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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...
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.
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!
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.
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...
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!
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.
This was a modern-day version of a 1940s narrative gangster film, also
known as film noir, but with a different twist. Steve Martin, Rachel
Ward and a few others actors are seen talking to many classic stars of
the past as director Carl Reiner used clips of those films to fake
conversations with the up-to-date real actors of this film . They made
it appear that Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart et al were
actually talking to Martin.
Obviously, the more acquainted you are with those film noirs, the more fun this movie will be as you try to recognize what movie those clips came from. (The answers are shown in the ending credits.) That's the fun part of this movie.
The not-so-fun part is simply trying to figure how what is happening in the first place. The plot is not always easy to discern, and it's doubly difficult because of the constant "interruptions" with the classic film scene inserted in the story. You get so captivated watching those old stars that you lose track of the storyline.
That's a big reason I don't think this film ever caught on that much - the story is too convoluted, just too hard to follow.
Ward was great to watch and Martin was annoying after awhile. If Ward doesn't look like the embodiment of a 1940s film goddess, I don't know who does. That, and the razor sharp black-and-white picture with the real actors, is nice to see. But, Martin, who dominates the film, overdoes the stupid comments. I would like to have seen this film played a little straighter, like a real noir. It's a clever film but sometimes too clever for its own good.
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.
Dead Men.. maintains a delicate equilibrum between a re-enactment and an
original script. On one hand, Carl Reiner offers a comedy which compilates
several film noir classics (the strongest influence seems to come from the
Maltese Falcon)and makes fun of their profound grim atmosphere, but without
ever loosing its self-esteem. On the other hand, it combines at least a
dozen scenes from those movies with stand-ins in order to establish a
believable (physical) interaction between actors who differ 40 years in age.
Steve Martin would play the same kind of unwilling comedian in Plains, Trains & Automoblies. His voice-over definitely was an inspiration to Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun series. Along with Dragnet (1987), both owe, of course, a lot to the police serials from the 50's.
This movie is mostly suited for classic film buffs such as me
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