Play It Again – Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

Play It Again – Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Starring Steve Martin and Rachel Ward. Directed by Carl Reiner. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

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Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!). 

Don’t adjust your television set. The black and white Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid plays like 1940’s film noir but was in fact made in 1982. Written by Carl Reiner (who also directs), George Gipe, and star Steve Martin, the picture boasts perhaps the most extraordinary cast ever assembled on screen. Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve have got nothing on Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, whose cast includes Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake, Burt Lancaster, Ray Milland, Vincent Price, Lana Turner, and Barbara Stanwyck.

The comedy-mystery, which is both a parody of and tribute to the noir period, follows underemployed detective Rigby Reardon (Martin). He’s approached by Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) to investigate the death of her father John Hay Forrest, a well respected scientist and cheese maker she believes was murdered. Rigby discovers two lists of names upon searching Forrest’s office; one titled “Friends of Carlotta” and the other “Enemies of Carlotta.” So begins the game of cat and mouse as Rigby seeks out the truth with the help of some of Hollywood’s greatest legends and clips from some nineteen features spliced into fresh footage.

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Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid has its funny moments, such as Rigby’s continual insistence that all people needed was a cup of his java, or the ongoing joke of telling his mentor Marlowe (Bogart from The Big Sleep) to put on a tie. Ultimately, the flick is more impressive as collaged storytelling than it is a straight comedy. Many laughs come not from a line of witty dialogue, of which there are many, but from the clever intermingling of iconic actors and famous sequences with Martin; the train carriage scene with Cary Grant (from Suspicion) is particularly well done.

For classic film lovers, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is an irresistible surprise and treat that is continually rewarding despite some pacing issues. A lack of consistent laugh out loud moments is forgiven by its cleverness.

3.5/5

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.

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