In Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) is a private detective whose partner has recently been killed on duty (Maltese Falcon, anyone?). One day, a typically seductive femme fatale Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) arrives at his office with a case that smells like rotten cheese. That’s because her father who is a renowned cheese maker has been murdered. Needless to say, she believes the murder is not coincidental; that he was involved in a larger scheme. The rest of the movie I will leave up to you to unravel, but let me assure you it contains many cinematic keywords. Murder, attraction, Nazi’s, money, exotic settings, and jokes.
Written by Steve Martin and Carl Reiner, it is a brilliantly composed mixture of modern cinematics interacting with characters from some of film noirs greatest movies. Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, and many more are all thrown into a detective movie which pokes fun while reaping comical praise at a genre long past.
The incorporation of old characters into a completely different movie is pulled off extremely well. Dialog is taken out of context and inserted into unrelated conversations. The interaction between new and old movies seems so natural it adds to the brilliance of their comedy; from telling Barbara Stanwyck to get a grip, to ordering Humphrey Bogart to stop drinking and put on a tie.
While the unique composition of the movie deserves all the praise I can heap on it, I should not let it overshadow the hilarious writing of the movie. Steve Martin’s depiction of the quintessential private eye balances stereotypical exaggeration with a legitimate sense of purpose. Even as the case gets more strange and the danger becomes ever present, his cool head and witty quips beckons comparison to Humphrey Bogart. He’s handy with a weapon, but manages to get shot (in a creepily similar fashion) many times throughout the film. Martin and Reiner use narration to riddle the film with quick one-liners. Some of the jokes come and go so quickly they can be missed completely if you’re not paying attention.
If you’re a fan of classic movies and the film stars of yesteryear, then this movie is for you. If the previous sentence applies to you, and you’re looking for a comedy written by two of the smartest comedians of more recent generations, then this movie is for you. If the previous two statements apply to you, and you think a man who is driven insane with anger at the utterance of the word “cleaning woman” is hilarious, then this movie is for you.
If you’re interesting in procuring this film for visual consumption, the following websites are perfectly viable locations to start: