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DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID is a romp through hard-boiled history.

Carl Reiner‘s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) is half-parody of, half-homage to the noir detective dramas of the 1940’s. The story follows Rigby Reardon (played by a young, dark-haired Steve Martin), an archetypal private eye on a quest to solve the suspected murder of a beautiful woman’s father. An obvious parody of the P.I. archetype, Reardon is an emotionally isolated character, but he’s no prude – the very first scene features him unabashedly groping an unconscious client (and yet somehow this film is rated PG). Rigby receives help on the case from a few seasoned vets of the noir genre, courtesy of some inventive editing and access to the Universal film library. Shot in black and white, this ludicrous 80’s detective spoof is sprinkled with clips from 18 classic detective thrillers from the 40’s, mixed in with new footage of Martin and the other actors in a way that gives the almost seamless impression that they’re interacting with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Alan Ladd, Ray Milland, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and so on. And besides being a zany vehicle for Reiner and Martin to recreate their The Jerk antics, one of the most remarkable and overlooked components of this film is the costuming – Plaid was the last film for which Edith Head designed the costumes before her death in 1981. In addition to the new suits she designed for Martin, several of the film clips include her designs from movies such as Double Indemnity and Sorry, Wrong Number, so this film serves as a wonderful tribute to her long career. For those uninitiated to the genre, it’s a great primer, while those more well versed in this style  can simply sit back and enjoy the details – like watching Steve Martin talk shit to Bogie. It’s priceless.

[admin. note: With great pleasure the gang welcomes our newest contributor, Willa, with her first review! Long may you roam these sandy shores!]

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June 2, 2011   No Comments

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