit perfectly into my argument – but more recently, A Perfect Getaway. The worst part of those films is if you happen to figure out the "secret twisted" climax in the first few minutes (or someone spoiled it for you), you're literally sitting there for two hours where they try and confuse you and throw obvious clues your way. And you never actually get a well made movie – just a bunch of misdirection so you'll be so-called blown away at the end.

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid didn't do this. They played homage to anyone who is in LOVE with those 1930-1940s classics and grand stars (my personal favorite of the group was Grant and Davis) and used wonderful splicing new and old techniques. This is obviously a "gimmick" yet, when other lesser directors/writers would rely on this, this was only part of the equation. There was really a story here and it really was built as a film noir mystery, albeit slapstick 1980s humor.

As I stated, I didn't catch this "device" of using old and new until about 1/3 in, with Cary Grant. I didn't read anything about this movie, so since it was black & white (and Martin actually had dark hair) I figured they filmed this when Bogart, Grant and Davis were all still alive and dyed their own hair to appear younger. Yeah, I'm a dope. Seriously, I should've known better.

Obviously, I won't make that mistake again (i.e. in my definite repeat viewings) and when I realized what was happening, the movie opened up to me, making it all the more hilarious and especially when Martin dresses as some of the characters they're mimicking.

I would highly recommend this movie, especially to those movie buffs of decades past. Though I am only rating it 9 out of 10 stars now, that might change, even with viewing #2. And I can't wait to see this again. There's severe comic genius here – the finale's battle of words between Reiner and Martin is just one of many examples. SEE IT! Side Note: If you have the DVD – make sure you watch the hilarious trailer, namely the last 2-3 seconds had me rolling.
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