Dead Funny and Dead Clever
These days when you say a movie is a spoof it's hard not to think of those lazy bunch of spoof movies which are little more than a collection of crude jokes. But there was a time when a spoof movie was more, it was intelligent, funny, had a story and in the case of "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" it was also a little creative. Creative because here we have Steve Martin as Rigby Reardon who through some clever editing and styling interacts with characters in old movies. It wasn't actually a new idea when Martin did it in "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" but thanks to the direction of Carl Reiner and his team behind the scenes it works and it makes this a movie for fans of classic film noir as time and again we see a clip from an old movie with Martin cleverly reacting to the person in it.
It was just another quiet day for private eye Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin - The Jerk) that is until Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) entered through his door asking him to investigate the death of her father, the famous cheese scientist who supposedly died in a car accident which was no accident. Searching for the answers Rigby discovers a list of "The Friends and Enemies of Carlotta", an array of characters some good some bad and some just plainly dangerous. But whilst investigating the case with the help of his assistant Philip Marlowe, Rigby finds himself falling for Juliet, a dame with a mouth which could suck a bullet from a wound.
So let me get my one sort of criticism out of the way with and that is the storyline. Okay so "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" is a spoof of classic film noir and so in classic style we have Detective caught up in a web of intrigue when a dame asks him to investigate a murder. But in spoofing classic film noir we get served a storyline which is so convoluted that you end up not bothering to try and follow it. That may have been the intention, to create such a stupid story that it generates laughs but in a way it is the movies one real weakness.
But whilst the storyline maybe a bit of an issue there is a lot to make up for it and firstly there is the brilliant writing. Reiner, Martin and Gipe have done a brilliant job of taking all that old style detective talk and then embellishing it to a comically ridiculous level. Descriptive beyond belief this is dialogue which on its own is funny let alone when you match it up to the on screen comedy.
But it's not just the spoofing of classic detective dialogue which is amusing it is those little set piece moments as well such as when Juliet sucks a bullet out of Rigby's arm, not once but numerous times each time becoming funnier. Then there is the slight innuendo thrown in for good measure, obvious innuendo but a complete crowd pleaser without being juvenile. And then there is Steve Martin's visual comedy, and just a look will make you laugh let alone when he dresses up like a broad, well a detective has to do what a detective has to do.
All of which works but "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" really becomes memorable because thanks to clever writing and editing we have Steve Martin as Rigby interacting with stars and characters from classic film noir. Just watching Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis Humphrey Bogart and so many more all crafted into this one movie makes it great fun for movie geeks as you play spot the movie and thankfully come the end of the movie you can find out if you are right. But this is more than just a novelty because each of these adds to the style and spoofing of classic noir with these old movie clips often made amusing because of what Steve Martin is saying in response to the old dialogue.
Now whilst Steve Martin is the star and the cavalcade of actors and actresses from the bygone era certainly make for plenty of entertainment Rachel Ward often steals a scene because she makes for one hell of a dame. Actually it is more than that because not only does she give us a classic film noir dame but a funny one as well and the innuendo interlaced with her sucking a bullet out of Rigby's body is simply priceless.
What this all boils down to is that "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" not only features some great writing and great comedy but it also explores the use of old movie clips with out just being a novelty. Whilst "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" is a spoof of classic film noir it seems almost derogatory especially when a spoof movie now conjures up images of crass humour and nothing else.