- Movie Rating -

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

| May 21, 1982

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was a movie that left me wanting the filmmakers to go back and try again. What they have here is so clever, so funny and so inventive that the fact that it only works half of the time, really let me down.

Here is what’s obvious.  Director Carl Reiner and fellow writers George Gipe and Steve Martin are so in love with the nearly infinite genre of old private eye movies that you can see their passion on the screen. They want to do for this genre what Mel Brooks did for the Frankenstein pictures.  They almost succeed. The love is there, the laughs are there, but it falls apart in the end.

First, the story.  Steve Martin plays Rigby Reardon, a weathered old private eye who is reading in the papers about the disappearance of a scientist Dr. Forrest in a story that reads: “Noted Scientist, Philathropist, was also maker of cheese and father of three.”  I love that. 

He is bored out of his mind, parked in his office with nothing to do when suddenly a beautiful dame walks in the door.  The dame (Rachel Ward) faints immediately, of course, and when she comes to asks him to help find her father.  That, of course, leads to the usual labyrinth of clues and false leads.  In between, we get the kind of inner-monologue that we use to get in those old movies, twisted with comedy of course.  My favorite: “It was a side of town so cheap that even the prostitutes were having a sale.”

Now the gimmick.  Whenever Reardon runs in to an old acquaintance, former lover, or associate, the movie uses footage from actual private eye movies and intercuts them with Steve Martin, making it look like he’s right there in the room with Bogart, Veronica Lake, Burt Lancaster and all those great old stars of the past.  It’s a cute trick and many of the gags interplayed within them are quite clever.

Now the problem.  Nobody here has thought to write (or even steal) a good potboiler. We see the gimmick, we hear the corny dialogue, but after a while we get restless.  The joke begins to wear thin and when we get to the end, a plot involving the scientist and a group of Nazis, we are kind of ready for the movie to be over.

I just wanted to take the movie back to Carl Reiner and Steve Martin and beg them to try again.  They have such a wonderful idea here, such a funny convention that when it wears out its welcome, I was left heartbroken.  We’re so bereft of good comedies right now that this could have been great.  It just needed some cleaning up, and a story that we could work through.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy