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With: Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Carl Reiner, Reni Santoni
Written by: Carl Reiner, George Gipe, Steve Martin
Directed by: Carl Reiner
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 88
Date: 05/21/1982

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gat's Pajamas

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The second of four films made by director Carl Reiner and star Steve Martin, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid is an ambitious film in many ways, and somewhat clunky in other ways, but it's still kinda lovable, especially if you're a fan of classic Hollywood cinema. Co-written by both Reiner and Martin, it's a black-and-white private eye movie designed to match up with old movie footage; for example, Alan Ladd shows up at Martin's place, and, thanks to clever editing, he knocks Martin out and steals an important piece of paper from his pocket. Martin also speaks to Humphrey Bogart in several scenes, who "plays" his sidekick, Marlowe.

Martin is Rigby Reardon, who gets a big case when Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) walks into his office. (In the movie's cringiest moment, she faints, and he takes advantage of her unconsciousness to kiss her and fondle her breasts.) She's convinced that her father's death was in fact a murder. From there, the plot isn't very important, but we get seamlessly edited footage of Martin interacting with Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Edward Arnold, Kirk Douglas, Fred MacMurray, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Charles Laughton, and Vincent Price, in addition to Ladd and Bogart.

Reiner co-stars as a mysterious German who seems to have been modeled after Otto Preminger. The gorgeous, shadowy cinematography was by Michael Chapman, and this movie includes the final work of two legends: composer Miklós Rózsa and costume designer Edith Head. The movie, finally, isn't really a laugh riot; some of the jokes have aged badly, but others still inspire silly smiles.

Kino Lorber released the film on Blu-ray in 2021. The image and sound are quite strong, though there's a sharp contrast between the 1982 Martin footage, and the older, grainier footage that has not been remastered. Filmmaker Allan Arkush and film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer provide a new commentary track, mostly talking about classic black-and-white films, and there is the "Buttometer" trailer, TV spots, and radio spots for this film, and a couple other movie trailers.

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