Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) Review

Director: Carl Reiner

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The film noir spoof Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid feels like an extended sketch from a late night talk show program…and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Here, private eye Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) “interacts” with various actors and actresses from the golden age of noir while trying to solve the mystery of the death of scientist and cheese-maker John Hay Forrest. Director Carl Reiner apparently considered this his favorite movie that he directed (at least according to the IMDb Trivia page for it).

The primary gag of this flick is that Steve Martin spends a great deal of time talking to actors and actresses of the 1940s and 1950s by having footage from their pictures ingeniously spliced into this 1980s production. We meet familiar faces, ranging from James Cagney to Kirk Douglas, from Alan Ladd to Burt Lancaster, from Humphrey Bogart to Barbara Stanwyck, from Cary Grant to Bette Davis. The joke doesn’t really get old after a while (the whole thing’s only eighty-eight minutes long), and there’s plenty of other antics to provoke laughter.

Unfortunately, the back-and-forth story of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid can feel like a mess at times. I suppose that this is true to the nature of film noir, a style of filmmaking that sometimes features convoluted plotting, but most of the feature is Martin’s character going from location to location to meet with different people. Despite this, I’d say that the movie builds up to a satisfying climax that makes the aimless-feeling nature of the plot feel worthwhile.

Quibbles about the story aside, this is one funny film. Steve Martin is both hard-boiled and hilarious at the same time and the pacing is fast. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of noir, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid tickled my funny bone fairly thoroughly. The spot-the-movie-star aspect of the movie only adds to its appeal. Do I recommend this one? Yes…yes, I do.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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