Film Review: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

Release Date: May 4th, 1982 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Carl Reiner, George Gipe, Steve Martin
Music by: Miklos Rozsa, Steve Goodman
Cast: Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Reni Santoni, Carl Reiner, George Gaynes

Aspen Film Society, Universal Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I hadn’t seen a body put together like that since I’d solved the case of the Murdered Girl with the Big Tits.” – Rigby Reardon

How is it that this film has existed for nearly forty years but I hadn’t even known of its existence until more recently. Maybe I saw it in video stores, as a kid, and it just didn’t jump out at me. However, being a lover of Steve Martin and classic film-noir, this felt like it could be something that was right up my alley.

In short, it most certainly was and I liked this movie a lot. However, it’s far from perfect and I think that its constant reliance on old film footage that features old film stars was really overused, even if that was the creative direction of the picture.

I loved seeing Steve Martin interact with the greatest stars of the silver screen and I certainly love that Humphrey Bogart’s version of Philip Marlowe was a big part of the story. However, some scenes came off a bit clunky and unnatural. But I guess it’s hard trying to make this feel more organic when Martin rarely has another actor to actually banter with. It’s hard reading a scene as it plays out and nailing that comedic timing.

Still, a lot of the jokes and one-liners in this movie were hilarious and Martin was the real high point of the film, making this much greater than it would’ve otherwise been.

The film looked stupendous, though, and Carl Reiner did a hell of a job behind the camera and managing the overall aesthetic of the picture. It matched with the classic film-noir clips quite well and in modern HD, this really looks crisp and pristine.

All in all, this was a weird but entertaining experiment. I can see why it might not have connected with mainstream audiences in 1982 and fell down most people’s memory holes but it still features a fantastic, memorable performance by Steve Martin in his prime.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’80s and early ’90s.